Teaching Talk, to my students of 2014-15…

I’ve finished teaching for this academic year 2014-15. Another year gone and I’m feeling a little saddened as I say goodbye (or see you soon) to so many emerging creative minds across the UK. It’s always such a fulfilling experience to help them grow and reflect on how far they’ve come. Since September, I’ve taught at seven different universities on undergraduate and postgraduate course in Fine Art, Contemporary Curatorial Practice and Asian Art and its Markets. I love the temporality of being a Visiting Lecturer as I get to work with so many different people in different places. It’s the way I’d like to always live my life. “Connecting those dots” whenever I can. As the students move on from graduation to their next step, or to their final semester of their Masters studies (I wish I was back that transitionary world is ahead of me stage), I thought I’d share a few perspectives and videos to provide inspiration, and also clarity, as to how and why we are all part of this changing creative ecology.

The first is by the American film director, screenwriter, author, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist, and art collector (and so much more), Dr. John Waters, who recently delivered the commencement address for the Rhode Island School of Design’s graduating class of 2015 (read the full transcript here). One place where I would love to teach in my lifetime. His address is honest, funny, cutting, real, youthful, heartfelt and well, true…a must-watch for all those undergraduates at the beginning of their creative relationship with the world. Here are some of my favourite extracts…or you can watch the video in full below.

“OK, I’m supposed to inspire you. How’s this? Somehow I’ve been able to make a living doing what I love best for 50 years without ever having to get a real job. “But how can you be so disciplined?” friends always ask when I tell them my job is to get up every day at 6 A.M. Monday to Friday and think up insane stuff. Easy! If I didn’t work this hard for myself, I’d have to go work for somebody else. Plus I can go to my office one room away from my bedroom in my own house dressed in my underpants if I want to…Keep up with what’s causing chaos in your own field.

  • If you’re a visual artist, go see the shows in the galleries that are frantically competing to find the one bad neighbourhood left in Manhattan to open up in.
  • Watch every movie that gets a negative review in the New York Times and figure out what the director did wrong.
  • Read, read, read!
  • Watch people on the streets. Spy, be nosy, eavesdrop.

These days, everybody wants to be an outsider, politically correct to a fault. That’s good. I hope you are working to end racism, sexism, ageism, fatism. But is that enough? Isn’t being an outsider sooo 2014? I mean, maybe it’s time to throw caution to the wind, really shake things up, and reinvent yourself as a new version of your most dreaded enemy – the insider. Like I am…Listen to your political enemies, especially the smart ones, and then figure out a way to make them laugh. Nobody likes a bore on a soapbox. Humour is always the best defence and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they’ll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid – to you.

It’s OK to hate the poor, too, but only the poor of spirit, not wealth. A poor person to me can have a big bank balance but is stupid by choice – uncurious, judgemental, isolated and unavailable to change…I’m also sorry to report there’s no such thing as karma. So many of my talented great friends are dead and so many of the fools I’ve met and loathed are still alive. It’s not fair, and it never will be.

Contemporary art’s job is to wreck what came before. Is there a better job description than that to aspire to? Here’s another trigger warning, and pardon [me] for [swearing]: Go out in the world and fuck it up beautifully.”

John Waters RISD 2015

The next video is to show that anything is possible…and no one is out of reach. I’m a true believer in the last statement…everyone is human after all and it takes no time to reply to an enquiry, even if it’s to say no. Again, “connecting those dots”. For Central Saint Martins BA Fine Art 2015 degree show, the students worked with Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner to create their latest project called #INTRODUCTIONS. A set of 36 half-minute long films performed by LaBeouf against a green screen, each film introduces the Fine Art BA students’ end-of-year work. The project began in March 2015, when the artists requested a piece of text from each student to introduce their works, to be presented during a live stream broadcast during the degree show opening. They stated that this text could be “as poetic, abstract or literal as you like – with the emphasis on expressing the feeling and tone of the work being introduced.”

The artists stated “When we started there was a sense from the art world that it was just two artists using Shia for the publicity, and from the mainstream media there was a sense that Shia had employed two artists, which absolutely wasn’t the case…Now we feel we are in a really good place now, that people understand what our collaboration is and that it is bridging all sorts of divides, reaching out beyond the art world. We are the antithesis of the po-faced conceptual artist – our work is about engagement not detachment.”

“One student requested he give a motivational talk, another that he breathe in, then out, then in, then out. Alexis Marie Sera, whose #INTRODUCTION starts at 16:36, asked for a rendition of a character struggling to accept their death, while Alice Woods and Jasmin Newman asked LaBeouf to read aloud his favourite work of fiction – which happens to be Bukowski’s The Laughing Heart – by way of introduction to their work. Scrobblers should check out Joshua Parker’s ultra-affirmation at 08:58, or Alice Jacobs’ yogic OM at 28:12.”

To all the students I’ve taught in the last nine months, here’s one final statement that LaBoeuf shouts into the camera and words I truly believe in…even if they are a little cliché…clichés are the best sometimes.




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