Pin It
The White Pube

Is higher arts education actually worth it? The White Pube advise

In their latest Dazed column, your art agony aunts Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad weigh up the pros and cons of going back to school or going about it your own way

In their ongoing Dazed Voices column, art writers and curators The White Pube answer your burning questions about the industry, in a way only they can

Anonymous: I was trying to figure out what to do for higher education and I wanted to hear your opinion on doing higher ed with Sotheby’s or Christie’s? I have zero interest in working in auctions – my interest lies in curatorial activism and program development/community outreach but their programs are so much shorter and cheaper. I do want to work with south asian contemporary art too – jus tryna b a qualified guy who kind of knows what they’re doing so I can help give platforms to people n make art spaces less terrifying in general.

The White Pube: Hello Anon. This is a good, urgent question because higher education is a MESS. I can’t personally tell u whether these auction houses’ courses are worth it but friends and followers have described them as dry, they’re too tied directly to the monied-ness of it all to properly let you stretch your legs politically, and full of people with clean shoes who are in it for the personal associations with Sotheby’s and Christie’s rather than the actual conversation and learning. which is what u might expect, isn’t it lol. if you’re not interested in working in auction houses, I’m not sure how useful buying into programmes would be for you bc in part they work best as feeder schools for their own workforce. But saying all this, is a uni course any better? The current cost of higher education is mad and it is going to create a middle class bubble w long term damage where the only people who can afford to gamble on an arts education are affluent and white. I’m personally raging about it, and despite countless warnings (see Create’s Panic report in 2018, and the Art’s Council’s own annual statistical report published in February this year, as well as the less formal warnings from marginalised people themselves) nothing has rly changed. The cost of the whole thing plus the sanitised version of learning delivered by tired, depressed, underpaid staff might not be the best situation for you, the optimistic customer. The messy radical art school of the past is no more, and even the cliquey alternative art schools popping up end up suffering from the same institutional patterns and bad politics as the universities and big big galleries. If you’re interested in curatorial activism and outreach, I think you’d benefit from a more politically engaged education but the question is, where are you going to find that? bc isn’t something practical going to be more useful than sitting in a lecture theatre thinking about what it might be like to do it all? read books for your thinking, but u need to be outside and within it all to actually get started.

You could benefit from something like a gallery traineeship – Iniva has a good one that might be of interest. It runs between them & Barbican (the trainee spends time in both institutions). They’re a really radical n politically urgent institution, built for ~international artists~ (read: poc) which, if that’s an area of research/personal interest to u – it’d be a good shout. Beyond that link, there’s something about it being formalised in a traineeship; where the explicit purpose is for you to learn & skill-up within an institution, with space to grow, ask questions & incubate on the job. the institution is accountable for making sure you receive the support and resources you need to learn, be that advice, mentorship etc, and you’re afforded a level of agency in that learning (by way of being paid, but also having a feedback process that’s continual and not just in the exit interview). I think it’s a model that has legs tbh, and it’s needed – London’s art world is largely comprised of middle class RCA grads & white women called Ruth, Charlotte or Emily; I think Iniva’s traineeship is a really good solution to getting more poc curators into significant positions where they have the agency to affect the lasting change that artists of colour are calling for so clearly.

“Don’t underestimate your potential to start something from the grassroots without having to be a qualified guy” – The White Pube

Unfortunately, those opportunities are few n far between. Check Artquest and just also google for opportunities of any fellowships, curatorial traineeships or professional development programmes. There’s things like Wysing’s ~’alternative learning programme’~: Syllabus, but idk if you can afford that, and I also don’t know how worthwhile it even is. I know a couple of people who were a part of School of the Damned who are p cynical about the benefits or rigour of their educational capacity (despite having a good time and it not being a negative experience xcept when previous years tried to lay down rules like, ‘you’re not allowed to sleep with each other’? Cringe, moving like Love Island producers, okok). I think it says a lot that a considerable number of their alumni has gone on to do a post–graduate course at, say, the RCA (oop!) n the consistent whiteness of their cohort really strips it of any proclaimed radicality. Open School East – in Margate now – has been accused of art-washing, creating a hostile environment for the creatives of colour within its programme, and exploiting their cohort for free public programme while receiving public funding so make of that what u will. TOMA in Southend-on-Sea is pretty sound, but as goes for all of the examples mentioned, these are not really programmes for curators, but rather for artists. in terms of learning 2 be a curator: underneath mainstream art world operations exists a whole artist-led arena of people DIYing til they make it – volunteering to direct smaller gallery spaces with studios attached, and getting experience that way by learning from the directors that came before them. you have to figure out how to write funding applications, find and work with artists, install shows, market them. It gives you space to work how you want to, and to try new things if you’re on a team of people who will support you. I’m super cynical about most of that activity because it is very rarely paid so only people in positions of privilege can really get stuck in /// but it does offer a full education and the kind a university probably wouldn’t trust their students with. it is also just pure truth that it is so often the individuals with a CV of working for free for these galleries that go on to get salaried institutional jobs doing proper programming and making the decisions for national portfolio organisations. Not fair but it is what it is. Doggerland have an artist-led map of the UK online if u wanna track some down, and there’s also the book ‘Artist-Run Europe: Practice / Projects / Spaces’ for an overview of how and why these spaces operate. Maybe if ur in the position to do so, this sort of scale is your way in. I think I’d get more from working a job and volunteering at one of these on the side than shelling out for any course. 

In the meantime while u mull this over, is it feasible to organise putting on your own exhibition? can you find funding or get someone to sponsor it n just getting going on your own – cowboy style. There’s also the possibility that that independent practice could turn into something valuable with longevity & potential too! There are lots of independent curators who bounce from institutions with their bits, solo & collectively, and curators who started in this way, and it’s as good a start as any; whether you go on to use ur skills learnt in this way in an institution or continue w a thing that you’ve built & run with. Other institutional/formalised models to look for this are: Clearviewnot/nowhere and Mimosa House (all DIY-style-ish curatorial/self-organised projects in London). Don’t underestimate your potential to start something from the grassroots without having to be a qualified guy; you sound like you already know what you’re doing, you’re just looking for a way to feel allowed to do it. Whether you do something that turns into a thing of its own, or you skill-up to go on to work in an institution, i do not think sotheby’s or christie’s are gonna give you what ur looking for.