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One of the newest building of Goldsmiths College - opened in 2008

British Art Education or learning to live... Letter from London 0

Ilze Strazdiņa

For those who are looking to study art or art-related subjects in Britain, this is the best time to be in London. During the next eight weeks, every college in London will be staging degree shows, not only to showcase the results of their work but also to attract potential new candidates. For the past eleven years now, the Truman Brewery, situated in East London, has hosted over a hundred art colleges and universities from every corner of British Isles. Under the common name Free-Range, the Truman Brewery show offers the insight into the different colleges, departments and sets of skills they offer. Like free-range chickens, each college and university department is different. Some provide exquisite skills in graphic design, some focus on sound art, some on painting or textile design. The quality of work also varies. In what might look like a rather low-level technical college, one can stumble across a work of art that stands out among a hundred others.

Art colleges have conducted degree shows for years, yet one could argue that this coming together in a coherent two-month-long showcase in central London is a result of what is called the 'Goldsmiths effect'. Goldsmiths, situated in South London has a reputation of being one of the most liberal institutions in the country. Founded in 1891 it is famous for its departments of Psychology, Sociology, Media and Cultural Studies, Visual Cultures, and Anthropology. However, it is most widely recognized as one of Britain's most prestigious art colleges, producing most notably the Young British Artist's (YBA) collective and over 20 Turner Prize nominees. Its not then surprising that today, just to say that you have studied at Goldsmiths is sufficient to add kudos to your position in the art world.

To understand what lies behind this phenomenon we should briefly look into the not-so-distant history. During the economic recession of late 1980s and early 1990s many private and public art galleries were forced to close down and artists began to set up exhibitions in disused spaces, on shoestring budgets. In August 1988, Damien Hirst curated his fellow artists and Goldsmiths students in the now legendary Freeze show at the Port of London Authority building in the East London. At that time the head of the Goldsmiths Fine Art department was a pop artist, professor Michael Craig-Martin, who himself achieved prominence in Britain in the late 1960s and over the years has been the greatest influence on young students.

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