O que é uma Universidade?

Por coincidência, ou talvez não, tropecei recentemente em casos estranhos de decisões administrativas ou de (má) gestão da Universidade de Middlesex (Londres)— especificamente a decisão de encerrar o prestigiado departamento de Filosofia e acabar com o curso BA em Sonic Arts— e comecei a acompanhar uma interessante discussão sobre o significado destas decisões e, a montante disto tudo, sobre a integração do ensino das Belas Artes e Letras nas Universidades, que tem tido lugar na Arena, mailing list promovida pela Virose. Sendo o rastilho circunstancial as ilógicas decisões dos administradores da dita universidade londrina— alguém referia no Facebook que a extinção do Departamento de Filosofia e a criação da equipa de Futebol Americano estavam relacionadas, já que para tomar a segunda decisão seria preciso excluir a lógica— a verdade é que os fundamentos e as estratégias a que assistimos aqui, não nos são estranhas. Os ataques sistemáticos às áreas de estudo consideradas “não rentáveis”, com “baixos níveis de empregabilidade” e coisas que tais, são fenómenos globais que, como tal, têm que ser combatidos globalmente. E, em Portugal, temos também razões para nos empenharmos na defesa dum conceito de Universidade que resiste a lógicas puramente mercantilistas, porque o que está em causa é precisamente o próprio conceito de Universidade.

Muito a propósito, o Fernando José Pereira, trouxe à discussão na Arena, um editorial da Art Monthly relativo ao processo de integração dos processos de aprendizagem das Artes na própria estrutura académica convencional. Com fortes raízes num sistema baseado na prática de atelier e na relação mestre/discípulo, a integração de todo o sistema de aprendizagem das Belas Artes nas estruturas universitárias foi sempre um processo conflituoso entre aquilo que tem que ser diferente e o que pode ser equiparado. Vale a pena ler e reflectir, sobre a forma como esse processo de integração e equiparação descaracterizou (ou não) o próprio processo de ensino/aprendizagem das Artes (e o que é isso?), colocando-o, neste momento, em risco. Citando o tal editorial da Art Monthly:

Dan Mitchell asks whether art can be taught, whether there is even such a thing as ‘fine art education’ (Letters). It is a good question. It has always been a good question, or at least since the idea of art ‘education’, as opposed to art training rooted in craft traditions and the apprenticeship system, began to take shape in Europe in the 15th century. In fact, the question lies at the heart of what a fine art education is or could be.

When art schools were absorbed into the university sector under the last Conservative government, the process was achieved with the minimum of fuss or protest. For some art schools it was a matter of survival, for others it was a matter of status. But now, even those that welcomed the move have discovered, too late, that academic parity has been gained at the cost of a totalloss of autonomy (see Editorial AM316). Now that the idea that a fine art education is somehow different from an education in other, acadernic, subjects has largely been relinquished, it would seem that it can, indeed, be ‘taught’. And, given the subsequent proliferation of fine art courses in the UK, it is big business, too.

When New Labour repackaged the arts as the ‘R&D’ wing of the so-called creative industries, the laudable aim was to persuade the Treasury that they were financially viable and, as such, worth funding. The strategy proved successful and, when New Labour came to power, the funding was forthcoming. But, as everyone now knows, it came with strings attached. A less obvious, but arguably even more pernicious effect of this rebranding of the arts, one that has been highlighted by Stephen Lee (Letters AM316), was the way that corporate jargon – with its emphasis on ‘transferable skills’, ‘creative outcomes’ and ‘economic returns’ – began to supersede the language, and values, of the existing art educational culture.

With the corporatisation of art and education came the inevitable process of ‘rationalisation’ – shedding staff while boosting student numbers – and asset-stripping: the selling off of property and shutting down or merging of smaller, less profitable departments. In this new corporate culture, departments compete against one another for much-needed space and resources. At the University of the Arts, for example, as Alexander Myers points out (Letters), the proposal to move the fine art department of Central Saint Martins from its highly desirable West End site to a new site at King’s Cross will mean not only that there will be ’38% less space’ available, but also that access to resources will be shared with other courses. The implied threat is that, unless it turns a profit, fine art will be closed down or absorbed by another course or department.

At a time when cuts are being made across the whole university sector, a move described by Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, as ‘an act of academic vandalism’, fine art departments are particularly vulnerable because they demand access to space and materiaIs, as well as to staff.

Mitchell and Myers are right, it is time for all concerned to sit down and talk before it is too late and all fine art departments, along with all other arts departments, are subsumed into the non-category of ‘visual culture’. Is there such a thing as a fine art education? As long as the question is being asked, and contested, then perhaps there is. As Duchamp said of art, it can only be declared dead when no one is talking about it. Indifference is deadly.

Fala-se aqui sobre a situação no Reino Unido. Mas as semelhanças com a situação portuguesa são mais que muitas. Que fazemos?