With Professor Su Baker

March 11 / 55

Professor Su Baker is Director of the Victorian College of the Arts, having taken up the position last July after serving as Head of the School of Art at the VCA since 2000. She undertook graduate study at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney and in 2004 was awarded a Doctorate of Creative Arts by Curtin University of Technology. As a practising artist, Professor Baker exhibits at the John Buckley Gallery and is highly regarded in creative arts research. Professor Baker is leading the challenging process of developing a new creative arts curriculum at the VCA. Here she gives us a report of how things are progressing so far.

The VCA Looks Ahead 

This week we welcome new students to the Victorian College of the Arts and look forward to being part of their exciting and, at times, daunting journey through their chosen field. They will be joining the students and the staff at a significant time in the history of the VCA. As we start on a renewal and reinvention, we are aiming to provide them with a great experience of the arts and to help them find their place in the profession.

Over the past decade, much has changed in contemporary arts education, as one would expect, and, indeed, hope. The 21st century presents us with a vast spectrum of new conditions.

In 1972, the VCA was founded on principles that anticipated, by some 30-40 years, the increasingly visible interrelatedness of artistic forms in contemporary culture.  The combination of highly specialised training and the lateral experimentation across fields was anticipated and is now is characteristic of the complex study environment into which students enter and through which they will navigate their path.

This path is not a narrowly defined single mode of expression or a generalised amalgam of activities but, rather, we are looking for that balance of depth, focus and diversity through experiment and training.  And we acknowledge that between these highly specific practices, the relationships between and within the arts are many.

In the 1970s, when disciplinary boundaries in the arts were challenged, there was a deliberate effort in arts education fields to open the conventional practices up to a tactical ‘de-skilling’ in favour of experimentation. What is interesting now, in an environment that is so diverse and so open-ended, is that there is some appeal for an increased depth of practice emerging out of this now assumed interdisciplinary consciousness. This is certainly not equivalent to a standard ‘back to basics’ education where a ‘canon’ is taught, but rather, the need to devise customised study pathways that suit the material and conceptual needs of the art form and the student capacity to develop expertise. This is not to produce generalists but rather to build expertise within a diverse community of practices.

Designing an educational environment that does justice to these conditions has always been a challenge, and there is much to consider here. What model is required for the 21st century in a post- industrial age and the so-called new knowledge economy?

What does training artists look like and how do we provide it? The attributes of artists and those in the profession include the deep understanding of the chosen field, and that may include a physical and embodied knowledge, and a technical and conceptual facility that will position them as proficient and indeed leading practitioners, with a confidence to innovate, which requires taking conceptual risks and to look ahead for new solutions to artistic, social and cultural problems.

So the challenge for us at the VCA is to consider these things as we redesign our programs. What can we do to keep the flame of innovation and experiment alive while at the same time satisfying the voracious appetite and the social contract of public mass education? 

Fortunately, artists love a challenge!

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