A ‘local’ foundation course is one at your average local college. A ‘national’ foundation course includes institutions like CSM, Kingston, LAU and MMU. These are the ones people compete to get into. They usually function more like, and are based within, a university. People live in halls and have access to exquisite facilities. If you want to get onto a visual arts degree at a top university, it is standard that you go to one of these. My peers who attended private schools said it feels like an extra year of private education because you have to have enough money to do an extra year of further education without a loan.(Even more if you attend a prestigious national foundation course in London.) I acknowledge my position on accessibility in art corresponds so closely to my own personal and professional interests, it feels selfish almost.By luck, I have just about managed to slip through the barriers which prevent access to this privileged environment, but as a young person currently in the institution, I feel the need to talk about it, because not many people seem to.
The art world lacks diversity in all areas, with working class and BAME students being hit the hardest. Art, Curation and Art Lit are some of the industries with the greatest documented class divide. This really pisses me off, especially when you take into account the way the art world profits from its progressive image, when in fact quite the opposite is true. The statistics have actually gotten worse since the 1980s when more working-class people were entering creative fields. Currently over 96% of jobs in London’s creative economy are held by people from advantaged socio-economic groups, compared to around 70% in most other industries.
I think this starts at GCSE level. If you are poor, you are less likely to pursue a career with little-to-no job security. I remember my Mum saying to me, ‘you can do art at GCSE, but I draw the line at A-level’. If you’re at a non-selective state school, you will not have the same access to facilities, tutors and art texts that people who attend a private or grammar school do. There’s no dialogue about Oxford or Cambridge and the deadlines are so early that most people miss them without realising. Regardless, there is no way you can be ready to submit a portfolio in October without some sort of leg up, some sort of privilege or edge that allows you to be ready so early. At that point on a foundation course, you will only have had access to the facilities for a few weeks. You can only really produce a full portfolio to the high standard that is required at that point if you’ve had access to the same facilities at A Level. I know two people who got into the Ruskin, both are actually from state schools, both very talented, but both have artists for mums. So… c'est la vie.
In the waiting room for my Slade interview, I overheard conversations that seemed to confirm all the horror stories I’d heard about nepotism and I can’t believe the almost comedic of level privilege I observed. The stats at Slade are bad for working-class students, even more depressing for BAME students and near non-existent if you’re a combination of both.
There’s also something to be said about art becoming increasingly over-intellectualised and academic. I completely understand why so many people might walk into a gallery and immediately switch off. The language used in art magazines, gallery captions and other forms of art writing is mostly unreadable and often sounds more like something put through Google Translate incorrectly rather than a concise piece of writing about the ideas behind a work. When visual culture is defined by a single demographic it becomes exclusive. I’m not saying this type of art is bad or even that it should be dumbed down. But, in reality, the general public don’t care for works about Anarcho-primitivism and stuff.
I know many students who partake in sex-work alongside their foundation/degree in order to fund it. Within the Cam Girling community, people joke about all of them being art students. I honestly think this is because the funding is so bad. Contrary to the arts, there are so many outreach programmes, grants and loans for STEM subjects. Young, working class, female artists frequently manage to slip through the class cracks into privileged art environments by doing sex work. It’s not their fault that the position they’re in makes it so attractive.
I’ll conclude on an anecdote, I was cleaning a table at the Hepworth and saw a flyer for a book launch called ‘Inclusion and Intersectionality in Visual Arts Education’ and thought, wow, that sounds really relevant and interesting; the book cost £26. The people you’re talking about at events like these can’t afford to be there. So who is it for? Is it just some self-congratulatory circle jerk about privilege, where everyone sits around and agrees but nothing actually gets done? I don’t understand how the institution doesn’t spot the irony before they publish these things… Probably because there is no one from a disadvantaged background in the room to point it out.
Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities In The Creative Industries. 2017
The point I’m trying to make here is that they would have been exposed to more contemporary art ideas early on, taken to exhibitions, had lots of books in their houses, a household that fostered creativity. Their families would have been able to give them the kind of support they would’ve needed to get in for the early deadline.