Julian Bell is a senior member of faculty at The Prince’s Drawing School, and along with William Feaver is responsible for our lecture series and Drawing Year critical forums. He has recently returned from New York, where he is currently exhibiting.
Whilst in the Big Apple, Julian Bell was asked to give a talk at the New York Studio School, which not unlike The Prince’s Drawing School, was set up with drawing at the centre of studio practice, to fill a gap as skills-based teaching disappeared from contemporary art education. Established since 1964, today the School houses draughtsmen, painters and sculptors, in the former Whitney Museum of American Art building. On his return to London, we asked Julian Bell for his thoughts on the cultural differences for artists and students on either side of the Atlantic…
In New York, there seemed to be a stronger self-confidence in young artists. That is, compared to London, where there’s almost a very British sense of phlegmatism, a tendency to be doubtful about whatever practice we’re engaged in, and a worry that possibly you’re in the wrong place doing the wrong thing.
In New York there seemed to be a greater conviction in students that they’re in the right place doing the most exciting thing possible. More confidence. It’s difficult as it doesn’t necessarily make the work any better; I think a bit of doubt is a healthy thing, a grain of salt for the work. Nonetheless, it was invigorating to come across that energy. I also noticed that in the US there’s a very large range of sophisticated graphic languages that are built into their system that artists are ready to adopt. Some are things that come from Japan, or graffiti, and people are very au fait with relating to these graphic languages, in a way that I don’t think quite applies to the average young British artist. The drawings aren’t better in themselves, but perhaps there’s a wider base of buoyant confidence in drawing in general.
In contrast, I’ve just come out of this evening’s Drawing Year critical forum at The Prince’s Drawing School, where we’ve been having a very interesting discussion about the anxieties that young British artists may be feeling. The British seemed to find it hard having a foot set in tradition. The Americans, perhaps, because they’re at a further remove from tradition, and not in such an old country, don’t worry about it.