Audience-free practices and the art school panopticon

Chris Dorsett

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Remembering what art schools were like in the 1960s and 1970s is like opening a storage box put away when Rosalind Krauss’ Sculpture in the Expanded Field (1978), or some similarly radical essay, turned up in the college library. About thirty years ago there was a moment when the studios in which art students worked were no longer, conceptually speaking, instructional environments in any sense comparable to that of a life room. From that moment an art school was entirely a site of avant-garde endeavour in which the staff shaped and promoted, with increasing ambition, new generations of artists. With or without Krauss, fine art teaching embraced a vastly extended range of practices and a greater diversity of location, both in relation to the possible sites of production and the different forms of reception. Similarly, the mental space in which students responded to pedagogic developments took on an external alignment. There was an increased awareness of audience reception: a studio was no longer just a workspace; it was a personal framing device through which an imagined public took their first glimpse of future art. The university discipline of fine art was certainly enriched by these developments but it is still worth considering what was eclipsed. This presentation (and illustrated paper) explores the continuing life of the life room, not only as a study resource in a world dominated by Expanded Field practices, but also as a space for reconsidering the ‘audience-free’ dimension of being an artist. Here the ‘life of the mind’ of a fine art practitioner can be analogized with that of the solo performer-listener at the heart of the 19th century piano repertoire. On this account, an art student who has decamped to a life room has escaped the fine art panopticon that is continually surveyed by an assumed audience, which might, or might not, respond to the self-conscious discoveries of new generations of artists.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010
EventArt Schools: Inventions, Invective and Radical Possibilities - UCL Art Collections, University College London
Duration: 1 Jun 2010 → …


ConferenceArt Schools: Inventions, Invective and Radical Possibilities
Period1/06/10 → …


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