I was amazed by Hugo Kelly’s piece
(yesterday) about my “ranting” on behalf of the National Art School. I
was perfectly up front about where I stand on this issue, but I’m at a
loss to imagine what stands behind Mr Kelly’s sarcastic – and frankly
ignorant – comments. His tone is neither clever nor witty – it’s nasty.

call the art school a “finishing school for rich kids” is a stupid and
insulting thing to say. Mr Kelly has obviously never had a good look at
the place – “terminally down-at-heel” would be a better description.
The university sell-off is a last resort to preserve the traditions and
independence of the school. The NAS has friends across the political
parties – not just Bob Carr, but Rosemary Foote and Peter Collins have
been firm supporters.

I can only assume this piece was meant to
shore up support for CoFA’s bid – which is, by all accounts, far
inferior to the Macquarie offer. If CoFA does take over, it will mean a
lessening of choice for Sydney’s art students and a decline in the
quality of art education.

I always thought Crikey was a good
idea, but if this is an example of the kind of comment you see fit to
print, you are no better than the tabloids at their worst.

Arts reporter and PR consultant Stephen Feneley writes:

always easy to portray people in the arts as self indulgent rent
seekers sucking off the public teet. Confident that most of your
audience will know next to zip about the people and institutions you’re
ridiculing (defaming), you can pretty much say whatever you like, or at
least whatever your partisan sources would like you to say.

readers must have been appalled and outraged to read Hugo Kelly’s piece
yesterday about how Bob Carr had supposedly succumbed to the special
pleading of a bunch of “artsy hangers-on” and agreed to let them cut
loose from TAFE and have their own “art school-cum teachers’ welfare

Hugo suggests that the teachers at the National Art
School, based inside the old East Sydney gaol, didn’t like TAFE because
it insists on competencies like literacy and because they had a pretty
slack approach to teaching.

Well I don’t know where Hugo was
when the breakaway of the NAS from TAFE occurred but he couldn’t have
been anywhere near East Sydney. The fight to keep NAS separate from
TAFE was to save the identity of an institution that had existed long
before the TAFE system had come into being.

For many decades an
art school under one guise or another had existed within the old gaol.
The overall campus with its other craft and design schools, most
notably fashion, had been known colloquially as East Sydney Tech, but
the visual arts school had been separately identified as the National
Art School for much if not of all of its history – my understanding of
this is that the history is not precise.

Nevertheless, it is
without doubt that the NAS was never your run-of-the-mill TAFE art
school. It had its own history and tradition and a distinct approach to
art education setting it apart not just from the rest of TAFE but
Sydney’s university-aligned art schools. The teachers, many of them
well-known exhibiting artists, would have been happy to stay inside
TAFE had the NAS been allowed to maintain its distinct identity.

independence battle only broke out because TAFE attempted to overhaul
the NAS to make it just like any other TAFE school which, contrary to
what Hugo Kelly says, would have greatly diminished standards.

philosophy and approach it would be fair to say that the NAS is
traditional if not downright conservative when compared to other art
schools and I haven’t always found myself in agreement with its
teachers. But its ethos was worth saving because it assured diversity
in art education. The other schools, particularly Sydney College of the
Arts, favoured a more conceptual approach to art while the NAS was
unashamedly committed to a studio-based education, steadfastly grounded
in the creation of physical objects.

Both approaches are
valid. It is grossly unfair to question the professionalism and
commitment of the artists who teach at the NAS. As for Kelly’s claim
that it’s nothing more than a finishing school for rich kiddies, that’s
an accusation that could be levelled at any art school under Brendon
Nelson’s education regime.