• Josh Leach

Why you should take a foundation art year and why Universities don't recommend them anymore.

I didn't understand what I was supposed to get from a foundation art year. It just seemed to be a withering plan B if you didn't know what you wanted to do. An extra year to delay the decision to go to University.


But it was more than that.


Here's the problem: when people leave the British school system and go to University to pursue a creative degree. They are not ready to be creative.


They've just spent years in a system that conditioned them into always trying to 'get the right answer' and punished them for wrong ones.


Students leave being obsessed with achieving good grades. Believing if they follow the rules, do as they're told, that success will deservedly come to them.


They need to learn to fail.


That is, their ideas about failure need to be 'reconditioned'. So they can learn to experiment and try new things. Increasing their ability to learn from a greater range of experiences.


Learning how to fail. By trying something new and being able to reflect on it.


They need to be brave enough to try new things, or less self-conscious, or curious enough to want to. There are a lot of different emotional pathways out of your comfort zone. All are valuable.


And when they do inevitably fail, they are curious to know why and learn from it. Seeing what they could do differently next time. Rather than feeling shame, embarrassment and never trying again.


The mark of a creative is that they don't place their ego or sense of self worth in their artistic output. To do so would paralyse them with fear. You see this with young artists who've achieved success or praise in one artistic medium or style. they continue recreating the same piece over and over...


So what is an art foundation?


It's a year-long process where you are encouraged to try each discipline before specialising. i.e. Fashion & Textiles, Pottery, Digital, film, Fine Art etc.


You may discover you have a passion for something you didn't expect. Because you never had the opportunity to try it before.


It came as a surprise to everyone on our course when it turned out the grizzly intimidating Scottish tutor had discovered his passion was textiles and his practice involved stitching beautiful intricate cloths. He was convinced his practice would have been less meaningful had he stayed on the trajectory to become a graphic designer like his friends.


'This is why it's so important to do an Art foundation' he snarled, as he switch slides to more beautiful work.


Finding your true artistic calling


In the introduction to the foundation, the tutor said "we won't be teaching you how to draw -you can learn that for yourself, this course is about mindset."


The feeling in the room became somewhat hostile as though they were thinking 'You're not going to teach us how to draw?? What kind of art course is this? we thought finally I'd have a good art teacher, they didn't teach us to draw properly at secondary school either. This is bull****."


I was amongst the disappointed. And I'm good at drawing. I wanted someone to teach me to do better and praise me for it.


On reflection, if you don't like drawing and you want someone to make you good at it -You need to ask yourself... why??. Why would you force yourself? Is there some imaginary person criticising you for not being able to draw? (i.e. yourself, the small critical voice in your head)

If you love drawing but you aren't willing to practice and teach yourself -do you actually love drawing? Or do you love the idea that you are someone who can draw? The difference between people who can and can't draw is when they were young and first starting, the ones who loved to draw did it anyway and have simply had more practice.


So...


Why Universities don't recommend Foundation art year anymore. And why you shouldn't listen to them.


Universities used to be much more strict about letting people onto their courses without having done a foundation art year. Why would you take on someone who wasn't ready?


Tutors were free to be more selective. If you were a university tutor wouldn't YOU want to have creative and emotionally mature students on the course?


That was when they had more government funding. But now it's more about money, because the Conservative party passed legislation cutting funding to Universities but allowing them to charge more to make up for it. Resulting in higher tuition fees for students. Universities are a business and you are worth a lot of money to them. Why would they risk you taking an art foundation and 'finding yourself' if you realised your passion was for something else or you wanted to do your degree elsewhere??


Nowadays you will hear them say things like 'Don't worry you don't need an art foundation just a good portfolio'


Don't be flattered. This is terrible advice. Designed to lure you into purchasing a course!


You need time to actually devote a whole year to your creative practice before taking on a creative degree.


Foundations are FREE for under 19s.


And £1,300 for over 19 year olds.


And the difference in mindset and talent of those who HAVE done foundation art years and those who HAVEN'T when you get to degree level is really noticeable.


Those who hadn't done foundations were more cautious and timid in their work, self-conscious and often had artistic 'side-hobbies' that they clearly enjoyed more than their actual course but hadn't given themselves permission to pursue at degree level.



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