“Art schools have always been places where people watched where the action was in culture and then moved into it. This is why so much popular music has come out of art schools” Brian Eno.
Despite being very interested in ‘pop’ music (I use the term to denote non-classical music) to the point of obsession, I had no skill at all on any instrument. I played oboe in the school orchestra but got kicked out for being too crap. I hated the whole ‘official’ music package. I saw what I was into as being completely other to that. I started playing the guitar when I was 17 (badly); for me it was a medium for writing. With my kind of sensibility, art school seemed a much more natural place for me to be, and in fact, on my very first day in Foundation (at Winchester) the tutor played ‘Piano Phase’ by Steve Reich to everyone. It blew me away! My notion of art school was that it was a place to swim in a general cultural milieu. Music school was for people who wanted to play music by dead people…
My understanding of the real criterion for judging if something is art or not (besides the ‘it’s art because the artist says it’s art’ argument) is to do with the degree of criticality the artist brings to the practice. I was never a painter (not even a drawer) but I’ve always taken what I do seriously. I’ve always been interested in straddling the worlds of pop & high culture. So often people in rock bands have no idea about the greater cultural context in which they operate and people in fine arts are often extremely puerile about their choices in ‘pop’ culture.
I think I’d ultimately describe myself simply as ‘an artist’ (rather than ‘artiste’) — not out of pretension but because it’s accurate. In terms of influence, it’s less about the actual education and more to do with swimming in the milieu. I’m totally a product of the British art education system of the ‘7os, even though I have very little on paper to show for it. It’s about a set of attitudes and the notion that it’s okay to be serious about what you do.
Of course I was aware of musicians who’d gone the art school route before me. Always the best ones went to art school! I remember my first wife (a product of the ‘6os scene and the Royal College) dismissing the Pink Floyd as “mere architecture students”…
Bob Hardy, Franz Ferdinand
I had absolutely no desire to play music when I went to art school. I was a massive music fan and obsessive record collector but I’d never played an instrument. I hated music at school and dropped it as soon as possible.
Glasgow is a pretty small place and the art and music communities tend to overlap socially; so while I was at art school I ended up hanging around with a lot of musicians. There are many things you’re supposed to do while you’re at art school and being in a band is one of them, so when Alex asked me if I fancied learning to play the bass on some songs he’d been writing, I thought I may as well. It was definitely a social thing rather than a burning musical ambition. Once Nick and Paul had joined us and we were playing gigs, it was just really fun. Of course, we ended up with a record contract and then all this happened… It was a total accident that I ended up here. Help!
The critical process involved in making music is very similar to making visual art except when you’re working in a band there’s obviously more collaboration and you have to be open to other people’s ideas far more than when you’re working alone in your painting studio. Of course, I was a massive Beatles fan and had read about John Lennon’s art school days but it didn’t influence me directly as in, ‘Going to art school will help me launch my music career’. I was certain that I wanted to be a painter when I left for art school so the fact that many musicians had also attended was irrelevant.
Galia Durant, Psapp
I always knew I wanted to make music. I am not a technically great musician, and I never wanted to go down the ‘turning-music-into-something-academic’ route. Conversely, the idea of art school appealed to me as being romantic and free from discipline. That was the idea anyway. I found a lot of people there were actually a bit ’emperor’s new clothes’ and I just don’t think I have the right ‘flavour’ of brain to be any good at deconstructing creativity. I generally felt like a bit of a dunce.
I was a pretty late developer and at art school I was pretty green about everything. I got very depressed and ended up leaving Chelsea after a full on nutty episode… It was actually a string of dead end office jobs and general drudgery that made me realise I needed something else. Musically and artistically I found my feet in my early twenties, a good four years after art school. I started to find out about all sorts of amazing music and techniques and bought a load of keyboards and effects units and met [musical accomplice] Carim, and that’s really when it all started to come together.
Some of the methods I learnt at art school I have recently started to explore again; so despite the difficulties I experienced, I am very glad I went. Even if I don’t consciously feel that attending helped me, there’s no real way to quantify the value of any experience — in the end we are all just the sum of our parts. Although retrospectively I see there is a clear relationship between musicians and art school, I wonder what percentage it really is? I don’t actually ever remember thinking I would be a full-time artist. In fact strangely, Psapp has inspired that art part of me in a way that art school never did. As soon as we had records that needed sleeves I was spurred into action.
Mathew Sawyer, The Ghosts
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after leaving school. At that time all I cared about was music. I found myself on a video production BTECH. This was a better option than looking for a job. I would make videos to my favourite songs and the staff suggested I apply for an art foundation course instead. Although I would draw a lot at home, I couldn’t replicate anything placed in front of me. I had never considered it possible for me to be let into an art university.
I already thought of myself as a musician. Going to a music college to study the correct way to play is anathema to a young punk. This is how I stubbornly saw myself at 17. Early Rough Trade releases were my chalice. I was obsessed with bands like Huggy Bear, The Raincoats and Bikini Kill. The music was entirely ‘of youth’; that’s where it got its sound, words and emotion from. And that’s where it existed. Certainly not measured or taught by an educational system.
Musicianship and technical knowledge was held in disdain. What mattered was to celebrate the amateur and raw ideas in the songs. Played how you choose. This is how I felt about art as well. Both were DIY activities. The original reason I went on an art foundation course was to enable me to carry on living like a student. Suddenly, it really was OK to forget about the horrors of school and for the first time feel like your own navigator. That’s when I really fell for painting and the new world of thought and feeling it offered. I learnt to apply those DIY ideas I’d gleaned from the music scene, into making art.
Art college provides the three most self-indulgent years of your life. It gives you freedom at a crucial age to try and figure out what your voice is, and the courage to present it. However you look at it, music college was always exclusive. You have to be able play a certain way before you get there. That’s why a lot of bands are formed in art college. They had nowhere else to go.
Tai Shani, Cherry Mash Cherry
I always perceived making music as something that seemed totally impossible to do, a completely opaque and mysterious process that was indecipherable to me. In that sense, being a musician was never an option, or a real possibility beyond the fantastical sphere of rock ‘n’ roll wet dreams.
I always thought of art production as a second best, but there was nothing compelling to me about studying music, even if potentially it would mean understanding the mechanisms involved. It is only in recent years that I have discovered musicians that I like that have actually studied music; most of what I listen to is made by self-taught musicians.
Having dropped out of every art school I attended, I consider myself an autodidact too. I’m not sure that the crucial things that make music or anything great can be taught anyway; it is such an elusive currency. Many of the musicians that I respect did however attend art school, but this did not really effect my decision to attend myself— apart from instilling the idea that art schools are glamorous places overflowing with possibility. They seemed like places where interesting people go and exchange radical ideas.
The fundamental concern of aesthetics in art schools is something that is actually intrinsic and essential to popular music. It helps create the narratives that make music so all-consuming. But I do not think that it is something that is often addressed in traditional music schools.
Although inextricably bound, I find it difficult to have an active practice in both music and art simultaneously. They are very different disciplines in terms of process. Even in terms of trajectory, I find it impossible to sustain momentum in both, one always suffers on behalf of the other
I find making art more controllable, and I have an established internal dynamic, a method of working, while with music I am completely at its mercy; I can’t force a song. But that is also why I love it so much; it sounds terrible, but there is an unbridled sincerity to music which feels noble and deeply satisfying.
Colin Newman, Wire.