(cover image: ‘Edith’, quick portrait by LARA Director of Studies, Sofia Welch)
Looking back at one of my old notebooks the other day I found an extremely overexcited entry from when I attended Summer School at LARA back in 2015. It is a wonder I managed to spend a year finishing my degree rather than leaping right in and starting then and there as a full-time LARA student.
“I’ve just finished my week at LARA and I feel for the first time like I’ve been to a place in which I’d actually like to be involved. I learnt so much. (I won’t bore you with what I’d learnt, partly because I’d clearly got a few things wrong!) And they tell you why you are doing everything – hold your pencil at the end so you can make lighter marks; this looks like this because it is this shape so the light is falling on it like this; the thigh needs to be longer because it contains the longest bone in the body and on your drawing it is the same length as the shin. The system is so kind too. Whereas in most art schools I’ve seen the students are sent out and told to make art, and when they bring it back they are ranked from great art to crap, in the atelier students are helped through a process to gain a skill. Some move faster and some slower, but I saw no evidence of the faster students being praised for it. In other words, the teaching process is about acquiring a skill, not building an identity. Thank God for that!”
It felt like I’d found something for which I hadn’t known I was searching. I signed up for a full-time place during my final year at UCL and started in October 2016. When I eventually did start, I found out that my emotional response to finding LARA was not unique. Because such rigour nowadays is not the norm in art schools or adult education colleges, learning at a place where it is practised requires a real mental revolution. No more sloppy thinking. No more excuses. No more limits to ambition. Because freedom in art, I believe, comes from the ability to realise what is in one’s mind. Freedom is not lack of rigour, because rigour breeds skill and skill opens possibility wide.
I learnt a huge amount in that week in 2015. And I’m lucky because Summer School was a gateway into a much longer training. Full-time study provides the luxury of knowing you can get it wrong. There is even less need for fudging when you have the time to correct and re-do things properly. I’m now in the middle of my third term and a much better draughtsman than I was a few months ago, and hopefully a much worse one than I will be.
I couldn’t recommend doing Summer School enough. It is a great way to get a taste for the place and to find whether what LARA is offering is the thing you’ve been missing. Before I did it I wondered if LARA might be a bit dusty and old fashioned, and as an ’emerging young artist’ I couldn’t be having that! But it is absolutely forward thinking, and it has allowed me to feel that I might possibly achieve some of my ambitions for the future… We’ll have to wait and see!