Vol. 3 | Proposal for Redefining Art School | Caleb Gess, Christopher Holdstock, and Brendan Roarty

Proposal for Redefining Art School
/Caleb Gess, Christopher Holdstock, and Brendan Roarty

Three students, Brendan Roarty ,Christopher Holdstock, and Caleb Gess, propose their formulation of an Art School for the 21st century. They begin by laying out a framework of fundamental principles, after which they describe the working out of these principles and the particulars of their proposed institution.
5 Fundamental Principles:

1. We don’t provide a product, we inspire practice

We can’t guarantee monetary or professional success -- we create an environment where initiative can communally emerge.

“School [currently] prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to grow in independence; they no longer find relatedness attractive, and close themselves off to the surprises which life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition.” ((Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 47.)

One pitfall we wanted to avoid was inculcating the consumer culture prevalent in many institutions. True learning requires desire and discipline on the part of the student -- that is not something we can provide. We seek to put the onus of living on the student.

2. Consummation is not rooted in production but in the relation of student to knowledge

The student is the end, not the means. Whatever the student produces is merely a byproduct of the act of and engagement in learning. Therefore, it shouldn’t be the focus of the evaluation of the student. This of course puts a lot of responsibility on the students to act autonomously and be responsible for their own outcomes, as there is no required output to begin to classify students with. It is the hope that with this freedom and independence, students will take on the added responsibility with an engaged sense of passion.

“The danger of education, I have found, is that it so easily confuses means with ends. Worse than that, it quite easily forgets both and devotes itself merely to the mass production of uneducated graduates - people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade which they and their contemporaries have conspired to call “life.” (Thomas Merton, Love and Living, 11.)

This structure allows the student to be at the center of the wildly branching and vast process of learning, realizing themselves as opposed to falling into a role created for production.

3. Breadth is free, but depth requires investment

“Schools are designed [currently] on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags. New educational institutions would break apart this pyramid. Their purpose must be to facilitate access for the learner to allow him to look into the windows of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in by the door." (Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 76.)

Rather than give a hierarchical order to knowledge access, our framework seeks to make breadth accessible to all. We seek to provide access to people and resources as inexpensively as possible. Breadth and exploration are provided at minimal cost because we recognize that low cost “communal dialogue” is fundamental to “capital E” education.

Specialization, for us, is not an ascent up the pyramid of knowledge-acquisition and practice, rather it is a deep-dive into one small body of information. Hence, we seek to flip the pyramid imagined by Illich on its head. Our school is a funnel. Students start at the top and can access breadth from the beginning. If they choose to specialize, they can pay for their own subterranean exploration.


4. "Capital E” Education and Skills Training are Addressed Independently

“An insistence on skill drill alone could be a disaster; equal emphasis must be placed on other kinds of learning. But if schools are the wrong space for learning a skill, they are even worse places for getting an education. School does both tasks badly, partly because it does not distinguish between them. School is inefficient in skill instruction especially because it is curricular. In most schools a program which is meant to improve one skill is chained always to another irrelevant task. History is tied to advancement in math, and class attendance to the right to use the playground.” (Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 17.)

We recognize that skill training is an important part of schooling. We also recognize that deeper learning is not as simple as replicating a single task or repeating information. We think both of these things are important, but that they require a completely different approach to be effective. Therefore, we address them separately.

5. Community / conversation is the space in which real learning happens

“The love of wisdom was nurtured in conversation.” Plato

“We believe that learning together is fundamental to a meaningful life. As members of a collective, we learn, labor, and take action in continuous dialogue with one another.” (Making and Being, 62).

Ideally, the structure presented would create a space where the student population is limited so that each individual can recall everyone else’s name, reinforcing a sense of community and intimacy that pushes people to grow together and become inspired locally.

Proposed Framework:

Entry Requirements

No technical requirement for basic enrollment (or prior schooling)

Our institution would not have any technical requirements for entry. The only barrier to entry would be the minimal monthly fee for facilities and general overhead. We imagine that this would cost somewhere between $200-500 per month. (This rate would depend heavily on the local economy and real estate market. It is fundamentally a lease on space, hence this cost would be dependent on the local market and could fluctuate widely depending on location.) This fee (along with the availability of space in the program-- more on that later) would provide a student access to the space.

In thinking about our cost structure, we like to use the analogy of a software subscription.

Many subscription models offer the basic functionality for nothing, or very little. Once you have tried the software and decided that it will meet your needs, you can invest in the full package. In a similar way, our program allows students access to the space, to other students, and to the social environment for very little money. If a student wants to get further skill training or industry certification they can pay for it as they go and at their pace.

Organizing the cost structure in this way aligns the payment with the expenses of school. A student only pays for what costs the school money. They do not pay out a fixed price without knowing how those funds will be distributed/allocated. The base level, monthly fee, only goes to the facilities and general management. The additional skill/certification fees go directly to the instructors or certification board.

Another benefit to this organizational structure is the greater flexibility given to the student. A student will not be tied down by loan debts for the rest of their life if they decide not to finish school. They can also choose to do school at a slower or faster pace than is typically expected.

Finally, this structure allows a student to experience “Capital E” education at a minimal expense. It follows our 3rd foundational principle: “Breadth is Cheap, Depth Requires an Investment.”


The school is open enrollment, as in, students can enroll for different terms whenever they want and leave whenever they want. There is limited space, and therefore limited spots as well. The school would be one thousand or less students, as mentioned above, to create a better sense of community and intimacy. There could be multiple locations housing campuses that form the whole of the school, but each individual site would be small. This limited amount of spots requires some form of hierarchy to sort out who gets a spot.

Rather than having enrollment first come first serve at a specific date, there will be a hierarchy for enrollment as detailed below.

Tier 1 - Current returning students years 2nd - 6th
Tier 2 - Incoming students 1st year
Tier 3 - 6th+ year students

This puts the onus on the students to either have, or develop initiative. Purchasing the commodity of school does not equal social security. By letting students stay for the six year period the structure gives them room to breathe and find themselves, but also eventually pushes them out into the real world to continue on their own. Students should act out of motivation, responsibility, and autonomy, spending their window of time at the school wisely.

“School [currently] prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to grow in independence; they no longer find relatedness attractive, and close themselves off to the surprises which life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition.” (Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 47.)

Providing the space to develop the skills you need but disincentivize enrolling for more than 6 years.


The skills training section of our institution emphasizes core, multi-disciplinary skills.

These skills are taught in a foundational context, similar to CCS’s foundations courses. Differing from CCS, however, is that Skills Training are offered on an as-need basis. Class availability fluctuates based on student interest. If a class does not exist, the student body can request that a Skills Training course is created. Likewise, as interest in a specific skill diminishes, so does the class.

So while we determined that Skills Training would allow students to refine foundational courses, we knew that a community space was needed to put that developed knowledge to work. As emphasized in Making and Being, learning must occur in context. The lines of inquiry that Jahoda and Woolard describe act as an educational web, where all pathways and disciplines that we cross are meaningful. Within those intersecting lines is a singular thread that pulls through our entire educational experience, such as a declared major. An infinite number of these threads would ebb and flow through your time at this institution.

“Learning must occur in context, that it cannot be isolated from the conditions that impact the group, each person must take time to get to know the whole group, discover how the lines of inquiry they will undertake are meaningful. We hope that your spaces of learning are not only places to acquire the skills of research and productions; they are places where you learn how to co-create knowledge, in community.” (Jahoda and Woolard, Making and Being, 109.)

This thought process led us to the conception of the Suspended Studio, referenced after Barthes’ “suspended site” from “To the Seminar.” The suspended studio is our institution’s second defined space. This space emphasizes individual growth through community and conversation. It utilizes smaller, physical spaces to create intimacy among peers. We conceptualized a space such as this because artists rarely work in isolation. Inspiration is not found in a vacuum. More often, artists are found on teams, working towards a common goal established by that group of people. So while this is the space for personal projects, you have the ability to utilize the knowledge of your peers to push your work forward.

In Making and Being, on page 11, one strategy for the learning space is co-creation learning. They ask, “what can we learn from each other?” The belief is that everyone is capable of acting as both the teacher and the learner at various instances of instruction. As such, the Suspended Studio would act as a balanced plane of experience, where students have the ability to mingle, co-create, and play. Instructors would have access to this space in order to provide personalized guidance, but must abide by house rules geared towards preventing excessive authority in a creative space.


The resources described are broken up into two groups, relating to the spaces described above.

Suspended Space Resources:

“The seminar assumes responsibility for producing a text, for writing a book (by a montage of writings); or because, on the contrary it regards its own non-functional practice as already constituting a text.” (Roland Barthes, “To the Seminar,” 332-333.)

The main resource in this space is the space itself, those around you, and the atmosphere and community created by way of these. This space is shifting and lends itself to the creative whims of the community that inhabits it.

Skills Training Resources:

"We agree to share the various knowledge and resources held by individual members of the research collective, across the collective, so members can participate as equally as possible.” (Making and Being, 24.)

This space is categorized by its open access to information. This is realized in the form of databases, libraries, videos, and access to teaching staff.

Teachers are available to students who enroll for Skills Training, and are on payroll. They are open during hours to help students by demand, and lead seminars that are created through mass student interest. It is the student’s responsibility to seek out and engage with teachers.

The teachers act as a point of reference and a force of guidance for the students, as not to paint them into corners, but to work with them.

The teachers make up the Certification Panel when it comes to a specific skill. They produce for the student a recommendation rather than a title, and any number of these certifications can be attained given passing the panel. This requires at least one concrete or physical project that displays the skill, and a sort of interview in which the student can intellectually discuss their ideas about concepts in a conversational way.


Baseline Tuition

Made up of Utilities and Accommodations for all students.

Personalized Tuition - Students should know what they are paying for directly.

Renting a space (Suspended Space)

Access to teachers and Library Database Resources (Skills Training)


End Product

Our program does not provide a product. It is a place where students can grow and learn as they see fit. As such, we do not prescribe much in terms of final outcomes. What we do offer:

A Body of Work

Though we require no formal thesis, our students will emerge with a body of work that is indicative of their experiences and growth while in the program and experiencing life in the suspended site. We see it as a “living project.”


Our school would not offer traditional diplomas or degrees. This is intentional. We want students to possess ( or be willing to develop) the initiative required to chart their own path. As such we do not provide a standardized assurance of societal status (a traditional degree).

As such, we do offer skills certifications. Once a student has developed a skill, they can apply for a certification in that specific domain. This certification would be something like a LinkedIn reference, but slightly more official. Obtaining one of these certifications would require a student to show their work or complete a test in front of a body of respected people in this skill. This could be professors or industry professionals. This “nod” of approval would not give students the same assurances as a degree would, but it could serve to indicate that they have obtained a certain level of proficiency to potential employers.


To summarize: our re-imagined institution is structured from 5 aforementioned, fundamental principles:

  1. We don’t provide a product, we inspire practice
  2. Consummation is not rooted in production but in the relation of student to knowledge
  3. Breadth is free but depth requires investment
  4. “Capital E” Education and Skills Training are addressed independently
  5. Community / conversation is the space in which real learning happens

Our institution emphasizes personal commitment to the students’ own practice and/or discipline. We are only guaranteeing success to the degree of effort which the student provides. As such, mastery of your discipline is dependent on your devotion to your practice in conjunction with guidance from faculty. We de-emphasize production value, not in quality, but in quantity. We would not set expectations for the number of projects completed by the students, but the quality of those projects. As such, consummation is rooted in the students’ skills developed. We believe the ways in which we emphasize these principles would bring the art institution into the twenty-first century.

Works Consulted

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).

Susan Jahoda and Caroline Woolard, Making and Being: Embodiment, Collaboration, and Circulation in the Visual Arts (Brooklyn: Pioneer Works, 2020).

Thomas Merton, Love and Living (Boston: Mariner Books, 2002).