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The Academy is Back: On Education, the Bologna Process, and the Doctorate in the Arts

A Biennial plans to take the form of an art school on Cyprus and ends up as a series of seminars in Berlin. An artistic director of Documenta tosses up the word Bildung and one hundred magazines try to catch it. Uninteresting art fairs actually organize interesting public debates. According to Tom Holert, “Within the art world today, the discursive formats of the extended library-cum-seminar-cum-workshop-cum-symposium-cum-exhibition have become preeminent modes of address and forms of knowledge production."1 While “education” has become, as Mai Abu ElDahab noted on the occasion of the announcement of the plans for the 2006 Manifesta Biennial 6 on Cyprus, “the buzz word in the art world,” and it is possible, as Irit Rogoff did more recently, to speak of an “educational turn in curating,” it seems to be much less fashionable to go into too much detail about institutions of art education as such.2 In observations such as these the stress is placed on expanding the notion of the academy, rather than on deepening the concept of the academy stricto sensu. Their aim appears to be to include as many art institutions as possible within the field of expanded academia, rather than to define the specific role of the art academy as such. Very often, the academic turn seems to be a way to turn away from the academy: indeed, if the art field becomes an academic one, then what an academy has to offer can also be found elsewhere, at other institutions and self-organized initiatives constituting the field of expanded academia. The suggestion seems clear: we don't need the academy.

Although there certainly are some notable exceptions, many participants in the debates on education and the arts, even if they aren't necessarily hostile towards the art academy as an institution, clearly shy away from discussing the particularities of higher art education.3 One of these particularities, insofar as Europe is concerned, is the way in which art academies are involved in the so-called Bologna Process, which is supposed to lead to the establishment of a European Higher Education Area in 2010, which should, in accordance with the Lisbon Strategy, contribute to the establishment of the European Union as the world’s biggest knowledge economy starting next year. In these debates, “Bologna” is at most allowed to play the role of annoying background music to their high-spirited essays: they almost never confront the detailed characteristics and implications of the Bologna Process as such. The motto that governs their statements seems to be: “Bologna is bad, so let's not talk about it any further.” Thus, while rightly refusing the (art) academy the monopoly on (art) education, one conveniently allows oneself not to think about the (art) academy altogether. This doesn't mean that there aren't any relevant discussions going on within (art) academies, on the contrary. But many of the high-profile voices in the contemporary debates on education and the arts aren't going to tell you what these internal discussions are about, even if occasionally they may be very well positioned to do so. Therefore I set myself the task of talking about a few things that some of my esteemed colleagues seem rather reluctant to talk about.

At art academies in many of the forty-six European countries participating today in the Bologna Process, the doctorate in the arts has become the subject of heated discussions.4 First of all, there is the existential question many people ask: Why should there be a doctorate in the arts, rather than nothing? Weren't we happy without it? It is no secret that many people see neither the socio-economic necessity nor the artistic relevance of a doctorate in the arts. There is fierce opposition to it from people within higher arts education, universities, and the arts field—at least in so far as it still makes sense to draw a clear-cut distinction between higher arts education, universities, and the arts. Indeed, among many other things, the Bologna Process could be described as a deconstruction of the old demarcations between precisely these three sectors. In any event, from various positions within these sectors in the process of deconstruction that is called Bologna, voices are heard opposing the doctorate in the arts. Against these voices—whether coming from the grumpy old folks who prefer to continue to live in a world that no longer exists and cling to the character of institutions as they once knew them, or from the jumpy young ones who already live in a world yet to come and fly at the character of institutions which they believe they know are no longer useful—I would like to fiercely defend the doctorate in the arts.

A defense of the doctorate in the arts is an institutional condition of possibility for the defense of a doctorate in the arts. A doctorate in the arts will always be defended according to a certain concept of the doctorate in the arts, laid out in rules that have previously been defended within the responsible university or faculty board or council. As a matter of fact, the latter kind of defense might turn out to be as exhausting as the defense of a doctorate as such. It will continue to demand a good deal of struggle in order to establish that the doctorate in the arts meets artistic—rather than merely academic—requirements and expectations. In this respect, strange as it may seem, many of today's strongest opponents of the doctorate in the arts are more trustworthy allies in the struggle for an artistically meaningful doctorate in the arts than some of those who count themselves among its most outspoken and enthusiastic proponents. The way in which some people today defend the concept of a doctorate in the arts is utterly unconvincing and probably part of the reason for the strong opposition to it.

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