What is talent? What is failure? Changing Mindsets at UAL

Camberwell Graduate Intern, Daisy Young, talks about her recent experience curating an exhibition with Year 1 BA Fine Art Students.

Vikki Hill, Project Associate: Changing Mindsets and Associate Lecturer: Thinking Teaching, and Daisy Young, Graduate Intern, Fine Art Programme, Camberwell College of Arts

At the Wilson Road Gallery on the 27th February 2018, Year 1 BA Fine Art students from Camberwell College of Arts exhibited work they had produced in response to the Changing Mindsets workshop in November 2017.

Critiquing the problematic term ‘Talent’, and exploring the fine art practitioner’s approach to failure, ‘What is Talent, What is Failure?’ challenged fixed beliefs of intelligence and asked how we might embrace risk.

The exhibition was curated by Graduate Intern, Daisy Young, who has been involved in the development of the Changing Mindsets workshops for staff and students at Camberwell over the project’s pilot year.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

VH: Can you tell me a bit about your background and the role you have now at Camberwell?

DY: My role at Camberwell as the graduate intern came shortly after I graduated from my BA Fine Art degree at Chelsea College of Art. It was a role that was advertised for a recent graduate to be appointed to a department across CCW.

The aim of the placement is to get someone from a working-class family into art employment, the only requirement was that neither of your parents went to university. When applying for the role you had to outline what you would do once you were part of the department. For me this was focused towards student led projects.

This role has given me time and resources to get things off the ground that I never had time to infiltrate when studying, such as a cross college, cross course, cross year exhibition which is coming up in April.

I found my time at UAL really difficult as I felt as if I never really fitted in due to my background, not only my financial situation but my lack of engagement with culture. It felt as if some people were unaware of the struggles of growing up with very little money, studying with no financial help from home, or how little I knew about the art world and the literature that comes along with it.

I think the position I hold as Graduate Intern is helpful with this gap, as it allows me to have conversations with tutors that perhaps when studying I felt were impossible to engage with due to lack of time or confidence.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

VH: What was it that particularly interested you in the Changing Mindsets workshops, what was your motivation and how did you plan to engage students in an exhibition?

DY: They were of particular interest to me as a space for both students and tutors to discuss ways in which the current UK academic structures represent some outdated curriculum or ideas.

It posed questions and started discussions around class, race and gender and the stereotypes that are generated when talking about this. I sat in on both staff and student workshops and was surprised by the different attitudes that were raised. It was fascinating to hear how people from completely different generations engage with the stereotypes and whether they feel affected by them or not.

The notion of talent and what it means to be talented was raised in relation to fixed mindsets and grow mindsets. I thought this was particularly relevant within the art school context as you are required to have a certain level of ‘talent’ before you arrive, which is gauged through a portfolio interview.

It made me wonder how students gauge themselves against the word ‘talent’ and whether they believe natural ability is something that can be learned or if it’s something that you’re born with. I decided to put out an open call for an exhibition in relation to this. I called it ‘What is talent? What is failure?’ in the hope that it would get students thinking about how they judge their own work as successful or not.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

VH: From the variety of work that was submitted, tell me about one piece that particularly resonated with you in context of the project and why was this?

DY: The work submitted all responded to the theme in a very similar way, no one showed work that they didn’t believe was successful, and therefore responded to the talent aspect of the question. I very much expected this to happen, to show something you are proud of that you believe is successful is far easier than to show a failed piece of work.

Artwork by Nikos Christodoulou

For me talent and drive go hand in hand. Productivity allows for mistakes which allows you to learn, I believe this was most evident within the work of Nikos Christodoulou due to the speed that’s present with the marks he uses to make up his large ink drawings. The creases and marks all over the drawings give them charm as it shows his eagerness to make without fear of mistake.

I think the exhibition was a success as it gave a platform for students to display and talk about work in a stress-free environment with students from other courses that they wouldn’t have known before, opening up their immediate networks and hopefully allowing them to feel as if they have a place within this institution.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

Exhibiting students:

Isabella Sherwani-Keeling
Martin Del Busto
Christian Milborrow
Francesca McGowan
Nikos Christodoulou
Thomas Couzens
Iona K
Harriet Moore