Royal College of Art is one of the world’s leading educational institutions with a number of degrees on practical aspects of art and design. Therefore, it is a perfect location for counterbalancing degree in Critical Writing in Art and Design that aims to develop literary and intellectual skills required to write about the subject.
This two year full-time Masters degree, that has been running for the past three years, emerged after the initial wave of design criticism degrees in the School of Visual Arts in New York and London College of Communication. Much in a way that its preceding courses, Critical Writing in Art and Design approaches design and art from a broad perspective, with fashion as one of the possible avenues for investigation. It is clear that the main emphasis of the course remains very much in critical writing however other forms of critical practices such as film and illustration are also emerging from the student projects, broadening the way in which criticism can be understood in relation to art and design.
The course is lead by Professor David Crowley and supported by a list of visiting lecturers that reads like a who’s who of writers and critics from all aspects of art and design. The students on the course run an excellent online publishing platform where they share writings completed as part of the course allowing an insight into approaches, voices and ideas as they emerge. Students have also created a number of publications including Useless and After Butler’s Wharf – Essays on a Working Building, both worth a read, benchmarking the level of work that that the students are creating.
Dora Mentzel, graduated from the first cohort to join the course, contributor to the up and coming issue 2 of Address and editor at fashion showroom Self Service, offered us an insight into the course.
You were in the first graduating cohort from Critical Writing in Art and Design, what attracted you to do the course?
I was looking to do an MA course in which I was able to look at fashion from a cultural critical perspective and perfect the skill of writing, while being in an environment that, to a certain extent, shared my creative and critical interests.
What sort of projects did you do during the course?
The course was divided into reading and writing workshops, for each of which we covered a variety of different themes. A good writer needs to be able to read critically so we covered a lot of content, from George Perec to Walter Benjamin, for example. For the writing workshops, I conducted an interview with the fashion editor of East German magazine Sibylle, wrote a catalogue essay about Scott Schuman and August Sander whose work I brought together in a fictive exhibition; we worked with external editors, for example, on our publication Useless for which I wrote about the buttonhole on the lapel of a man’s jacket. The briefs we were given were interpreted in whichever way it fit our individual interests and style of writing. That way we always ended up with 15 very different results from each of the students that were then discussed openly in a crit in class.
What was the highlight for you during your time studying Critical Writing in Art and Design at RCA?
Without wanting to sound cheesy, it was the people. We were a very tight knit group, despite everyone coming from completely different backgrounds, with different interests and covering two decades from the youngest to the oldest. Having conversations about our work both inside and outside the classroom has been inspiring. Secondly, doing the course, somehow brought all of the seemingly random things I’d done before together, it suddenly all just slotted into place and made sense – and it continues to do so now that I’ve graduated.
The course is not specifically dedicated for fashion – but art and design criticism in general – how did you find studying in that environment?
At first I found it a bit difficult until I realised that I had to become more proactive. Some of the best advice about my work has come from students or staff whose main interest was not fashion. You can often apply other practices to fashion quite well. Plus, the RCA has an excellent fashion department so I made use of having tutorials with their lecturers too when it came to my final project. Generally, everybody is very interested, accommodating and they genuinely want you to do well.
Do you think studying in a multi disciplinary environment had an affect on the way you approach fashion now?
It most definitely did. Doing a two-year full time MA at an art and design college such as the RCA has demystified the fashion industry and fashion as a phenomenon itself. I enjoy looking at fashion from that distant one-foot-in-one-foot-outside position and that’s exactly what I went there for.