Art School Reminiscences

Alan Powers

For art historians, art schools are a subject of fascination (to me, anyway). Many assumptions made about them turn out to be wrong, and student experiences during the 1960s and 70s will hardly be believed by future generations. It seems that nobody leaves without learning something, but usually not what they were supposed to learn. I was stimulated by PM Prue Cooper’s reminiscences of the Byam Shaw School 1962-65, to make a general appeal for ‘Art School Memories’, and fascinated by what was sent in, whether short or long. The memories are arranged in date order, just click the links to read the full texts.

More please!

Please write at whatever length you like something about your art school experience (or other informal learning), highlighting things that might have been unusual or which you found particularly helpful, or the opposite. Please include names of teachers and dates where you can, and photos of any student work that survives. These will go into the AWG archive and may go into a future edited blogpost. Send them by email to

Master Alan Powers


Bro. Martin Grierson

‘At the very young age of 16, I was accepted [at the Central] to do one year in several departments first, followed by the three-year course in furniture and interior design. You can imagine my blushes when on the first day I was introduced to the Life class and all eyes seemed to be overtly looking at me. … The period was during the build-up and opening of “The Festival of Britain “and several of my tutors were involved in design there. During the holidays I worked for some of them on working drawings for the Festival, which felt very important. The fact that all the people teaching me were leading designers of the day gave me a very practical idea of what design was. And I loved the ‘hands on’ opportunity of making my pieces in the workshops, making adjustments as they came together, and seeing how the designs turned out.' Click here to read more...


Past Master Prue Cooper

‘For the whole of the first term we drew the plaster casts of famous sculptures, with a 2B pencil, day in and day out, with no let-up ...On Tuesdays we were taught by John Flavin, who devised brilliant and imaginative exercises to make us look and observe, and to make us understand how colour can work, how perspective, tone, texture etc can work, and how to make us think about what we were doing. … Around the time I left, I read that Roger Fry said he knew he’d never be a great painter as he never forgot to have lunch. Shorthand, of course, for something more complicated, but I identified with that, and have never painted since. Making stuff that is to be used is what makes sense to me, but at Byam Shaw crafts were never mentioned as a serious option for a career.' Click here to read more...


Bro. Peter Malone

‘…in this case my foundation year at Winchester School of Art, 1971. On arrival we spent three weeks making drawings of piles of random stuff on the floor. Sometimes we were encouraged to act the part of a brick, for example, to get us into the appropriate mood. It put me off charcoal for life. I am on the left. Later on in November we were given a project that involved choosing three numbers and relating them to St. Catherine’s Hill. Quite how, remained a mystery, no project introduction being forthcoming. We dutifully trudged up there, walked around a bit, got cold, decided that there was little mileage in it, and returned to whatever it was that we had otherwise been doing in the studio.' Click here to read more...


Bro. Carolyn Trant

‘We never had to do any written work to graduate, despite Coldstream being in the throes of writing his infamous report which ended up with everyone getting art degrees and so then having to do a certain amount of 'academic' input and needing, ironically, A levels to get into art college. I was in the intake that still only got a Slade Diploma but proud to say I never went to university or got a degree. … At weekends I spent a lot of time back down at Furlongs with Peggy Angus where there was often something lively going on, (including Tim Hunkin in an asbestos suit sitting on top of the midsummer bonfire I remember) and it was good to get out of London and my broom cupboard and into the countryside. I was theoretically painting landscapes after all, and had won a landscape scholarship one summer, entered by the Slade, which gave me some welcome cash and the gift of some tutorial sessions with Olwyn Bowey from the RA – she came down to see me in Lewes and we have stayed friends ever since – she and Carel Weight bought one of my paintings. The only woman tutor since school in my career!' Click here to read more...



Bro. Jane Dorner

‘The art school I went to – Farnham College of Art – was now part of a university complex called the University for the Creative Arts and I was on the MA course in 3D Design & Glass. Learning skills and techniques, having innate talent or building up the legendary 10,000 hours of practice towards the attainment of expertise were passingly regarded. What was valued was the ability to write about what you were doing, to evaluate and contextualise the processes involved. Self-reflection, critical appraisal, citation of back-up sources and an ability to string along high-falutin’ sentences with more style than meaning were prized. I could do that; my working life had been spent in writing and editing. It was not what I thought an art school should be about.' Click here to read more...

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