The City & Guilds of London Art School has operated under the same name and on the same site since 1879. It has persisted through economically better and worse times; witnessed radical changes to the social order; survived at least one very near miss from a war-time bomb! and been consistent throughout with its founding obligation – to teach both the history and the traditional skills of Art and Craft practice. The School remains independent from government subsidy and is able to remain fully committed to its own values.
Through the period between 1997 and 1999 successive validations were conferred by the (then) University of Central England (now Birmingham City University) for honours degree courses in Fine Art (BA and MA) and Conservation Studies BA. These are in addition to degree level Diploma Courses in Historic Stone and Woodcarving and an excellent broad-based Foundation Course. The School is small enough for all these specialist areas to interact at some level and, though degree accreditation has required a more conscious reflection of contemporary critical debate, this has served only to strengthen belief in the dynamic nature of Tradition, the contemporary relevance of skill-based teaching and the cultural value of the Art-object.
Arguably, the School’s uniqueness resides in the extent to which it fosters, in a practical way, an interrelation between technical skills and creative invention. Questions as to both creative possibility and long-term value – what is worth doing or making? what is worth saving or replicating? – are addressed with imagination, with regard for the historic legacy from which they derive and for the future whose heritage they seek to enhance. Post-modernist theory notwithstanding, the School sees this position not only as culturally vital, but as no less conceptually potent than any of the more self-consciously radical alternatives.
Realising this ambition in the complex world of art and art educational politics, requires resolve as well as imagination, but the particular acts of faith which are necessary and on which all creativity depends are probably more achievable in this small School than in any other institution I know.