Interviewing Cliches

I received an email out of the blue with interview questions for http://www.artshub.com.au/. Late one Saturday night I composed some quick responses, but as I proceeded got increasingly annoyed. The published version removed the tenor of my frustration so that  the outcome was more palatable clickbait for this sad job market sustaining the worst marginalized version of ‘the arts’ (i.e., ‘cultural value,’ ‘community,’ ‘lite provocation’). So, in full:

– Why is it important that students receive a broad education in design and media arts, rather than focussing on one particular discipline?
Design is the process of materialising preferred futures. Materialising futures does not just mean making this or that new thing. It means changing the way people live, opening up a new world. Any design worthy of the name transitions a range of everyday practices into new ways of living and working. This will always be a complicated process that involves convincing a range of people that resources – whether investors’ money, suppliers’ natural materials, users’ time and attention, etc –  should be redirected into materialising that future in an enduring way. Any act of design therefore involves multiple kinds of persuading and making.  Any creative practitioner who only knows one particular discipline will only ever be acting in service of other people’s visions for the future.

– As the cultural and media landscape is changing, how do the UNSW design and media arts degrees prepare students for a workforce with increasing automation and digitisation?

For most people in the global consumer class, digitisation has already happened and automation will not happen, at least not in the ways we are currently scaremongering.

I take digitisation to mean the process by which almost all everyday practices are mediated through data-manipulating devices. Digitisation means that no thing is any longer just what it is. A screen can be a keypad, and a motion detector, and a healthy living disciplinarian. This morphability in things is something that UNSW Art and Design graduates, skilled in creative practices and media arts, understand expertly, as producers, persuaders and deciders. That same screen is also part of business models that depend on gathering locational data and on-selling it. How to live appropriately in that world of surveillance capitalism is not something that UNSW design and media arts degree programs prepare students for. No degree anywhere is currently adequate to that challenge. The kind of graduates who are adequate to that challenge will be the kind of graduates who find the agency to say to certain tech developments, like the version of automation we are currently being sold, ‘No, I would prefer not to.’

Many processes are being automated, as they have for the last century, but the current hype exaggerates the capacity for robots to perform many of the activities that we humans value. Fuller levels of automation will only happen if our societies conform to lowered expectations for more regularised ways of living. Fully autonomous vehicles for instance need less variable roads – i.e., excluded pedestrians and cyclists. UNSW Art and Design graduates are the kinds of people who prize variety in human society. They will be the ones who reassert the value of living in non-automated worlds, rich in creative practices.

– There is a perception of teaching that suggest “those who can’t do, teach”. Do you think this oversimplifies or undervalues the role of creative educators in Australia? 

This offensive cliche forgets that those who do were at some point taught. This offensive cliche ignorantly thinks teaching is not a (creative) doing. This offensive cliche has no understanding of expertise – that it is precisely a moment at which you able to articulate your own practice sufficiently to also then relearn it. This offensive cliche knows nothing of the history of apprenticeship, the history of the university, the history of social change, the nature of post-natural evolution. This offensive cliche celebrates a blind commercialist doing that is grinding this planet into violent inequality and uninhabitable depletion.

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