Some reflections on coming into art education (as a student) after several decades as a hospital doctor (NHS consultant).


Firstly, I absolutely believe that making art generates knowledge. Reflecting on what you’ve made, how it has developed and changed from initial ideas to final outcome (I deliberately didn’t say finished, because I’m not sure that anything can ever be called definitively finished), reflecting on how the process has changed you, the maker – all these things generate knowledge. As a viewer or person interacting with an art work, there is potential for you to acquire new knowledge.

I can say with certainty that I know many things now that I had no knowledge of before completing my BA and MA in fine art. I don’t mean technical things like how to make a screen print, or how to use the various materials that were new to me, or even how to create my own website (part of my MA course) – although these things constitute new knowledge in exactly the same way that everything that I learned about anatomy and physiology and pathology as a medical student was accepted as new knowledge. I agree that we might call this stuff ‘facts’ rather than knowledge, but educators in medicine and the natural sciences still talk about imparting knowledge to their students.

However, I am talking about a different knowledge. A lot of new self-knowledge, yes (and that despite having spent over five years in psychoanalysis), and importantly knowledge about the extent of uncertainty and the unknown. The exciting thing about creative practice for me is the thought that every time I make something, or write something, and then expose it to the critique of other creative people, I know that I will learn something.

I have been lucky to have most of my art education in a very supportive and enabling university department. I have never experienced having my work rubbished, but that is not to say that it has not been very thoroughly and constructively critiqued. I have experienced ‘teaching’ by ritual humiliation in medicine, and all I can say is that it degrades the teacher as much as the student.

I do think that there has to be some sort of criterion base for art education and assessment. It need not be too prescriptive but it serves as a boundary. My research is all about investigating boundaries, and I am convinced that they are necessary – but largely as something reliable to rebel against, kick, attempt to break. Great work may break boundaries and should be recognised, not marked down. Good teachers will have the confidence to do this and to justify their decisions to their academic masters.

If some of this debate is harking back to the art college vs art-in-university debate, all I can say is that if art teaching had still been confined to art colleges I would have missed the incredible opportunities that I’ve had in the last eight years, because I would never have dared apply to an art college. Moreover, as someone practising creatively across disciplines, I welcome the increasing cross disciplinary work that is being undertaken in some art faculties today.

I’m sure I can find plenty more to say but will leave it there for now!


Diana Brighouse, artist, writer, doctor & psychotherapist.