Meet our Head of Undergraduate Studies
Rebecca Court, Head of Undergraduate Studies at Birmingham School of Art, discusses why it's important to study a degree, what makes her courses stand out and what students can do to prepare for them.
Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your courses?
I have an interdisciplinary practice that includes printmaking, sculpture, installation and performance. My work considers structures of power that manifest through language, object, architecture, gesture and action. Currently, I am interested in the potential of staging collaborative realisations of work through encounters that subvert the hierarchies of the artist and the exhibition space. This places a greater emphasis on the viewer as an agent of making, something I find to be an exciting proposition.
As an artist, researcher and academic manager, I bridge my interests in contemporary art practice with my passion for education. I teach across all year groups on both BA (Hons) Fine Art and BA (Hons) Art and Design and I'm responsible, with the help of all my colleagues, for the smooth running of the undergraduate courses within the School of Art.
What is the philosophy of your courses?
Art and Design is an interdisciplinary course that aims to facilitate students who are curious about the spectrum of contexts that exist in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Critical thinking is at the heart of the course as we teach students to evaluate, hypothesise, empathise, test, debate and create. We ask students to be self-reflexive polymaths who are responsive to the world outside through the dialogue they enter into with it, thinking about how what they make might change the way people live, interact, think or care for one another. Our students make work in a range of spaces using a hybrid of mediums from traditional crafts to new technologies.
Fine Art is a studio-based course that places an emphasis on thinking through making. We challenge our students to work within and beyond limitations, to think contextually and critically about the professional development of their practice. The structure of the Fine Art course supports the development of students to be adaptable, reflective and active artists through the acquisition of writing, making, thinking, communication and technical skills. The course provides students with the tools to integrate themselves into a studio community and to develop external facing practices. Experimentation and the conceptualisation of thinking is at the forefront of the courses’ philosophy as students learn to situate themselves and their practice within local and global art contexts.
If you had to name one thing about each of your courses that makes them distinct, what would they be?
Birmingham School of Art is the first purpose-built Art School in the UK and this history and heritage gives the courses that are delivered within its walls a distinct experience. Working within a grade 1 listed building, our studios, workshops and specialist art library support the integration of the small and well-connected community of staff and students. Our undergraduate courses are distinctive in the importance they place making, testing, reflecting and considering how the work developed within the art school can be made public and exist beyond it. This externality is supported through curriculums that allow for live project and professional practice learning.
Why is Birmingham a good place to study?
Birmingham has a thriving community of artists, curators and arts professionals. Studying at the School of Art, students are ideally situated in the heart of Birmingham to tap into these networks and immerse themselves in the vibrant art scene of Birmingham. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Ikon Gallery are within a stone’s throw of the Art School and have an exciting programme of exhibitions and events (not to mention the Edwardian Tea Rooms at BMAG and York’s Café at Ikon for some of the best cake in town!). The hub of Birmingham’s Art Scene can be found in the industrial area of Digbeth, home to STEAMhouse, Digbeth Dining Club and an exciting range of artist-run spaces such as Eastside Projects, Grand Union, Centrala and Recent Activity, all of whom open their door with screenings, performances and exhibitions of the first Friday of Every month (Digbeth First Fridays being an important event on every student’s timetable!). An engagement with all that Birmingham has to offer forms a key part of the student experience.
Why do you believe it’s important to study a degree and why might students want to study your courses?
Doing a creative arts degree will enable students to develop key transferable skills, from problem solving to analytical, presentation and communication skills. Graduates are well placed to become independent art practitioners, facilitators, educators and managers in the sector. Students on all of our courses are challenged to think about the world they want to make things for as future drivers of change. Through open and exploratory thinking graduates gain important skills enabling them to play an effective role as professionals that can contribute to the growing creative industries. This professionalisation is supported through the opportunities students have to work with external partners which have in the past included projects with Dudley Zoo, Duplicate Publishing Art Fair, Colmore Business District, Tate Liverpool and Vivid Projects.
Where will the students be based in their time here and what will their learning environment be?
Students will be based in the beautiful School of Art building located on Margaret Street in the city centre of Birmingham. Students have access to our on-site range of workshops, which include printmaking, textiles, cold and hot metal, wood work and lens-based media allowing them direct access to the resources and expertise needed to make ambitious work. Teaching takes place in our purpose-built studios and in our on-site lecture theatre and seminar rooms. Students also utilise the School of Art gallery space to test ideas and the realisation of work for an audience. The School of Art offers a number of extra-curricular activities for you to get involved in to work with students across different levels and courses in surrounding yourself with a community of like-minded individuals. Activities include our monthly Night School event programme, the School of Art Protest Choir (Angry Margaret), Knit Club, Film Club, the FAD Collective Society and the Staff Shorts lecture series.
What can students do to help prepare them for the courses?
I would always advise students starting any creative degree to spend some time before the beginning of the course to engage with contemporary art practice by trying to see some exhibitions. I also think it is important for students to come prepared (enrolment, student loan, accommodation, travel, basic materials all sorted) and for you to have completed any summer holiday reading or making tasks that may be given to you. Above all, we expect students to arrive with an open mind, a committed work ethos and an enthusiasm for learning, which are essential factors in making the most of your time at Birmingham School of Art.
What’s your favourite element about working at Birmingham School of Art?
For me, being part of a community of artists, makers and thinkers is incredible. Working in an Art School that embodies its history and heritage as a place of experimentation, innovation, challenge and ambition gives you a powerful sense of possibility. The School of Art being situated at the heart of a multi-cultural city and within the dynamic and evolving creative art scene means that there is always an exciting range of activities and events happening, through which you can meet new people and expand your networks. Birmingham School of Art is a small but lively place and for me the energy and drive that our students have makes it a special place to work.