Akademie X: Lessons In Art + Life

Fancy doing an art degree, but not sure if it’s right for you? A new book from Phaidon, Akademie X: Lessons In Art + Life, might just be able to help you out…

Fancy doing an art degree, but not sure if it’s right for you? A new book from Phaidon, Akademie X: Lessons In Art + Life, might just be able to help you out…

According to its introduction, Akademie X, is “an art school without walls”, and takes the form of a series of lessons, all delivered by some of the most famous and successful artists working today. Marina Abramović starts us off and is followed by chapters from 35 other artists, including Ólafur Elíasson, Dan Graham, Miranda July, Wangechi Mutu, Tim Rollins, and Richard Wentworth.

Each artist has been given freedom to present their ideas and advice in their own style, which leads to an enjoyably rich collection of voices, some personal and chatty, others serious and academic. Abramović chooses to be listy, giving a series of instructions, many of which are contradictory or employ repetition for emphasis. For example, in the opening list on ‘An artist’s conduct in his life’, she states:

– An artist should not lie to himself or to others
– An artist should not steal ideas from other artists
– An artist should not compromise himself with regard to the art market
– An artist should not kill other human beings
– An artist should not make himself into an idol
– An aritst should not make himsel into an idol
– An artist should not make himself into an idol

Some texts take the form of interviews with the artists, others are letters. Elíasson chooses to pen a ‘LOVE LETTER’ no less, written alongside his colleagues Eric Ellingsen and Christina Werner from the ‘Institut für Raumexperimente’, a five-year educational research project which ended last year. Their advice includes performing various exercises to encourage ‘thinking doing’, which they describe as an awareness of our place as “an agent in the world”.

A number of chapters are reflective, with the artists looking back on their lives and what the twists and turns of their experiences have taught them about art. Others are just confusing, a little impenetrable: most texts offer a fair reflection of the work of those who have written them, so if you find someone’s work elusive, the chances are you’ll find their lesson similarly tough going.

Perhaps as useful as the texts themselves are the recommended reading (and occasionally viewing, listening and even drinking) lists that each artist provides. Cross reference these and you’ll come up with a pretty concise canon of essential critical thinking on contemporary art, plus some great eclectic choices alongside.

As we’ve come to expect from Phaidon, the book is beautifully designed and each artist’s chapter is accompanied with a CV style description of their work to date, plus images. One small quibble is the lack of a short paragraph summing up the style and approach of the artists featured – perhaps this is something they themselves resisted, but it would have been useful for context and to help with the less famous names included, particularly as this is pitched as a teaching book. But then, there is always Wikipedia near to hand.

For potential students of art, Akademie X makes a great introduction to the kind of thinking and approaches that you’ll discover at art school, but its appeal isn’t just for the studious – there is plenty here for anyone interested in contemporary art and artists to enjoy.

Akademie X: Lessons In Art + Life is available from Phaidon, priced £24.95. More info is here.

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