It takes someone special and dedicated to launch and then update, manage and teach a course for the next 24 years, directing raw young artists in their careers. Dave Young explains why working with art and design Foundation Diploma students keeps bringing him back for more
Lauren Bowcott and Lizzie Rampe Kole-Mate are both fine art specialists finishing their one-year Foundation course at West Kent College
Lauren: He’s brilliant, you can tell he really cares for everybody individually. He gets to know us all personally. When I started at the college he knew everyone’s names straightaway - and that was a shock! I’d come back to education after an eight-year break and was not sure what to do. I’d just visited the college to look around but when I met Dave I wanted to go there. I’ve absolutely loved the course and been so gutted that we’ve had to close because of Covid. Dave particularly helped me when I was deciding on where to apply for a degree course; he put me in contact with two of his former students at different institutions and they came down to chat to us and really helped. Dave will always go the extra mile and I will definitely stay in touch with him to let him know how I’m doing. He is very approachable - if, say, you are finding life difficult at any time he’ll put you in touch straight away with the right people at the college to help you. He’s pushed me to try new things and has linked me up with so many different artists I would never have thought of contacting. He’s inspired me to go on to teach after my degree.
Lizzie: Dave has encouraged me throughout my course - and he really helped me when I started applying to do fine art or illustration at university, particularly on my personal statement. He’s built up my confidence in choosing what to do and spoken to me about it almost daily. If I’d been left alone I could have lost heart. He’s really good at pushing you to do what you want to do. He’s always pointing out articles or gallery shows that have helped me in my project work. And in lockdown he’s set up chatrooms on line, zoom meetings, and called us every week or fortnight with really good tutorial sessions.
Sending an annual cohort of art students to art school or university after having played a big part in what they decide to study and mould their future careers around is a privilege Dave Young has valued and enjoyed since 1996. Eight years earlier he joined West Kent College’s art department as an art and design lecturer following his own art foundation year at Maidstone college, a three-year fine arts degree (mainly in painting) at Newcastle Polytechnic (Northumbria University), and a brief stint working at a Maidstone art gallery while teaching A-level art part-time at West Kent College. Within a year he was teaching A-levels full-time. He’s been there ever since, consistently guiding many of his students into top art degree courses across the UK (75% go on to university).
Dedication, passion and a genuine interest in supporting his students to follow their dreams are consistent strands in a remarkable hands-on career. A fine art painting/drawing specialist himself, Dave lives and breathes art foundation year, the one-year course he manages and one that all would-be art students must take to decide which form of art they wish to study further at degree level.
“In the first term, students try a bit of everything ranging from fashion, graphics and sculpture through to film, photography, painting and illustration,” says Dave. “Then they’ll specialise in a chosen field.” Applications and interviews follow in the spring term for HE courses at art school/university. Summer term ends with an exhibition of a major project each student has devised and produced themselves over 10 weeks.
Nothing stays still in contemporary art
“I love working among the students while they find themselves during the nine months they are with us. These days I work with eight other colleagues who all offer different specialisms but work collectively across different pathways. My specialism is predominantly fine art, drawing and illustration - nothing digital, I leave that to colleagues!”
In a fast-moving area, many students now create multi-disciplinary installations to reflect contemporary practice in galleries including sound and conceptual film-based work. Nothing stays still.
“Outside lockdown, we’d normally do around eight trips to galleries and exhibits annually. The students need a working knowledge of what’s happening in their contemporary field.”
Exciting shows at London’s Store X
More recently, students have been going to a London gallery in The Strand called Store X that puts on contemporary video exhibitions. “These are some of most exciting shows they’ve seen. We also take them to the Turner Prize exhibitions and the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate that has a great exhibition programme with strong education links. We go for the really contemporary shows, such as at the Tates or the Saatchi gallery where things are always changing.
“The foundation year is also an opportunity to give students the study skills they will need to function well at HE level and makes the drop-out rate on art degree courses one of the lowest in the HE sector.”
What’s inspired Dave’s loyalty to foundation students? “I love working with young people who are in the process of finding themselves. Sharing their journey from school and home to university and being able to tutor them through that is a privilege. To succeed as a lecturer, you have to have a deep passion for your subject - art is constantly changing. I still go to art exhibitions and galleries by choice!
‘I encourage them not to fear making mistakes’
“I tend to teach the practical hands-on skills, showing students how to use materials or a particular way of drawing. I encourage them not to be frightened of drawing in front of other students or making mistakes because you learn from them while you work. It’s also important to be enthusiastic about the materials you work with.
“I tend to keep talks brief with scant use of PowerPoint and few big presentations. Instead, I prefer to spend time talking about artists which I then use as starting-points for projects - I use a big screen in the studio to show their work - or get students to produce work in the manner of particular artists. We interpret an artist’s style and take it from there.
“I’m fond of quick projects, such as timed projects, that create open experimentation so that at the end the students will have produced something they would not have expected!
Brave act of drawing in front of everyone else
Dave organises critiques - a key part of art school practice - which involve discussion in the middle of a practical session about what is being created. “I’ll lead the discussion and the students chip in. Then at the end of each project I’ll sit down for a critique with each student and discuss their work. I try to be positive, see what they have got going and move it forward. I’m not too critical as egos can be a little fragile - it’s a brave act in a studio where everyone sees everyone else working. It’s all about encouraging them to experiment without fear - it can be difficult at the start with students coming from a school system where everything counts towards a grade.”
Dave describes projects he sets his students to force them to work in fresh ways, such as asking them to draw with their other hand: “It makes you use your eyes and mind far more than relying on an innate motor skill. You make a more tentative or maybe shaky drawing. The exercise can force you to look harder - if you can learn that you can apply it to other activities.
“Or it could be an exercise in improvising painting on a big canvas based on listening to classical music where you can only use colours, shapes and marks. It gets everyone talking about interpretation and what abstraction is.”
‘Quick’ projects are a hit with students
Dave finds one-day ‘quick’ projects go down well - he’ll set students a ‘multiples’ project using, say, 100 of the same item - anything from coffee stirrers to paper clips - and then rapidly create 4-5 experimental artworks in sculptural or drawn form. “We are trying to produce portfolios quickly - we don’t have three months to spend on one masterpiece.”
So what are the key challenges in maintaining such a high success rate? “Adapting to changing paperwork, curriculum advice and new exam board specs is one thing; another is meeting the constant demand for fresh projects that excite your students.”
And lastly, any advice for would-be art lecturers? “Stay up to date with your subject, find out why your students are doing the course, and always share your enthusiasm!”
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