Planet of the Arts Interview, 1988

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This 1988 interview with Dr. Tom Hudson, L.L.D. is reproduced here without permission. (Originally published in “Planet of the Arts”, the ECCAD Student newspaper.)

(Tom Hudson, Dean Emeritus of ECCAD, has recently returned from Britain where he gave the principle address to the Annual Conference of the national Society for Education through Art and Design, on the conference theme of “Initiatives in Art and Design Education”.

Tom was raised and educated in Durham, England, and has worked and taught around the world in such far reaching and diverse locations as Brasil, Turkey, the U.S., across Canada and throughout Europe. Formally trained as a painter, Tom moved on to become one of the original performance artists and was involved with the Fluxus group in N.Y.C. in the 1960s, where he developed multimedia memorial pieces in tribute to both Picasso and Matisse. At this time, Tom also began experimenting with computer drawings and educated himself in 3-D processes, particularly those involving machine and synthetic forms.

E. John Love managed to get a few words in edge-wise as he interviewed Tom Hudson for Planet of the Arts, focusing on a few of the many projects in which Tom is, as always, very involved. Subjects include: his life-long role as an educator and developer of educational systems; his Colour course presently being shown on Knowledge Network; the Drawing/Two Dimensional Systems course being prepared for television; and, inevitably, his views on art and education in general.)


 

J.L.: Everyone’s probably aware of the fact that you have retired; you’re no longer Dean of Instruction. Foundation is still your main area of interest; it’s sort of a spring board to the whole rest of the college. Now that you’re not in Foundation’s day-to-day curriculum or their space, how can they relate to you? What would your role be now?

T.H.: Well, I was talking with John Wertschek (Foundation Chair) this morning, and he asked me if I could do some teaching next year, and the problem is I would very much like to teach in Foundation more than I do, but I think the demands of television are going to preclude me doing much of anything during the year. However, I will be wanting some Foundation students to be working with me on specific projects. For example, this coming spring, we’ll be preparing some special projects. (as we did last year and the previous year) for the International Children’s Heritage Festival, as it’s now called, and what I would like to do is expand that. Last year, we had three teams: we’d selected teachers from three High-schools, and their selected students, and then some of our volunteers from Foundation. I’d like to carry on with that. There are other projects too; I’ll shortly be preparing the next T.V. series (Three Dimensional Systems). They always overlap each other, so we’ll be starting this week to shoot the next ten-part series on Two Dimensional Language – that’s drawing systems. But I really need some Foundation students to work with me on the next series for preparation of the master classes; I usually like to do two or three sets of Master classes so I know exactly what I’m going to do when I come to the programs and write the scripts, 3-D is going to be very important because they’re going to be quite different than some of the other projects. My future will be some intermittent teaching and lectures and I’ll continue to do the four major lectures and maybe some odd seminars and tutorials, but yeah you’re right, the whole of my development has been based on the work I do with young people and particularly the Foundation developments. So I don’t want to lose the connection. I’m not going to start, you know, rewriting history.

J.L.: Or become a T.V. celebrity!

T.H.: No, I don’t want to do that at all. I think that everything I do, everything I talk about, is based on actual experience and actual doing and working, and I’ve got to do that all the time. I’m not going to be a pontificating and ruminating old man reliving history or anything like that.

J.L.: Maybe you could recap what’s happening with the Colour series, and perhaps, if you’re at liberty, tell what you can about the drawing series and any projections about the other projects. These are sort of linked to the college, and yet at the same time some of the students may not know about it.

T.H.: Well, when we became the provincial institute, which coincided with the time I came, we developed an absolutely remarkable distance learning project which is called Outreach, and it has a lot of admiration around the world. But that was to provide opportunities for people within the communities. It was always considered that people who did have a professional interest would automatically come to the college. Well some people have said why did I bother to do television, because I’ve criticized it as a media, criticized it very adversely. I mean in North America I see this enormous wasteland of American television creeping over the civilized world rather faster than the Sahara desert creeps over the Central African Republics.

I think there’s a sociological and human reason why there are so many people who cannot afford to come to this college.

Our fees are about the the lowest in North America. But Vancouver’s still a very expensive place for people to live, especially if they’re coming down from communities up in the north where there is a lot of unemployment. So first of all, we’re thinking basically in terms of putting the first four courses of the first Foundation semester onto television. But then I thought maybe we should be doing something more broadly than that. I’d really like to make links with other levels of education. The first one was that we would run this course not as a kind of course where you would have to apply for entry, show a portfolio, the usual kind of thing, but to make it more open; try to re-cast the course. So although it would be useful for people who are going to professional studies, it could be a satisfactory experience for anybody who is interested in colour in any way, to enhance their lives, their experience. This is Colour 1, which is about negotiating the experience and the theory, and later on, hopefully, we’ll be doing Colour 2. I’ll be starting the first Master class on Colour 2 next January. That’ll be two evening classes a week, so if anybody’s interested that’ll be the first project they can join me on.

J.L.: A plug!

T.H.: I think the Colour series is going really well, but a half hour of television I find very difficult to cope with. You have to package so much information, so much demonstration, and then you’ve got to summarize, and you’ve got to deal with the assignments. Ultimately, you’re not dealing with minutes, you’re dealing with seconds. What I’d normally spend an hour on, I have to get into five or seven or eight minutes. I have a kind of dream of paradise as a place where all of the television programs are over an hour long. You know, where people learn to concentrate (laughs).

J.L.: With respect to the television series, the problem, as you say, is the half-hour format. Maybe the idea is a kind of home video market approach, where viewers can sit back for two hours, at their own discretion.

T.H.: Well there’s nothing wrong with that. I think you try to function this so that it’s going to be visually and informatively interesting for anybody. That’s one clientele – a general audience who might tune in. Then you have the other audience, those who pay for the course, and they’re going to get the manual, because the television is only a small part of it. The major part of the course is encapsulated in a book – about one hundred and forty thousand words of precise instructions and diagrams, so you can have it at a number of levels. But it seems to me that in the future we’re going to have to develop many, many more forms of education. Most of our education derives from providing literacy of a general kind. You know, how do you get from pastoral, illiterate peasants to the new technology machine minders? Now we’re getting different problems in our society: massive unemployment, massive leisure, so we have to think of other kinds of education. We have to think of education being totally available on a totally lifetime basis. The present formats and systems of education, the traditional ones, are not adequate. We have to develop new forms and I just think that in a very modest way I might try to do one or two things, like in this series. I certainly want to try and make the step, and it’s going to be very difficult in the next series where we’re dealing with two dimensional systems, because I have to deal professionally with a lot of twentieth century concepts. How do I get those over so that they’re useful to my students, but interesting enough to attract some of the more agile minds of people casually looking at the television. For instance when I was down in the market the other day I asked a fellow: “Do you mind if I share your table?”, and I put my soup on the table. The man said “Gee, have we met somewhere before?”, and I said “No, we haven’t. No, I don’t think so.” He said, “I’m sure we’ve met before! God, I’m sure we have!”, and his wife nudged him and she said “Harry, you haven’t met before. You saw him on television. You know, you turned him off to look at Dallas!”

J.L.: Really?!! Is that what they said?

T.H.: (Laughs) Yeah, so sometimes I think there’s maybe fifty people who actually look at the program. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the people who are doing the program, doing the course, are doing some interesting work and their coming back with great responses, saying how interesting they find it, and that it’s changed how they look at things and how they experience things. And that’s what it’s all about you know.

J.L.: Do you think these Outreach projects are going to expand Internationally, or maybe throughout Canada?

T.H.: Well I think they have to expand. Education is the only thing that’s going to solve the future problems of our society. We don’t want people to suffer because they’re isolated geographically. When you’re reaching the community through television, you’re cutting across any age barriers because everyone can be looking at it. There’s so many people who haven’t wanted education, or education is something which they spurned, or they were rejected by education. So, how the hell do we develop some forms of education which are acceptable to more people who are normally kind of drop-outs? Not many people who’ve experienced general education have had that kind of opportunity one to one. But that’s the form that’s most effective. I’m quite sure that we could get people to achieve incredibly high standards. Everybody could be seen to be much more creative.

J.L.: There are also developments in interactive video and tele-communications which could provide links in the future.

T.H.: It’s absolutely imperative that we are aware of technological change, and that we do teach our students to cope with the implications of technological change, because there’s no doubt that in the world situation there are some countries which are already being left behind. It has been said that if countries which are not adaptable cannot meet and reconcile themselves within the context of technological change, within ten years, they’ll be left so far behind, they’ll just be a new dispossessed, just another form of third world. They’ll be a bloody fourth world! We have the same thing in our society, where we as individuals can be left behind. What we have to do is to understand the implications and principles involved in the exploitation of the new technology. In order to participate in the reality of NOW, we have to be aware of these implications of change, because if we don’t we going to end up being exploited, rather than exploiting these things.

J.L.: So you would encourage a sort of multimedia, multi-experience format right from Foundation?

T.H.: I’d like to have a big board put up in every college that says, “Please, before you attempt to enter the twenty-first century, would you please make sure that you’ve tried to negotiate at least some significant parts of the twentieth century.”. You know, the artists complain about the scientific morons, and the scientists complain about the artistic apes. A lot of people are not even living in this century yet, I mean they happen to be here, but I mean in terms of concepts and ideas which motivate and affect our society, they’re not even part of their reality. I mean, people do not even have an effective education for the most part. The terrifying thing is that they’re being left behind in terms of being able to perceive the forms of reality and the levels of reality. The main reason for understanding the media is because, without understanding it in terms of what it produces and how it produces, we just become a certain kind of victim. Most students are seeing, obviously, a visual world around them. But what about the other worlds, the world of knowing, and that world underneath, and the world of feeling as well.

Modern life throws a tremendous responsibility on the individual, but the systems of education do not help us really adequately to cope with the complexities of modern life and the incredible rates of change that have been taking place.

J.L.: What are your views on integration within the college?

T.H.: There are always hopes in colleges that the whole thing’s going to be wonderfully integrated; that the painters will be chummy with the graphic designers, and the sculptors will be chummy with the media people. And it’s very hard for this to happen, except on a personal and almost idiosyncratic basis. But what you have to do is have an environment where the influence is inescapable. That’s why I wanted the Concourse gallery not just to be a painting place, but to be a place where people could see performance, where people could see video. That’s why we wanted to keep everything together; not be on five different campuses like we were in 1978.

When I came here in 1978, I proposed the Alternative Studies program. Some people wanted to change the name to interdisciplinary. I was a bit worried, because Alternative Studies isn’t necessarily interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinary academically suggests that you are working between academic disciplines, like Art and Anthropology, or Art and Science, etc., so I think it was misleading, maybe more so than Alternative Studies. But in any college, in any department, you’ve got to have that nucleus of effective creative development which in itself will help make radical and more revolutionary attitudes take place.

J.L.: Any advice to students or people wanting to study the arts?

T.H.: In a way, you would like to give people very particular kinds of advice. What it all comes down to, no matter what level, is really being alive and responsive. Of not being negative, and not being apathetic. Of really living your life to the full, because that’s how you’re going to have something to say. It’s no good being an artist if you’ve got nothing to say. That’s much more important than how you say it, because how you say it comes from the need to say something specifically.

Art is really about what you react to. You live through experiential situations, and you either respond to that or you don’t. If you have an obsessive response, then the chances are that you’ll make a creative statement about it.


 

(E. John Love is a third year Inter-Disciplinary student at E.C.C.A.D., presently studying electronics and computers, and interested in Cybernetics in multi-media installations. He has previously taught Computer Art classes, and is currently involved in the production of an instructional television series on Drawing and Visual language for the Knowledge Network. He is also a regular contributor to Planet of the Arts.)