»Artists are Researchers«
March 2005


On 9 March, the University Council of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna passed a development plan submitted by the Rector's office. Thus a program takes effect that provides entirely new accents for the future of the 300-year-old institution.

"Artists are researchers, and researchers are artists," says Rector Dr. Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen. "With our development plan, we provide conditions so that more artists will be able to work at the interface of art and science." The Academy has been a university since 1998. But it is only now that the basis is provided for artistic research and artistic-scientific theory.

This is reflected in a new third stage in the course of studies in which students can obtain a doctoral degree. For this purpose, interdisciplinary colloquia will be established that address central issues of contemporary culture. They will consider changed notions of art and science practice, as well as a new understanding of constructing space. A third focus will be new segments of the public in the postindustrial knowledge society. Rector Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen sees a close interrelation between these subjects and finds a new social position of visual art defined in this three-section approach.

With this ambitious new program, academic education, particularly in the first semesters, gains great importance. Students will have to be prepared more intensively for the intellectual challenges they will have to meet in the course of their studies. According to Rector Schmidt-Wulffen, this implies a shift from individualistic to cumulative knowledge. Hence the Academy, as one of the first German-speaking art schools, will introduce a bachelor curriculum for artists. As from 2006, students will be taught practical and theoretical basics in an interdisciplinary manner within the first three years of study: planning provides for a common introductory year for artists, stage designers, architects, and teachers. Specialization will begin with the master programs, of which six are in planning, aside from architecture and stage design also communication/art education, media studies, and cultural studies. Schmidt-Wulffen emphasizes that the issue is not "a small-time copy of university courses." The Academy thus defines fields of artistic specialization prompted by developments in art over the past decades: concept art, documentary tendencies in art photography, or interventionist practices. Programs will be open between bachelor and master courses, permitting students to change from art to stage design or from architecture to critical studies. The Rectorate thus responds to the fact that only few graduates have become protagonists of the art scene whereas a majority was successful in other creative professions.

"The image of the artist has changed a lot meanwhile, and we must no be guided by the traditional art system in our planning," says Schmidt-Wulffen.

The new program also requires sacrifices: Thus the Rectorate has decided to reduce art education programs and to close down the department of textile design - a course of study that is offered by the University of Applied Arts anyway. Synergies with other Austrian art schools have hitherto not been fully used, Rector Schmidt-Wulffen observes. Talks with prospective, also international partners have only just begun. Although this seminal development plan articulates decisive milestones of future development, it is not the final word and may still be revised and elaborated prior to financing negotiations with the Ministry of Education next year. For it is at the negotiation table with the Minister that the decision will be made in how far she will support the ambitious program proposed by the Academy.