April 2005

Six years ago, 29 European governments agreed on the creation of a unified European Higher Education Area by 2010, the precondition being a standardized graduation system with bachelor and master degrees conferred according to the same criteria all over Europe. The baccalaureate program is to comprise a basic course of studies, while the subsequent master curriculum is to provide for specialization and in-depth learning. The 2003 "Berlin Communiqué" furthermore indicates an extension of the two-cycle system by stating that "second cycle degrees should give access to doctoral studies."

Section 54, paragraph 2, of the Austrian University Act of 2002 stipulates that - with a few exceptions such as teacher education programs - new courses of study shall be established in compliance with the two-cycle system as bachelor and master studies (BMS) only. The University Act does not specify a deadline for the restructuring of existing programs into BMS. The 2003 Berlin Communiqué states the commitment "to having started the implementation of the two-cycle system by 2005." Two years before that, the Prague Communiqué had emphasized that "Programmes [...] may, and indeed should, have different orientations and various profiles in order to accommodate a diversity of individual, academic and labour market needs [...]."

In an article of 13 January 2005, the German weekly Die Zeit observes that BMS opponents have meanwhile become a minority: "[…] the German Bachelor and its bigger brother, the Master, are not at all in crisis. In fact, their introduction is on a better way than was expected."

At art universities, though, BMS remains a controversial issue. Critics argue that there is a threat of schoolification; that the petty knowledge taught in undergraduate modules is utterly insufficient to contribute to the formation of a creative personality; that the six-semester bachelor curriculum is too short to provide adequate artistic education; and, eventually, that the state might soon only offer bachelor studies free of tuition fees, whereas master programs might turn out costly for students.

General Considerations

The starting point of our considerations is the question of the adequacy of the diploma curriculum as it is. In the master-class system, the course of studies is not based on a consecutive curriculum. Rather, a community is established which students join when beginning their studies and in which they are supposed to find their own path: artistic ability is trained by way of the example given by professors or elder fellow students. This is based on the idea that the ability of pushing boundaries and innovative talent cannot be developed "by the book" and on the basis of given knowledge.

This is an ideal of the creative human that dates back to the period of Romanticism and no longer matches the realities of today.

A Changed Image
The Romantic notion of the artist sees the artist as a social outsider who is not integrated in society and whose works are neither commodities nor instruments to some purpose. This image has dramatically changed over the past hundred years, to which the Bauhaus - formative for the development of the Anglo-American art education system - responded with the introduction of a course system. Today, artists participate in a market economy (though this may be regretted). They are closely involved in social developments and have found new fields of activity outside the museum business. Statistics show that in the past decade only about two per cent of art school graduates in Germany were able to earn a livelihood from artistic activities. We think it is essential therefore to consider in art education the various different fields that have offered alternatives to artists and to help opening up new ones.

Professor Wyss, Rector of the Luzern College of Applied Sciences, where a visual arts bachelor curriculum will be offered as from the winter semester 2005, recently also made a statement to this effect: Wyss sees the introduction of the baccalaureate at his school against the background of "transdisciplinary art": "The artistic idea needs management skills for implementation, which are more or less equal to those of an engineer without losing in creative ability. The artist also needs social skills; he must have leadership and be able to persuade, since he has to ‘sell' what he has in mind. Teaching this at our school is part of the change that the school undergoes - not least for the benefit of the artists." (Neue Luzerner Zeitung, 13 Jan. 2005)

The consequence to be drawn from this is intensified preparation for these different fields of activity in the sense of improved technical abilities. Above all, these fields of activity and their social relevance have meanwhile been clearly determined and thus necessitate an adequate approach in the course of studies. The point is to provide Academy beginners with an insight into these preconditions of their work as early as possible.

In accordance with this widened field of practice, the Academy will be offering a basic course of studies in the future, followed by a stage of specialization which may even reach out beyond the boundaries of the traditional field of practice. The master programs of Education / Communication, as well as of Media Studies and Cultural Studies, take account of fields of artistic activity as have evolved outside the gallery system over the past decades. The master programs are conceived as art studies and are not intended to distract students from art, but to open up alternative fields of activity. Unlike the generalist baccalaureate, the master studies are clearly contoured in teaching contents so as to contribute to the Academy profile and to keep it competitive on an international scale. At the research and doctoral studies level, interdisciplinarity will derive from the cooperation of different master graduates.

Innovative Ability
The Romantic notion of creatio ex nihilo today has been supplanted by the idea that creative work is done by inducing shifts within systems - in verbal language, imagery, and forms of action. Correspondingly, the theoretical and systematic basis of art practice must be provided so as to make innovation at all possible. The crucial revolution in the introduction of BMS is that artistic knowledge is, to some extent, defined as cumulative so that master graduate students should have a more comprehensive knowledge than bachelor graduates. Moreover, teachers are required under BMS programs to define certain areas of indispensable prerequisite knowledge. On leaving the Academy in 2001, Professor René Green noted a lack a basic knowledge on the part of students and advocated a more clearly structured course of studies: "I find that one can have both discipline and artistic freedom at the same time; I even see them as inseparably linked." (Annual Catalogue 2001/02, p. 6)

In collaborating for a development plan, students of visual art demanded in a discussion on 6 June 2004 more introductory, survey and obligatory lectures. In addition, they articulated their wish that professors should be "more often present in class." Throughout an orientation phase in the first three years of study, BMS warrants more instruction and basic orientation and - because of the course system - requires more regular presence on the part of professors and teaching assistants.

The Threat of Schoolification, Preservation of Artistic Leeway
BMS does not at all imply schoolification. Comparison with the curricula of major American colleges has shown that there is much leeway in defining curricula under BMS programs. Thus, for example, the renowned Cal Arts in Los Angeles has far less hours of obligatory courses and lectures than the present-day Academy diploma curriculum in arts, while the Chicago Arts Institute requires all-day presence on the part of students (which still is only 27 hours more than the Vienna Academy requires under the current diploma curriculum.)

Talks with professors from other art universities (Prof. S. Shore, Bard College, N. Y.; Prof. T. Ruff, Düsseldorf Art Academy) suggest a combination of the Anglo-American course system with the liberties of the European master-class system as the most effective solution. BMS allows of such a combination: students are introduced to the disciplines in basic courses (bachelor studies). With the bachelor graduation, they are once more given an opportunity of reconsideration and, perhaps, reorientation. Master studies should then be entirely dedicated to the development of an artistic project of one's own, with all liberties of the current master-class system guaranteed. Finally, university courses and doctoral studies offer possibilities of further development and relativize the limited scope of the bachelor curriculum.

In its own planning games, the rector's office assumes that, in the bachelor curriculum, two days a week will be dedicated to practical workshop or studio exercises (equivalent to today's Arts Major) and one day a week to art theory courses and lectures (art history, media and gender theory, aesthetics etc.). One day will be dedicated to independent student work. Professors will not only take entrance exams but will also be involved in the bachelor programs. Under master programs, the percentage of theoretical studies will differ according the type of master curriculum and academic objective (doctorate). Master curricula in arts will offer colloquia only where students can discuss their work among themselves and with professors. Both under bachelor and master programs, the so-called Art Major remains in the center of teaching and warrants individual artistic work and instruction.

Will the Academy Isolate with BMS?
Since the 2002 University Act went into force, students from art universities abroad and from other Austrian schools have to take an entrance exam if changing to the Academy. The Vice-Rector for Teaching and Research can then decide on the basis of study records which year of study newcomers will be placed in. It does not make any difference if this entrance exam is for diploma or bachelor programs. Given the above considerations of adapting curricula to contemporary art practices, BMS and teachers of these curricula there can in fact be expected to be rather attractive for students.

Exchange students that come to the Academy for one or two semesters only under the Erasmus Program, have to submit a portfolio, but do not have to take the entrance exam. Department coordinators decide in consultation with professors about class assignments. Of 25 guests in the study year 2003/04, a majority of ten came from Germany, three from France, three from Poland, and one from the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, and Bulgaria, respectively. All of these countries still have diploma curricula. Four guests came from Great Britain and one from Denmark where the two-cycle curriculum is already in effect. The different curricula did not make any difference as regards the integration of these guests in the Academy system. It can be assumed that, after the introduction of BMS, the Academy will become more attractive for students from two-cycle countries such as Great Britain, Denmark or Sweden.

Given the European framework, it can be assumed that other art universities - as the example of music conservatories has shown which introduced BMS nation-wide in Austria also for artistic curricula - will also introduce BMS within a period of three to five years.

Will BMS Lead to Prolonged Duration of Studies?
Current diploma programs have a prescribed period of study of fours years while BMS will take five years. However, this argument is based on the prescribed minimum period of study which is drastically exceeded by about 50 per cent of all students of visual art (17-21 semesters). The clear objectives that characterize both bachelor and master curricula will therefore lead to a de facto reduction of the duration of studies or warrant better qualification within the same period.

Who Will Pay the Extra Cost?
It can be assumed that throughout a transition period in which diploma courses will have to be offered alongside the bachelor curriculum some extra cost will be incurred which, though, can be reduced by Creditability Regulations so as to make bachelor courses also count for the diploma curriculum. Moreover, government is obligated to cover any additional expenditure incurred through the implementation of the 2002 University Act.

The introduction of BMS also positions the Academy in the appropriation negotiations with the Ministry of Education scheduled for 2006. As far as 2005/06 is concerned, the Rector's office expects an initiative toward implementation of the Bologna agreements - as the introduction of BMS particularly for the visual arts - to release additional financial means of about 2.5 million Euros from funds retained in accordance with section 141, paragraph 5, of the University Act of 2002.

Office of the Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
4 April 2005