Autonomous Practices are explicitly based on the individual student’s drive and motivation, which in turn are fuelled by passion, fascination, discontent, sometimes even anger – all of which, if properly channelled, can serve as very powerful catalysts. Autonomous Practices encourage students to use these catalysts to open up artistic fields that previously were out of reach. These fields can be seen as sites under development: they may be overlooked, but they can also be explored, and are often full of potential and possibilities, something that can be built on. However, it is also a rough territory; pioneers will need strong roots in order to survive.
Students of Autonomous Practices are able to envision these potentialities. We encourage them to look beyond their limitations, to define practices that have not yet been defined, and to independently develop strategies and tactics to explore these unknown territories. They will be able to mark their own little piece of turf and to start building, to gradually turn it into something that can grow, take shape and connect with others. In order to do so, especially at the beginning of their careers, students will require specific skills such as critical thinking, inventiveness, self-organisation, perseverance and a healthy dose of stubbornness. Collaboration is another aspect that should be mentioned explicitly, as a key characteristic within Autonomous Practices, because contrary to what the word ‘autonomous’ may imply, the only way to build something solid is to do so collaboratively, together with others.
In art education in the Netherlands, the word ‘autonomous’ has traditionally been used to designate the domain of fine art (in Dutch: ‘autonome beeldende kunst’, quite literally: autonomous visual art). However, we sensed a clear need, among certain students working within other departments, to also work in ‘autonomous’ ways. It’s not as though this was never possible, but somehow it always remained limited within the ‘walls’ of the various departments. Autonomous Practices, however, are open to students of all disciplines, bringing autonomous makers together and focusing on developing their professional attitude and formulating their own artistic questions. This means that students of all departments work together in groups, learning from each other’s positions, collaborating and sharing each other’s ideas and knowledge. What happens when an advertiser, a graphic designer and a fine artist join forces? We don’t know; all that we know is that it will be exciting.
Within Autonomous Practices, students can specialise in one of four study paths: Critical Studies, Digital Craft, Hacking, and Public & Private. These four paths roughly cover relevant contemporary fields in which an autonomous practitioner may be expected to operate. The purpose of these paths is to provide a framework for students to work with – not limiting them in any way, but rather helping them to contextualise their work. These frameworks are not medium-specific: students may choose the media, methods and materials that best allow them to pursue their objectives. We challenge them to think of their work within these frameworks, and to further develop it by formulating their own project proposals and research goals. Each study path has its own specific courses, tutors with relevant professional backgrounds, and external partners with whom students can collaborate.
Critical Studies focuses on the question of how to provide a critical edge to art and design in a contemporary cultural and political context. Students consult theoreticians and relate their findings to the works of relevant artists and designers. In collaboration with their peers, they share their documented insights in a public symposium, an exhibition, a performance and/or an intervention.
Digital Craft focuses on authorship and appropriation – the act of making something your own. Here, appropriation means not only reusing technologies, but also pushing them beyond their standard uses. The goal is to invent your own media, and to do so with conceptual and technical rigour. In Digital Craft, students acquire and share concrete skills for working with both digital and analog media; they continuously refine their ideas, experiments and techniques through a ‘can do’ working ethic.
Hacking means finding applications that were not intended by the system’s maker. Hacking doesn’t specifically refer to digital systems, but rather how to artistically hack any kind of system – social, cultural, political, economic, technological. The question primarily concerns the development of a hacker’s mentality – how to critically analyse and penetrate systems and apply attributes in order to find loopholes, detect blind spots and take matters into your own hands.
Public & Private focuses on contextualising the public realm on a national and international level. This may be related to urban architecture, culture, the economy, virtual worlds, social or political issues, and the increasing privatisation of all of these domains. The result is focused on intervening within these domains in any conceivable form: an image (sculpture, film, photo, billboard), a performance, a digital artwork, etc. It may also serve to trigger a social process or way of thinking.
Today’s world presents us with enormous challenges, on a scale that quickly becomes difficult to comprehend. Issues such as politics, economics, migration or the environment almost turn into abstractions – which is increasingly how they are being addressed: big problems need even bigger solutions. This increase in scale can be observed in our social behaviour as well. As individuals, we tend to function within ever-expanding networks. The growing role of technology in our lives has made this much easier, but also more complex and confusing. Autonomous makers are able to critically engage with these developments, rather than taking them for granted, and most importantly, to bring them back to a personal level. They are able to come up with intelligent and practical responses, to disrupt systems, to find loopholes, to appropriate and make things their own. They can deploy new strategies for intervening and getting their message across. Autonomous Practices are critically driven, self-organised and bottom-up. They start from the perspective of personal engagement, with the understanding that we need others in order to make a mark.