The Good Tutor

"Oath of the Horatii" by Jacques-Louis David, source: Wikimedia Commons

I have never forgotten her passionate account of the “Oath of the Horatii”, her petite form taking on the pose of the triplet brothers as they made their patriotic vow. “Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David, source: Wikimedia Commons

I was deeply moved to read the obituaries of art historian and author Anita Brookner earlier this week. Dr Brookner was teaching at the Courtauld Institute in the mid-1980s and as an undergraduate student there I took her course on eighteenth century French painting. She cut a slightly distanced figure at the time, poised to lead the seminars in her study at the top of a narrow staircase above the Witt Photographic Library in the Courtauld’s Portman Square building. With her bouffant red hair, thick mascara, pressed cashmere sweaters and pencil skirts she appeared like an elegant vision from two decades previously, wreathed in expensive perfume. Continue reading


Welcome to Art School Head, a blog that reflects on all things Art School and particularly on all things Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). It seems a timely moment to start writing about the culture of Art School life.

The College is just celebrating the third anniversary of its merger with the University of Edinburgh in 2011 and last week the Scottish Funding Council made its formal report on the merger’s progress to Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.

A key line in the report suggested that ‘the identity, ethos, pedagogy, and studio-based culture of the former ECA…has demonstrated a new dynamism and energy’, and that the Funding Council team had ‘identified a sense of excitement and anticipation at the opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary working made possible by the merger – a characteristic that increasingly defines the ‘new’ ECA.’

So what is the identity, ethos and culture of ECA now, in its post-merger situation? And how does it relate to the life of the university, the city, the country and the creative network of individuals and institutions that we interact with across the world? In a broader sense, what does it mean to work and practice in an Art School in the early twenty-first century?

I’m privileged to hold the office of Principal of ECA, which provides me with the ideal position from which to reflect on some of these questions, to comment on some of the challenges and to record the very distinctive developments and events that fill our working days. I engage with colleagues and students across our five schools of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Art, Design, History of Art and the Reid School of Music, and with other schools and colleges across the University of Edinburgh.

I represent ECA as it works with Edinburgh’s many galleries, museums, orchestras, festivals and other cultural organisations. And I travel to support partnerships in the UK and elsewhere.

As this blog develops I hope we can generate some dialogue that makes sense of that experience (its everyday rhythms and more spectacular happenings) and enriches the special environment that us Art School people are lucky enough to inhabit.

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