To Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia, and Ms. Marilyn More, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education,
In one of my many years at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, I had the immense pleasure to participate in a class that dealt with theory and criticism in art, life, and the culture that surrounds us at this very moment. In this class, under the guidance of David Howard, we watched a documentary called Examined Life, where some of the greatest philosophical, critical and theoretical minds of our time come together and give their thoughts on the present world and the problems that we may encounter in a society that is becoming increasingly alienated, confused and frustrated. Does this sound like the mood of many emails entering your inbox lately in regards to the future of NSCAD? I’m sure it is, but they have the best of intentions.
In this documentary, a professor of Bioethics at Princeton University named Peter Singer talks about his own definition of ethics in regards to decision making. He defines ethics as, “…the basic choices we ought to make in our lives…when you do apply ethics, you often find thinking things through leads you to challenge your perception of common sense.” You see, at NSCAD, it is tacit but common knowledge that as artists, no matter what our media, we are also a critical voice, a challenge to what may be conventional sense to many. From day one in foundation, students are taught how to look at a piece of work and form some sort of opinion about it, to make it better, to improve or just to encourage the artist with their current direction. But what if no one spoke up? What if each individual was silenced because the professor did not believe it was necessary to hear from the students and instead made his or her own decisions regarding the direction of the artist and their work? Well, then that artist would be at the mercy of one mind, narrowing the chances to improve, fix any problems or to even be inspired! Does this analogy sound familiar?
NSCAD has become that critical voice, it may be a small voice among the many larger institutions in Nova Scotia, but if you walk the twisting hallways of this school, the unconventional patterns of creativity are seen in how the students are discussing their art, talking amongst each other about what was good or bad about a particular piece and how can that be improved upon. It might not sound exactly like that, but these students confront problems in their surrounding environment and deal with them through their art and hope that their audience can interpret some sort of meaning from it. It’s that connection, that one to one between the work of art and the viewer that is so important, the communication and connection from the contribution of the artist that Peter Singer believes is an answer to so many of philosophy’s age-old questions. Again, in Examined Life, Singer explains,
“Over the thousands of years of history and development of philosophy, a lot of philosophers have asked, ‘Does life have a meaning? What is it?’ And that’s a question for which I think we (as critical thinkers and artists) can give an answer. And I think the answer is, we make our lives most meaningful when we connect ourselves with some really important causes or issues. And we contribute to that, so that we feel that because we lived, something has gone a little better than it would have otherwise. We’ve contributed, in however small a way, to making the world a better place. And I think it’s hard to find anything more meaningful than doing that, than reducing the amount of unnecessay pain and suffering that there’s been on this world, or making the world a little bit better for all of the beings who are sharing it with us.”
Mr. Dexter and Ms. More, I hope you can read this letter and understand why NSCAD must maintain its autonomy and ever-important goal to remain a critical voice in such a turbulent time. By limiting that voice, you are only limiting the mindsets of the people who attend NSCAD with the hopes to be inspired to make a contribution to their own uncertainty by connecting with their peers, their surroundings and communicating, as a voice, that their may be hope.
Thank you for your time,