In 1973 I came to teach at Goldsmiths and it was extraordinary. At the time the school had a terrible reputation for being anarchic, so my friends commiserated with me for the nightmare that I was stepping into. But Jon Thompson [then Head of Art] was totally passionate about teaching and about art education. Our idea was to completely renew the idea of art education, which was very much Jon’s agenda. We were going to re-invent British art education.
The year I arrived, there were some of the most interesting students I’d ever had. Jon was interested in the wayward students – the difficult, stroppy, slightly crazy people. We were interested in art that wasn’t just defined by painting or sculpture in the traditional sense. There were students doing performance, film or video, writing, installation. At the time this stuff was very speculative, it was a small part of the art world at that time. This was very, very close to the cutting edge of what was going on in the world outside. I can truthfully say that during the 70s there was no place in London to see more interesting art than at Goldsmiths.
My experience of teaching is that I have never been to any art school where I didn’t meet interesting students. But I became aware that I was seeing an exceptional number of very, very interesting people when the YBA's (Young British Artists) were all there at the same time. I tried to mix the students which generated a kind of dialogue amongst them. They were getting used to looking at each other’s work in depth and also being jealous of each other and being competitive in the best possible way. If I did a seminar and Sarah Lucas did something fantastic, then Gary Hume was pissed off because she got all the attention and he wanted it – it’s a normal human thing, but it had an amazing effect. When they left Goldsmiths I was excited by what they were doing and I felt like if I didn’t continue to engage with them and be supportive, it was as though I didn’t mean what I said when I was teaching them. We had so much fun and it was a very enjoyable time. It’s a source of great pleasure and happiness that there is hardly anybody from that time that I don’t think of as a friend, it’s quite extraordinary really.
One of the things that I love about the way Goldsmiths approaches things is that it is student-led and also retroactive. The whole idea is to focus the responsibility on the person themselves rather than a tutor giving a project. When I was teaching I developed a strong sense in myself and a confidence that I could feel when someone was doing work that was appropriate to their inner self. You need time with the person and to get to know them in relation to the work. I could spend unbelievable amounts of time, which I often did, hours and hours over years, getting to know people really well so I had a sense of what their potential was.