Where have all the Painters gone?

Mary Sullivan wins €10,000 RDS Taylor Art Award

From this year’s RDS Visual Artists Awards, ‘a snapshot of the best of 2018 graduates from across the island of Ireland’, whittled down from a longlist of some 121 graduates to a lucky thirteen, and on show at the Royal Dublin Society in October – not one Irish art graduate with a painting portfolio was selected. Only one of the thirteen shortlisted included any painting, and that as a portion of their exhibit. What’s going on? Or more to the point – what isn’t? Colin Martin RHA, current principal of the RHA School, and one of the five nominated judges this year, stoically offered, ‘the level of painting wasn’t great’.

The RDS Visual Art Awards are generous and growing with an overall prize fund this year of €30,000. The top prize of €10,000 is the RDS Taylor Art Award. Captain George Archibald Taylor’s legacy of £2,000, bequeathed in 1854 ‘for the promotion of art and industry in Ireland’, has gone a long way; the trustees should be commended. This year’s winner is first-class honours BA graduate, Mary Sullivan, from the DIT School of Creative Arts, Sherkin Island, for her video sculpture At Home, At War.

Not one Irish art graduate with a painting portfolio was selected

Three years ago at NCAD there were mass protests with organising group ‘NCAD Student Action’ stating that art students felt ‘abandoned’, and questioning ‘the value of their degrees’. There were many issues cited, the principal being: funding cuts, 35% increase in student intakes, and the dumbing down of the BA under-graduate degree from four to three years. Management called this ‘restructuring’, with a two-year Masters in Fine Art (MFA) to continue on to. The students countered that the increased fee, from €2,850 (undergrad) to €3,900 a year for the Masters’ programmes, had seen three out of seven students drop out that year. For 2018/19, the MFA fee for continuing NCAD undergrads is €4,400 a year.

Not questioning the merit of any of this year’s worthy chosen exhibitors and prize winners, but was the elephant in the room at the RDS – Painting – the legacy of NCAD policy and beyond?

Brigid Mulcahy