For those of us with fertile minds and shallow pockets, furthering a creative education has never been easier or more affordable, thanks to the bounty of free online courses available from top universities and the Skillshares of the world. If you’re looking to round out your home schooling with some offscreen classes, let us suggest Phaidon’s new Akademie X: Lessons in Art + Life, a 200-something page “art school without walls,” featuring a full curriculum from 36 of the most legendary contemporary artists and critics. For $35, readers can read exclusive interviews along with detailed CVs of each “professor,” their required reading lists, and even some out-of-class assignments.
Akademie X exists in the wonderful and unexpected intersection of the collegiate and art world. Not only does this book give you several lifetimes-worth of “ah-ha” moments, alongside much-needed motivation to keep creating, but it makes a killer addition to the coffee table. It’s no secret we appreciate a well-designed book cover here at AIGA, and we give major kudos to Zurich-based designer and creative director at Phaidon, Julia Hasting, who named, designed, and illustrated the entire book. In an interview with It’s Nice That, Hasting mentions the book is supposed to resemble a sort of string-closed cardboard binder where a student might keep their assignments, and noted that the overall aesthetic, from the colors to the typeface, is influenced by office filing folders.
The wealth of information in Akademie X runs from the practical to the purely inspirational, on one hand offering advice on how to maintain your studio for those visits from gallerists, while also elaborating on lesson plans with over 300 illustrations and photographs. And though it takes the form of a textbook, it reads like a memoir. Each artist takes a different approach to explaining their process, successes, and failures, and often do so in a way that’s as expert as it is personal.
For example, Abramović cautions you to “avoid falling in love with an artist,” and makes the case that “an artist should die consciously without fear,” while also proffering more complicated advice like, “the deeper he [the artist] looks inside himself, the more universal he becomes.” Meanwhile Sanford Biggs writes, “Rules of the game: Fuck the rules!” and two of his homework assignments include listening to Miles Davis. All the 36 “tutors” represent a wide range of experiences, expertise, and artistic disciplines (like Abramović’s style of performance art vs. Elíasson’s large-scale sculptures). And while their guidance is often contradictory, you’ll also find they share many philosophies and attitudes (just like in “real” art school).
And lest we become too schooled, Shirtley Tse, artist and former co-director of the Program of Art at the California Institute of The Arts, has this advice to offer: “In the way that we celebrate professionalism, we should be celebrating amateurism at the same time.”
Regardless of the artist or assignment, Akademie X reveals the infinite ways we can create. In one way or another, each tutor (most of whom, it’s worth noting, have received extensive schooling) explains the intense focus, diligence, and cultivation it takes to understand your own process, while celebrating the failures and amateurism in between, not to mention the incredible power artists receives when he or she is able to teach themselves. Which makes me wonder if “teaching yourself” in the style of Tse is perhaps more valuable than, say, getting your MFA?