But arts education is being run by former politicians who are pushing a purposeful agenda onto a realm they don't understand
Yes. Yes. Yes. You have expressed very well an important warning here. Imagine the army of politically motivated artists that this Uni might produce. It’s not a wholesome thought. I hope some balance will be provided in their curriculum.
This is a very well-written and worthwhile post, Nick, but I disagree with your concluding argument. The 'why' can be a major driver of art, and is often worthy of careful examination before and during the process of creating. Sometimes something 'feels' right because it affirms lies or prejudices, or lets us off the hook -- which is why a great deal of what's made contains elements of regressive ideology that the creators didn't consciously intend. I think there's a happy medium between becoming overly enslaved to purpose and actively avoiding consideration of the politics of one's work.
Here is my take of the relationship beween art and politics.
Another very enjoyable and thoughtful read Nick, thank you. I’ve noticed that ‘purpose’ is becoming a bigger and bigger driver of ideas within the cohorts I teach, but not exclusively. They tend to treat it as just another advertising technique for them to draw on, akin to say humour or slice-of-life “(Hey, now let’s try a purpose solution to the problem!”) Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t. When it does work it’s nearly always because it emerges from an insight which allows them to make a connection between the product and audience, and this often turns out very well, but crucially because it’s a good idea, not because it’s a purpose-driven one. When it doesn’t work it’s usually because they’ve tried to force a purpose angle into the solution, either due to it being issue they’re personally invested in or they’re just trying to ape what they see in the real world (which is how we all learn anyway so no shame on them there).
It terms of any pressure to incorporate purpose or politics into the curriculum, I’ve personally had none, but as nearly every externally set student competition or agency brief these days has some kind of purpose proposition built in (to the point where even the students are sick of it I feel), it’s inevitably become a much bigger component of teaching.