A Time of Revolt - 1954-1970s

Student rebellion and new teaching methods pave the way for an entirely new structure at the Schools of Visual Arts

In December 1953 approximately 200 artists staged a protest in front of the Danish parliament in order to call attention to their working conditions. They wanted to be of greater use to society and to have the opportunity to create monumental works. 

They demanded the introduction of a law stating that 2% of the total cost of public-sector building projects must be allocated to art integrated in those projects. The Minister for Education, Julius Bomholt, gave a speech to the protesters in which he agreed that art should be embedded in the community. This marked the beginnings of a process that would lead to the set-up of The Danish Arts Foundation. 

Academy teaching in 1954

On 31 March 1954 the academy celebrated its 200th anniversary.  But what was life at the academy like then?

At this point in time the Schools of Visual Arts comprised the School of Painting, which had three professors, and the School of Sculpture, which had two. All professors were in their mid to late sixties. 
Two smaller schools were associated with the School of Painting: The School of Mosaics and Murals and The School of Graphic Arts, which at this point had no professor. The classes at the schools were still supplemented by a range of compulsory auxiliary courses: Anatomy, Perspective and Art History. 

The painters had received instruction on the chemistry and material aspects of colour at the Laboratory for Colour Science (Farveteknisk Laboratorium) since 1925, while the sculptors studied materials science. The entrance examination was still based on the prospective students’ technical skill at drawn figure studies. Applicants also had to submit school certificates and exam results within the subjects of geometry, projection drawing and linear perspective as well as examples of independent work. 

In spite of the initiatives to renew and reinvent the academy at the dawn of the twentieth century, a new generation of students was once again left with the sense of attending an outmoded and obsolete academy that failed to equip them properly for a career as artists in modern society. 

Given the great changes seen in art since the beginning of the twentieth century, the academy’s continued focus on figurative art and classic craftsmanship seemed out of step with its own day. 

New impulses

During the period 1919–33 the Bauhaus School in Germany constituted the first real alternative to the ”Beaux-Arts” tradition, and many young artists looked to the school for inspiration. Even though the main objective of Bauhaus was not to educate “fine” artists, but rather to train designers within the fields of architecture and applied arts on the basis of new visions for society, the school had a significant impact on art education in general due to its distinctive structure and teaching methods. 

In Copenhagen, the appointment of a new academy professor, Egill Jacobsen, in 1959 ushered in a period of new change. He was the first abstract painter at the academy, and with his background in spontaneous-abstract art he represented an anti-classical, anti-academic attitude towards art. His arrival heralded a new age at the School of Painting. 

Jacobsen did not regard model studies as crucially important. Instead, guest lecturers and study trips gradually became embedded in the teaching. His keen interest in disciplines such as psychology, history and philosophy also came to shape the education offered. 

Setting up collective
basic studies

In 1961 the so-called Ex-School (Eks-skolen – The Experimental Art School) was set up as a “supplement” to the academy, carrying out experiments with a wide range of materials, a broader concept of what a work of art could be, and collective work. There were widespread dreams of collaborations and partnerships between the arts, and from the 1950s onwards academy students had set up study circles that cut across the individual schools. 

Students were keen to see better opportunities for collaboration across various disciplines. They wanted collective classes for students from all the schools. Egill Jacobsen was in favour of shared basic studies and advocated such a scheme. The introduction of a two-year course of basic studies at the School of Painting in 1965 marked some progress towards this goal, but true collective instruction for all new students was not introduced until 1971. Originally known as “1. Del” (Part One), this was later renamed Basic Studies in 1990. 

The students’ voice

The students’ demand for influence was one of the key themes of the late 1960s onwards. In the wake of the 1968 student rebellion, young people had become more politically aware. This manifested itself in several ways, including in the introduction of real influence for academy students in 1971. 

In November of 1968 a group of students, led by Ole Sporring and others, sought to set up a separate department that would provide an alternative to the existing schools and be based on principles of community and collective approaches. This demand for a professor-free department was based on a revolt against the professors’ dominant role and a desire to create art according to new parameters. No official department was ever set up, but the response, fronted by Egill Jacobsen and Dan Sterup-Hansen, was positive, and a room was made available for this new “study circle”. 

In 1974 the students’ protests against the professors’ terms of employment also ushered in the so-called “Academy Struggle”, which attracted public attention to a hitherto unseen extent. The main bone of contention was a resistance to lifetime tenure (professors could be sure of their tenure until they turned 70) and in-house reshuffling of the professors’ seats. The protests were launched when two professors were hired in 1974, one for the School of Graphic Arts and one for the School of Walls and Space. The skirmish was not ended until 1977 when an ombudsman acted as arbiter. 

Art in society

In addition to a general wish for new methods of teaching, greater collaboration between the different arts and more influence for students, the period was also characterized by another burning topic: the relationship between the education provided and the graduating artists’ role in society. 

The period saw quite specific changes to the official structure of the teaching, e.g. with the setting up of joint basic studies for all students (1971), but the academy functions also changed their set-up:  in 1959 the academy and the academy council (Akademiraad) became separate entities, and in 1974 the Schools of Visual Arts and the School of Architecture were separated and got their own rectors. 

After the protests of 1953, an increased focus on the job prospects for graduating artists manifested itself in ministerial orders; for example in the launch of the Danish Arts Foundation in 1956. The Foundation supported – and still supports – the arts in many ways, e.g. by funding art for public building projects. 

The most prominent attempts at making the education provided at the academy directly applicable in society occur in the 1960s: a department for sculpture restoration is set up in 1960, and in 1964 the academy gets a School of Art Education (Kunstpædagogisk Skole), which aims to prepare the artists for teaching in primary and secondary schools. 

However, these initiatives were soon placed elsewhere: The School of Conservation was set up in the early 1970s, which meant that the department for sculpture restoration was no longer required. The field of art education was transferred to Aarhus University and, later, to the University of Copenhagen too. 
This meant that the Schools of Visual Arts once again focused entirely on “fine arts” in themselves. 

-    Fuchs, Anneli: ”For samfundet, kunstneren eller kunsten? – Billedkunstskolerne fra midten af 1950’erne til slutningen af 1970’erne”; in Fuchs, Anneli & Salling, Emma (eds.) KUNSTAKADEMIET 1754-2004, Det Kongelige Akademi for De Skønne Kunster & Arkitekturs Forlag 2004, vol. II, pp. 9-77