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The city’s best bits, explored by us.
GLASGOW  /  PEOPLE  /  TO SEE

Professor Thomas Joshua Cooper

GLASGOW  /  PEOPLE  /  TO SEE

Professor Thomas Joshua Cooper

We’re passionate advocates of contemporary art here at citizenM, which is why this May, we’re giving fifteen BA Fine Art Photography students of the Glasgow School of Art a unique chance to exhibit their work at our citizenM London Bankside hotel as part of Photo London.

The Fine Art Photography programme at the Glasgow School of Art was founded by renowned landscape photographer Professor Thomas Joshua Cooper over thirty years ago, and what better excuse to have a chat with this American-born, Glasgow-based citizen.

citizenM says: the professor is quick to dismiss the idea of ‘influence’ on his students, preferring the term ‘inspire’. Cooper currently holds the position of research professor at the GSA --- after being head of the department that he lovingly founded back in 1982, for over 30 years --- and works closely with Fine Art Photography Masters Students. “It was a pleasure to judge student work again, and what a way to support their work in such a generous manner,” says Cooper about the exhibition collaboration with citizenM.

We ask the professor what these young talents must be going through. “They must be thrilled, who wouldn’t want to have an exhibition in London? It’s one of the great art capitals of the world.” In addition to being delighted, amazed, and curious, Cooper tells us that thanks to this opportunity, the students are given a sense of respect by their peers and panel of art experts. Among the panel of judges, including Cooper himself, are the current head of the GSA Photography department Lesley Punton, Deputy Head of Sotheby’s Photography Department, Brandei Estes, and curator of the KRC art collection, Liesbeth Williams.

“Having good teachers allows you to truly benefit from your education.” 

As a product of the university world himself -- Cooper studied photography in California and New Mexico -- the professor is quick to dismiss the idea of ‘influence’ on his students, preferring the term ‘inspire’. As he explains: “Having good teachers allows you to truly benefit from your education. I was lucky enough to have some really good teachers who showed me the good models. The bad ones, I learned to avoid. As an educator myself, I try to be an equal for my students, both on an intellectual and creative level.”

Image courtesy of the Artist and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh

 

One of the teachers who showed Cooper the difference between what he calls ‘studio people’ and academia is Tom Knight (a photography professor at the Humboldt State University in California from the early ‘60s to the ‘90s). “It was how I learned that studio people have a different way of learning. Combining art history with studio time gave me a work ethic of ‘work or die’. You need to trust in you studio in order to get stronger and grow in your work,” he says.

Similar to his own professor, who was instrumental in putting photography on the map at the HSU, Cooper founded the Fine Art Photography programme in Glasgow. But times have changed, and business politics are gaining influence over what was once a sanctuary for young artists. “The education system is severely weakened by the economic system. Too many students are being accepted into art schools, but there’s simply not enough money to provide the materials, let alone enough time to give them individual attention. Art education today has become rather mediocre in my opinion.”

citizenM says: Cooper himself does juggle a career as a successful - dare we say world-famous - landscape photographer, with a teaching profession. But it’s not due to a lack of enthusiasm by the educators. “You simply can’t put economic value on a creative mind,” says Cooper of the art world. While art is seen as a glamorous profession in the eyes of the media, the reality for most is far from it. “Mass media puts artists in the limelight and uses them as entertainment. This perception of celebrated artists selling their work for silly money is affecting students. In reality, there are only very few art students who will be able to make a living from creating art. After art school, people are forced to reinvent themselves into something else than artists, but how do you do that without feeling like a failure?”

Image courtesy of the Artist and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh

 

Cooper himself does juggle a career as a successful - dare we say world-famous - landscape photographer, with a teaching profession. However, his own work does not play an active role in what he teaches his students. Back to the discussion of inspiration over influence. “I don’t show students my own work, no. Influence is unnecessary. Instead, I encourage students to make something new every day, as I do myself.” Talking to students about their interests, giving advice, but mostly learning from one another is what’s truly important. “And being a practising artist. I couldn’t imagine doing this job without creating art myself.”

He continues: “Working with people is wonderful and I learned early on that the real student, one who is interested and eager, will always become the real teacher. In my 34 years as a teacher here at the GSA, I’ve never been bored. How lucky."

Even though Cooper may paint a less shiny picture of art school than some may expect, all is not lost for those who persist. Cooper’s advice for budding artists is simple: “Don’t do art unless you need to.”

We ask professor Cooper whether he has any favourite places in Glasgow to share with us, after all, he has spent more of his adult life in this Scottish city than in his Native US. Instead of naming specifics his advice (and quote by Carlos Castaneda) is: “Looking, looking, breathlessly…”

Image courtesy of the Artist and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh

 

Interested to see the fifteen selected works (including three overall winners) from the Glasgow School of Art? Head on over to citizenM London Bankside hotel between 18 May and 9 June 2016. Can’t make it to London? The exhibition will travel to other cities dates to be announced.

 

Header image by Laura Cooper

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