ART.ZIP: Would you talk a bit more about selecting students? What kinds of students will catch your eye? What suggestions would you give to those who want to study at the RCA?
JS: I think you need to be able to think independently, and to want to do something. If you are not quite sure what you want to do, you should have strong ideas of what you want to explore. And have your own ideas, your own curiosities; that sense of being open to what might be given to you is the most important thing. We want to see students trying to make something they care about: it might not be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be finished, because that is the point of somebody coming here to learn things. People should not feel they have to know exactly what they want to do before they come, because that’s just too scary.
The other thing we ask is what else they do in spare time. Do they go theatre, do they read a lot, do they play an instrument, etc., because through that we could better see the creative drive behind their ideas of being an artist; sometimes people are interested in literature and that’s part of why they like making images. That kind of thing would impact on your everyday life, and becomes a really important part of what drives people to make work. There is no one way, because we are not looking for any one type of student. There is not one kind of Royal College of Art student. We deliberately take a very diverse range of students, because it is more interesting and they are going to teach each other. We are looking for a variety of people. All the Chinese students we have at the moment are very different. They need to be bold and brave to apply, and often they have exceptional skills.
ART.ZIP: You have many experiences in China, doing workshops and communicating with students and professors. What do you think the biggest difference between these two education systems?
JS: We are always very impressed by the skills of our Chinese students. They have been trained and taught in a structural way. The most difficult thing for people transferring to a UK programme is that in this system, they need to be quite independent and develop their own judgement about how their work is received. To switch from a hierarchical relationship with your professor, where he is telling you what is good and what is bad, to one in which you may receive technical comments but the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ evaluation of your work is your own is a challenge. Today, there is no one way to be an artist. To navigate that diversity as a young artist is the biggest challenge.