“…And through order comes a sense of visual honesty,” he said, without a hint of irony. Which is ironic, of course, because everything else about him screamed irony. The perfectly styled ‘unkempt’ haircut, the fashionably unfashionable Kathmandu down jacket and the work boots which – judging from their pristine appearance – had probably never seen a day of work.

This is was a visual arts student in his element. Welcome to the ANU School of Art. Please leave your expectations at the door.

The design arts have always had a stigma associated with it. Unable to shake the tortured artist stereotype of Van Gogh and the like, the image of a design art student has twisted into a caricature figure with greasy hair, clothing that wouldn’t look out of place in a sepia photograph, and a surly and cynical attitude compounded by their choice of chemical enhancement. This mythical creature is be prone to flights of passion, nights of frantic working, contrasted against weeks of angst-ridden inertia. An artist is born an artist, can only exist as an artist, and will die (probably young and unfulfilled) as an artist.

The underlying assumption is that art cannot be taught. That it is not a skill, but rather a character trait, and that any academic study is trying to define the ineffable.

Enter the ANU School of Art.

As I wandered around the School of Art end of year graduation exhibition, I was dumbfounded by the amount of talent on display. Without a doubt, the output of work by this cohort equalled that of any other faculty. The plethora of mediums – all masterfully wielded – showed the diversity of human expression. These ANU students had produced work that would not be out of place in any large-scale exhibition. In fact, many of the works were actually purchased, showing that the produce was also commercially viable, as well academically-based.

After visiting the exhibition, I have found a certain appreciation, even if I still lack understanding. These individuals might not cite clinical research or include complicated equations, and they may be producing sculptures or woodwork, but they – like us, the non-artistic masses – work towards a defined end-goal, with set guidelines and intended results. For some, this may sap the magic out of art, but there should be an appreciation of the hard work these students invest. Art is meant to evoke an emotional reaction, and doing so is not an easy task.