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The Brilliance of Domestika: Why Art Schools Are Now Officially Redundant

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

I first became aware of Domestika, through their friendly-looking adverts on Youtube earlier this year. Normally, I skip past Youtube adverts to the video I want to see, because invariably, the adverts take forever to waffle through, and are, invariably, for something I don’t want. However - this case was a little different, and so I clicked on their adverts to find out what they were all about.

Domestika are an online teaching platform, who run extremely (you’ll see in a minute, how extremely) good value, arts-based courses, with a vocational flavour. When I say “arts-based” - this means (and I quote verbatim from their website): “Illustration/ Craft; Marketing & Business; Photography & Video; Design/ 3D & Animation; Architecture & Spaces; Writing; Web & App Design; Calligraphy & Typography; Fashion; Music & Audio”. Some of these subjects may indeed seem like they should already be adequately covered by other learning platforms; the point here, is that there must be some relation to the arts, or creative industries.

So, for example, as well as courses in more traditional arts-based, and particularly handcrafting, subjects, you will also have courses offered in thoroughly modern, up-to-the minute digital techniques (even for subjects you wouldn’t expect, where digital applications make things easier). There is also an overwhelmingly vocational bias and focus on self-improvement in the course offerings; as well as creative crochet, or concrete casting for architectural prototypes, you’ll also be able to sign up for advertising copywriting, or learning how to create visual images with computer coding techniques.

Now, let me prepare you in advance for the next shock: the prices. Anyone from my generation, or perhaps 10 or even 20 years younger, will groan inwardly on remembering the days when courses cost many thousands of pounds, and required expensive student loans, or other financial support, to pay back. It was all a con, of course, to get our generations into debt - all for some piece of paper - or some letters after one’s name - which could just as well mean nothing, as anything.

Not so, here. The most expensive of Domestika courses, in practical terms, work out at a little under 20.00GBP. Many are around the 14.95GBP mark, and I’ve even seen some advertised for under 10.00GBP. This is likely because of Domestika’s global-based model, which uses course tutors from all over the world; a huge advantage, as the pool of potential customers is that much greater - and, as a student, you don’t even have to leave your own home, get on the bus, or lug heavy portfolios about.

Gone, are the days of working in horrendous studio environments. For myself personally, the nature of my working environment is vitally important. I prefer my privacy, and am something of a housecat in that regard. I cannot, for the life of me, work properly in a cacophonous, noisy, overcrowded studio, having to elbow other students out of the way, as we were forced to in Art School, or having to fight for space in the textile dyeing lab, or the screen printing tables, or over the tailor’s dummies. Back in those days, there was a ghetto blaster at each end of the studio - invariably playing Radio 1, as my peers had no taste. “Domestika” is therefore clearly well-named. I can sit at my table at home (the converted industrial unit which is my artist's live/ work space), put earplugs in to ensure nearly complete silence, and crack on, in a peaceful fashion.

One principle which I share with Domestika, and which so far, remains unspoken but is glaringly obvious, is their commitment to the fact that art is NOT an academic subject, and shouldn’t be treated as such. 25 years ago, when I was as Art School, you were trained as industry fodder. Individuality didn’t come into it. Those of us who are/ were true artists, and pursue/d our passion, with a passion, feel/ felt, that Art School should be a place for us to experiment with our own ideas, and that we should be encouraged and nurtured in those ideas, were in for a nasty surprise.

As in just about any other subject which is treated in an academic manner, there was no room for originality. There was most certainly room for clean slates, whom the course leaders could empty their propaganda into, and trust to sell it on; however, there was no room for original thinkers, or the notion that Art, or creativity in general, is an organic being in its own right, which needs nurturing, careful honing, and can’t just be learned by rote in a term, and spat out. In fact, if you approach art in this way, you will never, ever produce imaginative art.

By contrast, Domestika gives you the tools, to then go away and do what you like with, and create your own spin on. This approach comes as a breath of fresh air to those who want to learn at their own pace, in their own time; and to repeat, and repeat, the lessons as often as they like (when you purchase a course, you have access to all lessons and course materials indefinetely).

There are no lecturers hovering over your shoulder and criticizing you relentlessly and pointlessly, which should make you cheer if, like me, you’re one of these people who are something of a Howard Roark-type personality, who historically, has been utterly fed up with having to listen to patronizing, demeaning and sometimes downright criminalising critiques from know-it-all, overpaid lecturers, sitting comfortably in their overpaid ivory-tower positions for far too long.

When, after completion of a project where you had been given no clue as to what to do, but your work was either somehow “right” or “wrong” at the end of the day - without it being explained exactly why - and where it was apparently almost continually and invariably “wrong” - it became increasingly clear, over time, that the demise of the University Art lecturer in this day and age, couldn’t come fast enough. They are being gradually swept away, by the broomstick that is sweeping away every other aspect of life, as we know it. The Age of Aquarius, is upon us.

Have I tried any Domestika courses myself? If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this! So far, I’ve done courses in digital painting, geometric surface pattern design, calligraphy, and 3-D pop-up book design. The last one was a bit of an adventure for me, partly because I’d never really done anything quite like it before, although I’d done a little architectural modelmaking on a landscaping course, many years ago.

This course is taught by the proprietor of Libracos, a pop-up book company. The deft-fingered Silvia Hijano Coullaut, whose course videos show how to make a number of 3-D pop-up shapes with cut and folded paper and numerous strips of ultra-thin double-sided sticky tape, has an obviously thorough knowledge of her craft; and as well as giving a sound grounding in the principles of pop-up shapes and how to make them, also gives useful tips on what will, and won’t, work.

This course is obviously popular; Ms Coullaut has produced two further, more advanced courses on pop-up book creation. Being the insomniac that I am, I decided to make all 14 basic shapes from the beginner’s course, in a night. Being as mad as I am, I traced the patterns (provided as part of the course materials) from my computer screen and onto sheets of 200gsm paper, cut them out religiously with paper knife and scissors, and spent all night up until a bleary-eyed 3am making them, when I had lost count of the number of strips of micro-thin double-sided sticky tape I had peeled the backs off (you will get through a lot of sticky tape, on this course).

I can safely say, that when I came to the end, the basic principles of 3-D pop-up shapes were firmly ingrained in my head. You do need an enormous amount of patience, as it is fiddly work - but also extremely rewarding, when the pop-ups do actually function!

By the way, in case you wondered, I haven’t been paid to sing Domestika’s praises. I’m writing what I do, because I like them. Shall I do more courses? Most definetely - when I have a tenner to spare; it might be the best tenner, you ever spent. I would advise anyone else to go for it - for me personally, it’s been an unregrettable, and unforgettable, experience. You don’t need Art School; this will bring you far more untold enjoyment, and is much more fun!

(Image credit: Peacock, from Domestika course "Pop-Up Book Creation" by Silvia Hijano Couillaut)

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