Pillbox

Robinson to breathe new life into CFA

?Thinking through doing?: It?s the latest ideology of Carnegie Mellon?s College of Fine Arts, according to the College?s new dean, Hilary Robinson. This innovative approach to understanding the arts is what is going to bring the College into its second century, as this year CFA celebrates a century of education.

Carnegie Mellon?s renowned art programs have long been recognized for preparing students to be active artists in their society. And Dean Robinson, new to CMU this fall, wants to augment the College?s reputation with her new approach to making CFA an integral part of Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh.

Past deans of the College have emphasized students? pioneering work, encouraging them ?to espouse a pluralism that respects origins and encourages innovation,? according to the College of Fine Arts? website. With such a solid foundation in providing a challenging educational environment, Dean Robinson is aware that she has a lot of pressure to continue this legacy.

Robinson?s R?sum?

Hilary Robinson began training as a professional painter in England in the 1970s. She worked simultaneously as an artist and as a freelance arts administrator, critic, and lecturer. At the same time, she did research and development work for an Art in Public Places agency.

After acquiring her BA in the 1980s from the Royal College of Art, London, she received the Allan Lane Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cultural Theory, thus establishing her credentials in that field.

She went on to earn her PhD at the University of Leeds, and studied the applicability to art practices of the work of French philosopher Luce Irigaray.

In 1992 Robinson joined the faculty of the University of Ulster ?with a brief to integrate that activity with the Studio program at the BA and MFA level[s].? She surpassed this when she led the school to earn the joint highest rating out of the 75 art and design institutions in the United Kingdom, and she was soon appointed to become head of the school. While head of the university she created many programs and coordinated a ?successful bid for nine million pounds [about $15 million] for a research centre for the school.?

In addition to her accomplishments at the University of Ulster, Robinson conducted notable research in contemporary art theory. She has published Visible Female (1987) and Feminism Art Theory 1968?2000 (2001). Her latest monograph, ?Reading Art, Reading Irigaray: The Politics of Art by Women,? will be published this year.

Moreover, when Robinson isn?t authoring works, she has an impressive tenure at conferences. She has refereed conference papers and convened panels, such as the College Art Association, the American Society for Aesthetics, and the Association of Art Historians.

In addition to her work as a writer, she has found the time to become a member of several distinguished committees in the United Kingdom, including the Executive Committee for the Council for Higher Education in Art and Design, the Management Advisory Board for the Art Design Media Higher Education Academy. She is also the chair of the board of the Ormeau Baths Gallery, the leading contemporary art gallery in Northern Ireland.

Peer Review

?Hilary Robinson,? says CMU provost Mark Kamlet, ?is very passionate about the role of the arts in society.? Parts of CFA have always had a conservatory feel; Robinson stresses that students learn the most from a more interdisciplinary approach. CFA is quite close to all colleges at CMU ? including the Tepper School of Business, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Carnegie Institute of Technology ? and this proximity has its distinct advantages.

Within the college itself, Dean Robinson wants to make sure that the individual schools within CFA are united and are working together to create new forms of art for society. Giving the college a more coherent voice within the University and beyond is an idea that, Robinson explains, is built upon the work of past deans.

She emphasizes the fact that she does not plan to completely change CFA, but rather to help it evolve into a powerhouse of intellectual activity, research, and art production. ?It?s an intellectual activity,? she says. ?Artists are philosophers as much as poets.?

This interdisciplinary approach isn?t new, but it?s not necessarily emphasized within CFA consistently. Creating a curriculum that encourages working with colleges across the University to produce work could be a sizable change in how CFA does business.

Big Plans

The College of Fine Arts already has an outstanding reputation, which Robinson hopes to maintain and build upon. CFA is unique on a national level for advocating inquiry and being bold enough to question it. As she says, ?methods for research can happen in the studio, the library, the laboratory.... Research is at the core of everything.?

Another one of Robinson?s plans is to focus on the futures of CFA graduates after graduation. CFA is responsible for equipping its students with all the tools necessary for their profession. More importantly, Robinson believes that students must be able to integrate these tools. Only then will they be able to reach their full potential and stand out not only from graduates from other universities, but from each other.

Artists are often attracted to raw industrial areas, like Lawrenceville in Pittsburgh. As the artist begins to settle in these areas, support from the community (caf?s, shops, and galleries) comes in and creates a neighborhood. Robinson would like to encourage this development in Pittsburgh by making sure that ?the University is not isolated.?

Ongoing projects such as the ?Urban-lab Project? of the School of Architecture are a way to achieve this integration between the University and the community.

Robinson believes the best artwork is that which elevates the viewer. It contains an element that evokes emotion. This is because the best artwork is made with a purpose. She says that ?making art is not about being comfortable, it?s about challenging and daring to do things people don?t like.?

Artists are inventors who invent ways to perplex the human mind. They are always asking ?what if??, but unlike the conventional mind, they do not answer with ?either this or that.? They believe that the answer may be ?both this and that.? It is in this way that they are able to make a discovery and create a novelty. ?The trick, as human beings, is to keep that sense of discovery.?

As CFA celebrates its one hundredth birthday, Robinson enters the limelight at a pivotal point in the College?s history. She has the opportunity to not only reform its outreach to Carnegie Mellon as a whole, but also to underscore the importance of an esteemed center for arts research and advancement in society.
Dean Robinson maintains that this is a time to look forward: ?The worst thing an art school can do is become nostalgic,? she explained. The College must push, initiate, drive forward into the future, making sure that artists are always ?people irritating each other.? Only this will lead to student?s success, whether they be an engineers, poets, actors, or painters. Robinson, in her new role as dean, will be challenged to keep pushing the college into its next hundred years and continue to build upon CFA?s already impressive reputation.