"School sucks": arts maverick Aaron Rose on why teens should get creative.
NOMINATED BY ROBERT NETHERY
INTERVIEW BY MADELAINE LEVY
When the friends and artists of New York City’s Alleged Gallery remember the rambunctious art institution in the book “Young Sleek and Full of Hell”, they paint a picture of an iconoclastic street art movement that in its 1990’s heyday took the form of a never-ending party. Alleged was located in the Lower East Side and Meatpacking district, long before those neighbourhoods became cool or even safe. More than probably any other entity it helped push art influenced by street culture, graffiti and the underground music scene into the mainstream. Alleged hosted the first solo exhibition by Terry Richardson and launched the careers of Ed Templeton, Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgalen and many others. They also showed works by Harmony Korine, Sofia Coppola, Kim Gordon and Mike Mills.
Alleged was the brain child of Aaron Rose, the artist-curator-director-musician-writer-dealer-publisher who, despite what seems to have been a constant presence of drink, drugs and debt, somehow always managed to get stuff done. And since closing the gallery in Aaron Rose – who nowadays lives in LA and calls himself “a project kind of guy” – has kept on at exactly that: exhibiting re-purposed vintage objects as a visual artist, editing the cultural journal ANP Quarterly, directing films for brands including Levi’s and Nasty Gal, pursuing an on-going project documenting the Beautiful Losers art scene in film, print and exhibitions and, as he puts, it “a million other things”.
Closest to his heart, however, is the Make Something School – an art education programme, which Rose co-launched in 2008. Aimed at teenagers, Make Something puts Rose’s art world contacts to work, albeit in a very different context. The School’s curriculum includes workshops such as “Punk Rock Film School” and “Sneaker Design with Pro Skater Paul Rodriguez”. Over the years, they have given adolescent Americans the possibility to explore poster design with renowned video director and graphic designer Mike Mills, music writing with Beastie Boys Money Mark and skateboard design with artist Ed Templeton.
What’s the background to the Make Something school?
I was one of those young people who despised school. I built up resentment for years. I tried to go to art school but dropped out with terrible grades. So whenever I thought about education or school I went into a rant about what a waste of time it is is for artists to go to school – saying they should spend the money on a studio and get going instead.
And then you started… an art school?
Eventually, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and try to create something that is better than what I had, teaching art in a different way than the establishment does.
What was the main difference between this and any other art course?
Well, a workshop at Make Something can be something like each student getting a dollar bill and a lighter, and then the assignment is to burn the money and make ink out of it and make a self portrait… When tattoo artist Scott Campbell came in, he brought a guy who is almost completely tattooed and just had him standing there in his underwear. Scott asked the students explain why they thought he got them, what the tattoos were symbols of and then he told them why he did, and what he thought.
"I try to create something that is better than what I had, teaching art in a different way than the establishment does."
What have you learnt from the experience?
How intimidating teenagers are! However much you’ve achieved, you walk into a room full of teenagers, and you’re still nothing.
Isn’t that often how teenagers also feel about themselves?
Yeah, exactly, and maybe that’s the lesson here – the point is for them to think they’re something.
In some ways you’re teaching confidence rather than art?
Oh yeah, the point isn’t to train artists, but to teach young people to think creatively, to go against the grain of society and innovate. Of the 2 000 or so we have taught so far, even if only 5 become artists, that’s a success as well. Because lawyers should think creatively and bankers should think creatively and plumbers should think creatively. It’s not about art, it’s a way of life.
"I think one of the biggest problems in society is when people follow like sheep. People want to be safe and not innovate."
Why is that important, for a plumber to think creatively?
Because I think one of the biggest problems in society is when people follow like sheep. People want to be safe and not innovate and have their house and their life and move on. And I think that creates stagnation in our culture. If you are taught to think creatively, it makes the world a more interesting place. Fast & Furious doesn’t have to be the biggest movie. It only is because people settle.
If you weren’t learning in school, where did you learn from, who were your teachers?
My artist peers were my teachers. I’ve learnt so much from someone like Mike Mills. About graphic design, and about how to conduct yourself us an artist. Harmony Korine taught me film, just by watching him and having conversations with him, it was was huge. Barry McGee taught me how to get free paint from Home Depot by going in and ordering the paint and then leaving and not picking it up. All the stuff that isn’t picked up they put on the discount shelf, so the next day you can go and you buy the same thing for 5 dollars. Practical skills we call them…
“My artist peers were my teachers. Harmony Korine taught me film, just by watching him and having conversations with him, it was was huge.”
What’s next for Make Something?
At the moment we survive at the generosity of brand marketing departments, which isn’t sustainable. So we’re at a bit of a hiatus sorting out our non-profit status. Our big dream is to establish a permanent school house, working with an architect who can do workshops with the students getting them to design their own building.
And what else are you up to these days?
Oh you know, ANP quarterly, the free arts journal that we’ve been doing for 10 years is going to print in 10 days. I am working on a script for a feature film that I hope to be directing this year. I am not supposed to talk too much about it, but it’s semi-autobiographical about three generations of LA families who were involved in politics, the good and bad sides of that. My wife and I just had a baby… And I’ve also excavated a folder of poems I wrote in the 1990’s that I might be putting out in a book. Just in case someone might think it’s good.
See more: Aaron Rose uncovers his 10 favorite rare magazines.