For art's sake

<strong>Hornsey 1968</strong>

Lisa Tickner <em>Frances Lincoln, 208pp, £12.99</em>

Mention the student occupations of the late 1960s, and most people will think of Paris or the London School of Economics, but probably not Hornsey in north London. Yet Hornsey was one of four art colleges investigated for being at the centre of the 1968 protests. What the organisers intended to be a 24-hour sit-in and artfest carried on far longer, closing the college for months, briefly colonising the Institute of Contemporary Arts and producing huge debate.

This book, by the art history professor Lisa Tickner, explores the mechanics of the protest with precision. Half of the slim volume is devoted to reference notes – a shame, as it is in these notes that the “voices” of the struggle are hidden. If they had been more artfully fitted into the main text that could have brought some life to the book.

Despite these style issues, Hornsey 1968 is of interest, because it challenges the stereotypes of that time. For example, visitors to the Hornsey occupied building were told it was “a protest against art education, not against Yanks in Vietnam”. This protest against bureaucratic issues was specific to Hornsey’s time and place, but its central debate, about whether the purpose of art education is to prepare people for the workplace or to encourage freer thinking, is still relevant 40 years on.

This article first appeared in the 19 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Secret Israel