History and Mission
On December 6, 1945, among the ruins of post-war Gdańsk, a school of fine arts was created and granted the status of a state artistic academy. Although the State Higher School of Fine Arts in Gdańsk was initially located in Sopot and socially thought of as the “school of Sopot”, in September 1955, now as the State Higher School of Visual Arts, it was moved into the Great Armoury – the Arsenal. The initial purpose of this building is evidenced by the vertices of the western façade – obelisks and statues, ferrule-like decorations, and most of all the orbs, exploding with tin flames. In the 1920s, a shopping arcade occupied the ground floor of the Armoury. It was there that the mother of the three-year-old Oscar from the novel by Günter Grass bought the red-and-white drum, which in the hands of the rebellious boy became a tool to make statements about the surrounding reality.
The doyens of the academy were a group of artists guided by their need to contribute to the rebuilding of the ruins of post-war Gdańsk and to animate its artistic life. Their coinciding views on creation corresponded with stubbornness, passion, and consistent actions, thus promoting the realization of their mission to search for the place of art in the society. Fulfilling the Positivist ideal of work at the grass roots, they created an ideologically homogeneous, vibrant circle of pedagogues and artists. This feeling of community, demonstrated by respect for traditional aesthetic values, correlated with the increasing rank of this artistic academy, the activities it promoted and the undertaking of other, though conservative, initiatives.
What’s characteristic is that this group of artists, among whom most exhibited moderation and distrust towards transformations, qualitie so criticized by the then avant-garde, were inspired by the idea of not disturbing others. Just like the Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno, they noticed the need to not deny any of the artistic disciplines the right to express itself in its own way. The harmony of the world resides in its freedom, objective manifoldness, multiformity, and variedness. Imitating others is undemanding, but it’s an art to create according to one’s own poetics. Nature provides man with wings, and the role of pedagogues is to help him to spread them. It wasn’t long until these attitudes found response. The experience of the professors and the passion of youth soon bore first fruits, noticed on different latitudes.
Contemporarily, the historical Arsenal in Gdańsk receives a new function as it becomes the Armoury of Art. It is supposed to attract the attention of a wide circle of viewers, contributing to the increasing participation in culture in the area of the metropolis of Gdańsk, and satisfying the ambitions to teach and promote art and culture. The Academy of Fine Arts, as the school is called since 1996, is a home, in which art is being born and lives under the patronage of Minerva, who supports the building of a positive image of the difficult profession of an artist in the contemporary world.
With their works, the pedagogues, graduates, and students of the Gdańsk academy shape the image of Tricity. In the 1950s, they contributed to the rebuilding of the old-town Gdańsk, returning splendour and charm to its monuments. At the beginning of the 1960s, they experimented by clashing poetry and visual art, which found reflection in the activities of the students’ theatres. From year to year, the identity of the Coast changes. These processes and transformations do not occur automatically. The credit, to a great extent, goes to the alumni of the school – painters, sculptors, graphic artists, architects, ceramists, industrial designers, fabric designers, and others.
More and more frequently the viewer is being invited to engage in a discussion with the creator – culture is supposed to function in the open public space, and the viewer is its indispensable element, first critic, and, sometimes, co-creator. The effect of the artists’ joint efforts will be the cycle of workshops, planned to take place in autumn 2017, which will draw on the utopian idea of the interpenetration of artistic disciplines, their unity, and common source. Over 70-year history of the academy constitutes a proof that in art, impossible is only that about which we’re unable to ask.
For us, an artistic academy with over seventy-years history, culture signifies primarily the mission and responsibility connected with the education of young artists. For us, the students are the most important – it is for them and thanks to them that the Academy functions and our work makes sense. The particularly talented graduates of MA studies can develop their artistic, design, or scientific interests during the Cross-Faculty Doctoral Studies. The rich programme, scholarships, and cooperation with outstanding artists and researchers open before them completely new horizons, enabling them to look at their chosen discipline from a broader perspective.
It would be difficult not to mention here every researcher's crucial need to access to a rich book collection. It is provided by the Library, whichis a part of a unitary library and information system of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. Its structure is comprised of the Reading Room, Lending Library, and Information Office. The profile of the book collection corresponds with the majors offered by the academy and constitutes a response to the research needs of the students, faculty members, and visitors of the academy. In particular, it encompasses literature from the field of history and theory of art, including painting, sculpture, architecture, industrial design, interior design and furniture making, graphic art and applied graphics, fabric, clothing, ceramics, glass, artistic craftsmanship, photography, folk art, as well as theatre, aesthetics, philosophy, social sciences, history and theory of culture, and global and regional history – in total, more than 20 thousand volumes. The Reading Room offers access to national and foreign journals. The Library belongs to the Tricity Library Complex and participates in the project Pomeranian Digital Library.
Equally important is for us the other face of culture – open, functioning in the public space, based on a dialogue, co-created by artists and viewers. This is why with attentiveness and engagement we prepared a diverse cultural and educational offer aimed at all lovers of art of all ages.
Art and design workshops are a perfect opportunity to develop imagination and manual skills. For the youngest, we run the artistic workshops “Junior ASP” and lettering workshops “Grafikam”, and with youth and adults we share our knowledge during workshops on drawing, painting, graphic art, as well as painting on glass and textiles.All throughout the year, individual and collective exhibitions of leading Polish artists are being held in the exhibition spaces of the Great Armoury, which present the accomplishments of both the creators affiliated with our Academy and those who come from other artistic centres. Each summer we also organize the national exhibition of the best diplomas from the area of fine arts, helping the graduates of artistic universities to independently enter the art market.
Moreover, we have begun to carry out the innovative programme of curatorial visits in two galleries presenting the cyclically changed display of the works from the permanent collection of the Academy. The works of our professors and graduates, which constitute a significant part of the heritage of the AFA in Gdańsk, are exhibited in the gallery of fine arts. The design exhibition (opening in February 2017), on the other hand, presents various realizations of design thought contained in contemporary industrial design and related fields, which constitute the intellectual and artistic output of the designers affiliated with our university. The programme of curatorial visits in the galleries of the AFA was developed by experienced culture researchers, who introduce the participants to the mysteries of fine arts and design and familiarize them with the tricks of artistic techniques, remarkable stories behind the creation of the displayed works, as well as the colourful biographies of their authors.
Within the walls of our university we also regularly organize presentations, discussion panels, scientific conferences, and open lectures with the participation of outstanding artists, designers, and art theoreticians from Poland abroad. Those meetings bring together not only students and professionals, but also people not connected with art or design, thus constituting a unique platform for debate and exchange of experiences and opinions.