Today is the first day of the rest of your life – Demand the Impossible

Attempt to shoehorn together two philosophically opposing counterculture mantras and you’d normally be in a heap of trouble. And while it isn’t often that you’ll find two rival factions come together; the Hippy edict - ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’ and the Situationist-inspired punk decree – ‘Demand the Impossible’ jointly manifest to act as a rally call and call-to-arms for every brand new, fresh-out-of-the-box design student across the land…

Think artistic and creative freedom. Think experimentation and risk-taking. Being at art school, and that includes university-run design faculties too, must act as a challenge; be life-changing, life affirming and instill a lust for life that smashes preconceptions, and kick-starts creativity and invention. The very start of an art school design education must be every design student’s own personal ground zero and the very end of their formal education - the start of a life-long quest to make a difference.

But in a brave new world of university fees and student finance/debt is it any wonder that many of tomorrow’s mavericks and misfits are commencing three years of study knuckling down to the proposition of rowing boats rather then rocking boats. In recession-hit UK Ltd art and design students are in peril – in real danger of playing too safe, too wrapped in the cotton wool of conformity as they over-worry what the future might bring…

UK creativity has always relied on the nonconformist, eccentric, individualist, one-of-a-kind, odd-one-out rebels; those prepared to roll the dice of risk. In today’s climate of fear; today’s art and design students, tomorrow’s artists and designers, just aren’t pushing hard enough, aren’t bucking the system, leading an insurgent revolt or dissenting, rising up – where have all the radicals gone? The civil rights Berkeley student rebellion of 1964, the Parisian student revolt of 1968, the Soweto uprising of 1976, even the poll tax riots of 1990 are all now just a distant memory.

Even the Young British Artists, the last generation of true innovators and still the most recent height of creativity spurned by this country’s art schools, are old school. The middle-aged YBAs are yet to be upstaged and overshadowed. Ok, so student radicalism can’t be summoned like a genie from a lamp; but isn’t it time for a movement to rise to the surface that scares us, dares us and shakes from our sedated sleepwalk?

So, as either a new academic year begins or another draws to a close – it is our responsibility to instill self-belief in every new fresher or graduate. Just remember one thing, or two if you hold dear their origins; Today is the first day of the rest of your lives, so don’t just opt for the easy life, - Demand the Impossible, and start to make a difference…

Lawrence Zeegen is an educator, illustrator and writer. He is Head of the School of Communication Design at Kingston University / London, a regular contributing illustrator to the Guardian newspaper and author of four books on contemporary illustration.