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(illustration by the author for Hyperallergic)

Australian artist Leon Ewing has come under fire for suggesting that drugs should be given to high school students to help unlock their creative potential.

“Basically what I’m proposing is the idea of using performance enhancing drugs in education,” Ewing told the Australian Associated Press. “We already prescribe amphetamine-like medications to our children for focus and docility. What if we medicated for creativity? Educational marijuana, if you will.”

The multimedia artist, who teaches at Murdoch University in Perth, will further explore the idea next month when he takes part in The Hothouse, a three-day forum that’s part of Tasmania’s Dark Mofo arts festival. The focus of the Hothouse forum will be the issue of education in Tasmania.

“What genius could be nurtured, if not unleashed, in such circumstances? What a transformational experience,” Ewing said. “Currently our government’s thinking on education is to spend millions of dollars putting chaplains in schools,” referring to the Department of Education and Training’s new $243.8 million, four-year program to dispatch chaplains to some 2,900 schools throughout Australia. “That’s people who actually believe in Bronze Age sky wizards and magical power. This idea is no more fantastical than that.” He envisions the project having a number of security measures, including mental health screenings for participating students and customized vaporizers to administer the drugs.

The Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, and its James Turrell Skyspace (photo by Museum of Old and New Art, via Facebook)

“We don’t necessarily agree with this idea but we love that it’s brave and creative,” said Leigh Carmichael, Dark Mofo curator and creative director of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), the institution created by professional gambler and art collector David Walsh that puts on the festival. “We hope this is just the first of ideas that emerge to challenge us and get people talking.” Ewing proposed having participating, drug-taking teens work in residence at MONA with contemporary artists.

Predictably, others don’t consider Ewing’s “educational marijuana” proposal brave or creative. “[It] doesn’t sit well with anyone who understands child development and how young people develop and their capacity to think and to explore and to create really good skills as they grow older,” Ronnie Voigt, of Tasmania’s Drug Education Network, told ABC News.

Hopefully Ewing doesn’t envision marijuana-aided art classes as part of the core curriculum; a 2013 study by scientists at Northwestern Medicine found that daily marijuana use over the course of three years or more could cause alterations in teens’ brain structure and memory problems.

Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy Sherman, and other divisive issues have...