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this art school ain't big enough for the two of us

Post #558 • June 15, 2005, 2:05 PM • 39 Comments

Laurie Fendrich, for the Chronicle of Higher Education (via Artsjournal): A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mess.

Now, however, a tug of war is going on over what exactly constitutes an artistic identity. The result is that art education... has become a hodgepodge of attitudes, self-expression, news bulletins from hot galleries, and an almost random selection of technical skills that cannot help but leave most art students confused about their ultimate purpose as artists.

Echoing a comment I made recently that a lot of what passes for open-mindedness in the art world is in fact just another piety, she continues:

This mishmash approach has been going on for so long that it amounts to an orthodoxy.

Echoing an idea expressed here that that theory-art and feeling-art constitute irreconcilable approaches:

...educators who love traditional art but who, out of fear of being left behind, are jumping onto a theory-driven bandwagon are marching off to a land ruled by dilettante sociology, bogus community activism, and unrigorous science and philosophy. The notion that there could be a fusion of "studio practice" with old-fashioned artistic skills that would yield a wondrous hybrid in the same way that African and Western music together produced jazz hasn't panned out, at least not yet. The reason? Whereas African and Western music, for all their differences, were both about how things sound, theory-driven art and traditional visual art are not both about how things look. In art, the fusion merely strips the traditional art object (that is, one well-crafted physical object) of meaning while replacing it with a jumble of fatuous words.

Walter Darby Bannard covered similar territory in a paper he delivered earlier this year to the College Art Association entitled Proficiency and Pathology: Postmodernism in the Foundations Classroom, in which he said:

I have heard endless stories about conflicts created within the ranks of faculty by the imposition of postmodernist concept-based programs. This is to be expected, and it is exacerbated by the inflexible approach of radical postmodernists, who, like religious zealots, insist on eradicating the old order. The damage to smooth pedagogical functioning, which in most art departments is imperfect at best, is obvious.

It also affects incoming faculty, who, however thoroughly they have been trained in the techniques of making and teaching studio art, must, in many schools, whistle the postmodernist tune or lose any chance of employment or tenure. And when the counterrevolution comes, as it must, the perpetrators will be retired and the hapless followers will bear the brunt. The backlash will be ferocious. Relearning the old skills and methods will be long and painful.

The longer I ponder it the more I feel convinced that while artists ought to capably deal with theory when called upon to do so, they should practice art in a manner that characterizes it as a way of interacting with materials, not theories. You could talk about the topological math behind knitting, and I'll bet that would make for a fascinating exercise, but when you feel cold you want nice fuzzy sweater, not a theory about one. Likewise, when you long for art, a theory about it won't do.

Competent interaction with materials requires hand-skills, and thus theory-driven education, again under the guise of open-mindedness, slights art to the extent that it doesn't embrace theory. The realists have it especially bad in such an environment - you could spend four years doing nothing but pounding technical chops and you still might not have the finesse to pull off great realist work. But embrace theory, and you don't have to go through all that labor. Furthermore, someone will tell you that you don't want to fool around with that old stuff anyway. The enterprise will happily sell you out from the get-go.

Fendrich proposes a worthy solution: getting away from the Modern and Postmodern theorists and going a few rounds with Leonardo da Vinci's paragone, Ephraim Gotthold Lessing's Lacoön, Rousseau, Balzac, and the like. I see no harm in it, although I confess I haven't read any of her suggestions and somehow ended up with a distate for theory-art anyway. This makes me suspect that the idea doesn't add up somehow, but I can't find anything wrong with it. I'll bet I'll enjoy Balzac more than the last bit of Derrida I tried to deal with.

I have heard, perhaps for years, now, that Craig Robins, Bonnie Clearwater, Donna Shalala, and others have talked about starting a art school here in Miami. The prospect excited me until I heard that John Baldessari was sitting on the board. Now, Andy Warhol provided crucial support for the formation of the New York Academy of Art, so you never know what people are going to do. But my heart sank; I would expect the high priest of conceptualism to impose his orthodoxies on a willing audience. (This whole art school thing could have fizzled out, by the way - I haven't heard anything about it in a while.)

In any case, the nature and difficulty of art education may necessitate a splitting into camps, an idea I don't relish but don't see a way around either. Bannard:

And if we must, in the meantime, have the thought police and political correctness and corrupted postmodernism, then give us a monastery somewhere, like the medieval Irish monks, and let us retreat and teach drawing while the vandals lay waste.

The theory-artists aren't going away, the feeling-artists aren't going away, and I doubt that you can educate them both robustly at the same time.




June 15, 2005, 9:54 PM

Refers to [59] moving the thoughts over here seemed appropriate

OK, OP sez...
One being the nature of the perception of beauty.
The other being the roots of the idea of beauty in the human personality.

Tackling the second first, it is doubtful that we can provide a logic, a metric or some other idea which is guaranteed to elicit the perceptual response we call beauty. My question, "Is beauty universal?" was targeted at this idea. Conceptual or cultural constructs will inherently fail to translate across cultures and generations. There are no rules here that would allow me to find a failsafe path to beauty, for I believe "beauty" is in the perception not the structure.

I generally disagree with Freuds attempts to measure everything with an engorgement meter. However, I think there may be some merit to the "baby's pleasure at the mothers breast" as a prototype for the "feel good" response. Further, there may be valid ingrained proto "feel good" responses which have survival value at their core. By this I mean the perception of the "beauty" of a sunset may have it's roots in thousands of past years of agrarian or nomadic survival.
I will agree that all this is admittedly vague, however it appears that the perception of beauty, particularly in a cross cultural sense, is rooted deep in the human psyche and less subject to analysis than we would like. In my opinion it is a meta manifestation of the survival instinct and the desire to preserve the species.

A subtle extension of this concept would involve the translation of the subliminal survival pleasures from an agrarian culture to a infotech culture with a new an expanded sense of beauty.



June 15, 2005, 10:15 PM

All i was saying was that both recognized that there was such a thing as beauty, and that one was talking about the perception of it and the oither was talking about the roots of it, and that Kuspit was not careful with the distinction.

You were hinting at a Darwinian explanation; that could be interesting also and would be another angle. So would your further hint at an evolving culture which may evolve the idea of beauty or the actual presence in our lives of beauty. All interesting, but all just words, of course

What beauty "is" and where it comes from are not subjects I want get tangled up in. The human psyche is very complicated and I am not competent to explicate it. However, I do have a close association with something I think is meant by "beauty" and I can talk about those experiences with some authority.

Franklin I meant to send that Fendrich article to you and I am glad you came up with it. We should all read it. I am seeing more and more of this kind of thing. Does anyone else get the sense that the pendulum is beginning to swing back?



June 15, 2005, 10:29 PM

PS what is an "orthoxy"? Is it like an oxymoron, so that the standard practice contains fatal contradictions?



June 15, 2005, 10:50 PM

We are entering a new millenium, things change.

So should art schools, Changing for a career in the art industry.

How you make art is a secret.



June 16, 2005, 1:32 AM

"Orthodoxies" is fixed.

Does anyone else get the sense that the pendulum is beginning to swing back? Maybe. All we can do is keep pushing on the damn thing.



June 16, 2005, 2:04 AM

I just dont see this. I just graduated from a pretty good MFA program this year and my experience was that if someone didnt have excellent technical skills it showed, and the faculty called them out on it. All of the foundation classes for undergrads was traditional stuff. I taught one so I know. What I did see among my fellow MFA students is you either had those with great concepts- they had the theory but needed to work on the execution, or you had the exact opposite. But, my point is, both were encouraged to work on their respective shortcomings. I did not see the theory- driven students getting a pass. If their paintings, prints, photos, whatever were not high quality they got chewed out at crits. If there is a split among the profs it was between the new media- types and old media. But that had to do with medium and not theory/feeling as you say. If the die-hard painter prof noticed a student who had great skills but lacked any conceptual interest, that prof set them straight.

And i do not think my experience is the exception because I do see alot of really great stuff coming out of schools. Some of the stuff that looks like art school homework certainly exists- but I think it just stays there. Maybe they can get by a few years or so with that stuff but in the end they have to deliver a quality product.
I also disagree with this backlash idea- it wont happen because the definition of art is way too broad to go back to focusing on the traditional handmade object exclusively. What I learned in school was that the same traditional criteria is applied for critiquing new means of expression. Attentiveness to form, placement, juxtaposition, color, presentation, non-triteness are omnipresent in all the new forms of art today. Perhaps some new words are being used but the same old concepts apply.



June 16, 2005, 2:10 AM

Onesock, thanks for the insight. Might you be willing to divulge the school you're talking about?

Schools' cultural climates must vary a lot from place to place - Fendrich's description of her own institution sounds pretty authentic.



June 16, 2005, 2:46 AM

Onesock: Thanks for the rejoinder.

There are a lot of schools. Some are better than others.

My question would be, if they are doing such a great job, why do we see such a surfeit of garbage? Or maybe you like what you see out there.

Also, i am not looking for a return to any medium or method, just a return to art that does something for me. I don't care what you call it. I just want to like it or at least be able to take it seriously rather that be irritated and turned off and forced to say oh no not that shit again.

And it needs to be visual. Sorry, it's visual art. It needs to be visual.

BTW, in case you are ready to wing me with the "old" thing, forget it. I can see.



June 16, 2005, 3:42 AM

About theory: I was once a philosophy student, grad student with an assistantship, even. Philosophy was and is wonderful. In its best form it is a state of wonderment, in fact.

Aesthetics, as it was formulated back then 40 some years ago, was not especially wonderful. It had already given up the wonderment that is foundational to philosophy. When I began painting I found that it was necessary to forget aesthetics, even though it provided some stimulation at times. That said, aesthetics then was rigorous and disciplined and therefore admirable as a way of thinking even if it had little to do with feeling art. The best thinkers, Kant especially, could provide thoughts about the process of feeling but those thoughts were not really necessary. If you knew how to approach art they were simply a confirmation. Kant is kind of tedious and grandiose. You have to be patient to get through him.

I won't comment on what passes for "art theory" today, except to say it is seldom rigorous and more seldom disciplined.

As a sweeping generalization, there is NO need to consider contemporary art theory if you are serious about art. I could qualify but the qualification would not matter much. It has gotten so bad the best thing is to ignore it and just paint. Or sculpt. Or throw pots. You will get further by doing stuff than by thinking in the terms that have been laid down by those in control of the system.

If you must "think", get as close to your aesthetic instincts as possible.


goodlunch (formally known as goodluck)

June 16, 2005, 3:59 AM

back on edgezones - rewind - i don't think its such a bad place - and its simply not true what you say about it! as i understand it the building belopngs to someone who lends it rent free to the organisers, and pay the taxes, however they don't sell any work there (or take a cut if the artists sell anything) so can't get funding that way, they only have a temporary month by month agreement with the owners, making applying for funding difficult, and thus the costs of shows are spread out amongst the artists - fair enough. no one lives there either, and no one involved in running it has any money - its a sort of community effort - the problem is that in miami there is a very limited talent pool to draw on and the place is huge!

art school are a waste of time by the by, they don't teach anything anyone couldn't teach themselves and justify people in their own inadequacies - i've never met anyone who works/teaches in one who on being pressed didn't admit that their students who were really talented and brilliant would have got there anyway, and learnt little, at best they can improve the mediocre, at worst they can give encouragement and justifiication to the lazy talentless middle classes - just look at the cars parked in art school car parks!



June 16, 2005, 4:11 AM

Goodlunch: We help the mediocre some and the good ones a lot. You just have to know how to do it.

I won't speak for the other schools.



June 16, 2005, 4:16 AM

I read the Fendrich essay. It has a good zinger here and there but seems afflicted with the idea that there is some "body" of skills or whatever that most if not all artists should possess before they can do art. That is preferable to saying there is a body of attitudes and strategies all artists should possess (the pomo mantra) but just as academic, in the end.

The "truth" is art is its own foundation. It only needs what it needs. Pollock did not draw very well so Pollock developed an art that allowed him to draw beautifully. Morris Louis wasn't much of a colorist until his art required color, then he soared into color. Mondrain COULD draw well, but the only drawing his best work required was the straight line. Art is in charge of art. Humans who speculate or worse attempt to legislate that this or that is its foundation wind up looking pretty silly. Academics are awfully susceptible to making claims and setting up "laws". Fendrich seems like a little better flavor of academic, but academicism is still just academicism.

I am an anarchist, maybe. Is that academic too?



June 16, 2005, 4:23 AM

I agree with oldpro that in good art classes the most talented students get the most help. From a populist view, that is not fair, as everyone pays the same tuition and the middle weight students are in the majority. But that is the way it works.



June 16, 2005, 4:29 AM

I will lay down the Iron Law that everyone should read Balzac. Both because he's a great artist and because he's immensely entertaining. I'd start with Lost Illusions; if you think today's journalism and criticism is ripe for satire, you must read it. There's also his famous story, "The Unknown Masterpiece". And so much more.

Zola is good, too.



June 16, 2005, 5:08 AM

dudes: i just spent about ten minutes coming up with a good rant and read catfish's comment 12. i agree with you totally. who the hell are you?



June 16, 2005, 5:40 AM

craigfrancis: I am the type of person who thinks the mighty Mississippi flathead is a great fish, especially the 100 pounders that lay back in mud banks waiting for a noodler to stick a hand in close enough to provide a protein source.

Thanks for the compliment.



June 16, 2005, 5:51 AM

Good, some reasonable disagreement, some anarchist ranting. Now we're humming.

Talk about rants, check this guy out:



June 16, 2005, 6:15 AM

Ideally, art school provides excellent examples. I doubt there's a perfect way to do it. Yes, art is in charge of art, but Pollock may have gotten his ideas about structure-via-curvature from Thomas Hart Benton, who admired the same quality in Michelangelo. I would speculate that Mondrian could use straight lines with such authority because he could draw flowers with heartbreaking sensitivity. Louis went through the Maryland Institute and had enough skills to join the WPA artists. Nothing comes out of nowhere.

Imagine what might have happened if Louis and gone to Maryland and encountered a teacher who discouraged him from pursuing abstraction. Louis was famous for getting off-track. We might not have ended up with the Veils. Perhaps it's pointless to speculate about it. But nevertheless, this kind of thing happens now. I sat on a panel that was moderated by Gean Moreno about education in the arts. I was talking about the fact that ever since Edmund Sullivan left town a few years ago, there's no one south of Ocala who can teach figurative marble sculpture. Moreno replied that we shouldn't be promoting, in his words, "fetish materials," and why not teach students how to make assemblages with, say, sneakers? I replied that artists fetishize materials and that's their job - taking brute matter and imbuing it with expression, marble, sneakers, whatever. The fact remains that some kid who wants to sculpt the figure in marble is going to run into Moreno or someone like him and go home with the idea that he needs to get ahold of some sneakers. That's stupid. Furthermore, sneakers are cheaper than marble, glue is cheaper than chisels, and coaxing a portrait out of marble is orders of magnitude more difficult than gluing sneakers together. Plus, the school would need a marble-sculpting facility of some kind to support the student fully - a setup for air-compressor tools would be nice; maybe a kiln to fire the maquettes... Let's face it, if we embrace Moreno and his ethic, it will save our hypothetical school a lot of money and trouble.

Art has always been learned, as far as we know. Before schools, we had apprentice/master relationships. We imitated our teachers to some degree before we struck out on our own. School is as good a place to do this as any, theoretically, and schools need curricula. The question is whether you can form a curriculum that's equally effective for the sneaker assemblagist and the figurative marble sculptor; I'm guessing the answer is no, but maybe at Onesock's school they figured out how to do it.



June 16, 2005, 6:30 AM

Interesting speculations, Franklin. But you can't really explain those three artists that way. Or any way. You are leveraging what Hume correctly called false causes, speculatively posited to support the unsupportable. Post hoc propter hoc and all that jazz. Face it - there is no system for making art. Start there and you can go somewhere besides a circle if you want to get in touch with where things come from.

(I agree nothing comes out of nowhere.)



June 16, 2005, 6:50 AM

I can't go into a classroom and teach No System even if it's true that art has none. No System is based on a system of design and drawing that I can't discuss with the next iteration of Pollock unless we share the vocabulary about color, shape, edge, etc.

The development of Mondrian's early drawings into the later abstractions is magic, to be sure. But the fact that the former preceeded and informed the latter is just common sense. It would be overstatement to say that the flowers caused the abstractions, but it would also be overstatement to say that they had nothing to do with each other.



June 16, 2005, 7:33 AM




June 16, 2005, 12:50 PM

I can't go into a classroom and teach No System

True, but at the same time, I don't feel you can teach people how to make art. You teach the skills you think they need to make art. Art education reacts to the demands of the marketplace, a rotating crop of fresh eighteen year old boys and girls, weaned on MTV and visually educated on the Xbox ( whatever) They want to believe their teachers will prepare them for a career in the art industry. The truth of it, is the process is no different than either prepping for the ranks of corporate America or boning up for a career in Academia.

Of course they all want to be stars and this is where the educational system falls short, there is no major in "stardom" I am frankly surprised that none of the LA institutions (Betty Ford Clinic etc) has not lined up a list of today's aging stars to Cher the secrets of stardom.

Frankly I think the art schools must be doing a good job, as Oldpro noted, there is just as much bad art as their ever was, proving that you can't teach someone how to make art with either today's or yesterdays methods. Moreover, I would suggest that today's theory driven students are exactly the same as yesterdays with slightly different garb and hairstyles. Hell, we smoked doobies, echoed the shape of the support, read McLuhan along with The Undecipherables and made "smart art" Or at least we thought. I've lived in NYC for over twenty years, at one point I worked as a carpenter. Well, there is nothing sadder than to be rummaging in someone else's basement, looking for the fuse box, and coming across a stack of bad Minimal Art (you pick the style, what ever happens to all those installation pieces after a year?)

Speaking of which, it is always good to have a day job, they should teach that in art schools. You know the drill, carpentry, house painting, waitressing, bartending, those are the basics but if you really want a killer job, learn a technological skill that they can't outsource to India (the baby factory of the world) Website design seems to be popular and good IT skills should hold up for twenty years.

Everything moves in cycles, Fendrich is taking exception to the cycle which eclipsed hers. just as tomorrows fashion will eclipse today's. It's the wheel, who knows, count the beads and grab the brass ring, because the truth is always in front of you, when you open your eyes.

Hmm, now where did I put that installation piece?



June 16, 2005, 1:50 PM

Saying that great artists need inner resources to develop great art is not the same as saying that an personj cannot be taught to make art better. Any human activity which encompasses a range of "genius" individuals, art, science, whatever, is exactly the same in this respect.

On the primary skill level it is clearly possible to teach a student how to make better work. It happens every day in any decent art school.

On the middle level it is also possible once the problems are properly identified, engaged and methods worked out. I do it all the time.

On a high level you can facilitate excellence if you know how to do it. it takes a high degree of undertstanding and skill, and, obviously the "genius mechanics" will be pretty well internalized by this time. Most art instructors back off here because of the "genius" tradition.

In any event it is not possible to demonstrate that great art can or cannot be taught because once a person does genius work it is not possible to isolate the components that went into it



June 16, 2005, 3:12 PM

From the 51st Venice Biennale at ArtNet Well, no they are not paintings but they were the first pictures that looked sort of like paintings and they were a lot better than Sandro Chia Pet.



June 16, 2005, 4:34 PM

Franklin, the Gean Moreno comment you refer to in #18 was not stupid, just sad. I always marvel at such apparent lack of basic self-protecting discretion, because it amounts to shooting one's self in the foot. Of course, if one has become convinced that fatuousness is not only safe but advantageous, as it evidently is in certain circles, that could explain it.



June 16, 2005, 5:10 PM

Franklin said (about Mondrian's flowers causing his abstractions): it would also be overstatement to say that they had nothing to do with each other.

When I look at the flowers and the abstractions, "common sense" tells me they were done by two different artists. That of course is not true, but that's what sheer common sense concludes.

I don't teach "No System". But when I teach, I know there is no system. When I face a room full of people who do not know how to paint and realize my job is to somehow get them to paint, I am frightened, to say the least. Of course I use methodologies. ("Systems" for those who like the word.) I need help. That is how I get them going. In the end it is me, not the methodology, that gets them into painting, and I certainly am not a "system". I am an anarchist.



June 16, 2005, 5:17 PM

goodlunch: "the problem is that in miami there is a very limited talent pool to draw on and the place is huge!" ??

There are plenty of talented, competent artists in Miami. the trouble with group shows at Edgezones, and other venues in Miami is that they seem thrown together, or more so they involve the same artists month after month.

As for art schools and art programs -- one could say that you could learn as much history by picking up a book and not attending school.



June 16, 2005, 5:19 PM

Sure, Catfish - art is an infection, as Tolstoy put it. But I think you're making too much of it. I can teach anyone who wants to learn how to paint. How to be really good at it, that I have no idea about except to work really hard at it in as smart a way as possible. But I can't teach smart. That has to be there already. Same for sensitivity, which, at best, I can encourage and demonstrate.



June 16, 2005, 6:09 PM

George, I like the idea of the day job. I once put a guitar I made in a "faculty show" hoping to get a course in guitar making going. (It didn't get anywhere; the guitar was accepted, but as a Duchampian gesture.) I also think you hit Fendrich on the head with her cycle being eclipsed. The system people only consider which system should be on top and struggle with each other on that assumption. This generates cycles as the pendulum of ersatz truth swings this way and that as one group gets a leg up on the other. To me systems have the same mode of existence as mirages. The further away they are from reality, the more real they look.



June 16, 2005, 6:33 PM

Catfish and George are rocking out with the insight on this thread. Thanks, guys!



June 16, 2005, 6:36 PM

What an interesting conversation...

I only just stumbled in the door, but I'm glad to have found the entrance. I am a sculptor. I'm also an anarchist and a musician. I believe that the channel catfish is one of the most elegant of all aquatic species. I'm enjoying learning from you people.




June 16, 2005, 7:27 PM

Well Franklin (#29), you must be a good teacher. I would not say that about myself, only that I am "good enough". Knowing that I am not that good at it adds to the thrill of taking on a Painting I class. It is an uphill climb, all the way through the semester. It is a relief to get to the end, even though there are rewards too. (Usually every student who engages the class makes things that closely resemble painting.)



June 16, 2005, 8:30 PM

This is off-topic, but shouldn't there be something to click on to access "Go See Art" in the left-hand column?



June 16, 2005, 10:29 PM

Capital idea, Jack. Found just the place for it too, up there.



June 16, 2005, 10:43 PM

Catfish...great stuff. you should check out the exhibits this weekend in The st marys Art District. NW 71Street and NW 2 ct in little Haiti. I believe it is Saturday Night 7 till ?



June 16, 2005, 11:52 PM

double wow x 2



June 17, 2005, 2:48 AM

Catfish, I would start worrying right about now, if I were you...



June 17, 2005, 8:22 PM

first of all
there is a distinction between an artist and a teacher.

an artist can teach, what he does. "this is how i do this , how i did that" and so on. But teaching, and especially art is a matter of inspiring the student. I know that is a lot, but who said teaching is easy? It is creating interest, and even guiding it. It is being able to look for the answer to a question you have not thought of.

One of the comments on the suject by leo-"the student is to surpass the master" or something like that. It is meant to be an exponential growth.

I think it is a given that this occurs, and truth is that it often does not for a lack of conscious effort or stigma to it.

Take the montesorri example

ok gotta run

love hugs and kisses

and a colada to you guys



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