this art school ain't big enough for the two of us
Post #558 • June 15, 2005, 2:05 PM • 39 Comments
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.