Episode 191: James Elkins/Liz Prince

April 26, 2009 · Print This Article

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Liz Prince
This week: Duncan talks with James Elkins about his forthcoming round table at Art Chicago, and the art Phd. Like you didn’t have enough student loan debt.

BAS Boston’s Matthew Nash talks to comic artist Liz Prince about her work, and her excellent book “Will you still love me if I wet the bed?”

Go, right now, buy it.
Grateful Dead
Alan Artner
Chicago Sun-Times
The Chicago Reader
TimeOut Chicago
Hello, Beautiful
Matt Nash
Dr. Artist: Ph.D. or MFA
Art Chicago
Mary Jane Jacob
Next Art Fair
Version Fest 09
Our Literal Speed
Gallery 400
Dr. Duncan
Next Talk Shop
Tony Jones
MFA Standards
College Art Association
Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts
Mary Kelly
Thomas Crow
Frances Whitehead
MA in Visual and Critical Studies (SAIC)
Glasgow School of Art
Sir Christopher Frayling
Royal College of Art
VIenna Academy of Art
Liz Prince
Delayed Replays
Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?
School of the Museum of Fine Arts
Top Shelf
High Water Books
Boston Zine Fair
Ross McElwee
Liz Prince’s Myspace page
Black Ink

20 thoughts on “Episode 191: James Elkins/Liz Prince”

  1. k dub says:

    What is the name of that Kanye Gold Digger mix called, and where can I get it?!

    … and for the record: you guys are art journalism.

  2. mark creegan says:

    Really great discussion! You guys are scrumtulescent!
    Interestingly, right after I listened to this episode (as I cleaned my house) I found in my mailbox the latest issue of Art Journal and low and behold, it has a panel discussion regarding the Dr. Artist phenomenon as well as issues related to MFA education in general. SO, needless to say my head has been wrapped around this topic all day.

    So the main impetus behind the studio PhD is the fulfilling of institutional funding structures and accreditation protocols. It seems to be really ramping up in Europe due to the growing standardization of the higher education systems over there, another result of current economic and political realities. Doesn’t it seem like this situation is research for the accumulation of dollars rather than knowledge? (not that knowledge can’t be gained).
    And, where are the jobs these PhDs are expected to fill? Am I to expect that after I have been adjuncting for 8-10 years, I will be passed over for a newly-minted Dr. Artist, who possibly has been in school for those ten years? I seems to me a delegitimized MFAer has the limited choices of a) getting the PhD b) changing careers c) gearing their art practice to ensure commercial viability or d) participate in or start ad hoc art education programs like 16 Beaver. (am I missing anything?)

    I think a PhD program can be a useful platform for a small minority of artists, but there should also be equal legitimacy given to other experiences (residencies, DIY schools, degrees in other disciplines, etc.) owing to all the divergent ways one can develop an artistic intelligence.

    But, even as I write this, I believe that most in my field in the U.S. understand this which is why I am having a hard time imagining the PhD requirement really taking hold here. Any thoughts?

  3. Great discussion, I agree, Jim and Duncan. I haven’t finished listening yet — have to go teach!

    One point to contemplate, though, is that it is much much much more difficult to get into universities in continental Europe than in North America and the UK. You need a Matura or Abitur, etc. But when you do, it is almost free for the student. So the economics are far far different — there is no need to create students — in fact almost pressure the other way. However, as this artist-PhD model reaches quasi-universities like art schools and so on (and it has hit a couple Hochschulen, or Polytech Colleges) here already, then as Jim says, we will really see a flurry of questions arise. The pressure to have a Matura / Abitur and the like is a huge question here as well, — so diploma inflation is not only a problem at the top end, but also at the onset — and a problem a few Art Academies are reacting against radically , anti-diploma inflation, or at least in the beginning stages thereof. Thus, an anti-academicisation (word ???) could even be arising simultaneously with the PhD pressure. Is this all the last stages of the PoMo art academy? Complex and important questions.

    I’m getting a “normal” art history /linguistics PhD but am incorporating my own art into it just to keep my own sanity. That’s another possible model, albeit my own quirky one. The Art Academy in Liechtenstein where I am the art historian and painting teacher is contemplating going drastically the other way, maybe even to Black Mountain College lengths, actively seeking many students who don’t want the BFA MFA PhD direction (although both the director and I have done that).

  4. Richard says:

    LIES K DUB!!! LIES!!!

  5. andres says:

    why so worried about playing the jester? it seems to me that these phd initiatives might just be another attempt to try and justify the outsider role of the artist with the cachet of an advanced academic degree.

  6. Richard says:

    I thought that was what the MFA was. This strikes me as a cash grab. The notion of a Phd. (or honestly anything subsequent to the bauhausian teaching of basic technical and craftsmanship skills) in studio practice is a bit silly. I can see Phds in art history and in theory and criticism, but to delineate between painters based on education is more than a little odd. Isn’t ultimately a successful work of art something that stands separate from the education leading up to it? Anyone who has taught undergrad students has experienced the rare and occasional high caliber student who has better chops/ideas/execution than many of the MFA grads you’ve met. If the point is to be a degree for people who intend to become studio professors, lets just call it that.

  7. I suggest that it (PhD in Studio Art) isn’t about cash. Nor is it about craftsmanship. Rather, it’s about control of the idea of value.

    “Isn’t ultimately a successful work of art something that stands separate from the education leading up to it?”

    Various branches of contemporary practice answer loudly, “No.” In fact, intellectual (if not visual) access to many pieces is denied to the uninitiated; access is contingent upon a particular species of knowledge.

    Students who agree that such a situation is appropriate will advance within PhD programs. And they need such programs, because they’ve chosen (in most cases) not to produce artwork with commodity value; selling things isn’t an option.

    The waxing prominence of so-called apartment galleries, and the waning strength of art fairs and commercial gallery spaces, is too a product of this same phenomenon.

    How do you stick a finger in the eye of the collector, telling him/her that the desire to acquire fine things is evil — and then ask for monetary support? How do you champion the idea of radical equality — and then ask to be allowed to pursue a personal vision?

    Well, a PhD is one answer: Claim that paradoxes are only apparent, and that the knowledge of the true nature of things is available solely to those who have mastered an esoteric system of knowledge.

    This is all about control: (a) control of who gets in; (b) control of who advances; and most importantly, (c) control of the dialogue concerning value.

  8. duncan. says:

    I’m still voting for a union.

  9. And I agree with Jim that is is a also a question of “for whom” — we artists often forget that we are NOT all the same, nor do we NEED to be.

    My road, e.g., was and is a kind of odd combination of intellectual study and street vernacular culture inheritance. That’s quirky and not necessarily a model for everybody, so why should any other model be.

    Each artist has her own path — thus we should leave open and even create as many possible paths and opportunities for as many differing types of humans as possible. I see this type of diploma-inflation as favoring only one type exclusively — a type close to me perhaps, albeit more “polite,” yet I still disagree in spirit. It could bring the now rampant middle-brow overacademization of art to a peak of boredom. And make no mistake about it, it will create more middlebrows than highbrows, and that is far far worse than any lowbrow presence would ever be.

  10. Richard says:


    Depressingly, I think you might be right and I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.


  11. Richard says:

    I need to balance out all of this talk of studio Phds I think I’ll go watch video clips of the Dead Kennedys playing live on Youtube. Ahhhh much better.

  12. Tim Porges says:

    Rather than an opinion at this moment I have a couple of questions:

    1.)I vaguely remember PhD programs in studio practice having been tried here before. Does Elkins have any thoughts about the PhD art program at Ohio State, for instance?

    2.) The idea of the artist as an isolated generator of new information is oddly antique. I wonder how people square this with current interest in the information commons, Yochai Benkler’s _Wealth of Networks_, the proliferation of social practice programs in art schools and so on. I doin’t so much have a really sharp question about this as a large, tender mass of uncertainty about the presence of easy or clear answers.

  13. Tim Porges says:

    A bit more on the previous thought: with student and even curatorial practice (eg Bourriaud) exploring a “relational” aesthetic and epistemology (okay, maybe a pompous abuse of the term, but how ELSE do you talk about the source of content in artwork?), aren’t programs built around increasingly anachronistic information economies doomed in advance? It’s like rats swimming towards a sinking ship. Or not. Discuss.

  14. Tim Porges says:

    So what I’m saying is, the kind of control Paul talks about above is doomed to fail. So what’s oddest about it is, it might have worked maybe twenty or thirty years ago, but then it would have been superfluous. Now it’s an attempt to revive a moribund critical culture by institutionalizing it.

  15. Whew— that’s a depressing thought Tim, but a pretty shrewd insight I think — programs constructed to arrive at already vanished destinations. I hadn’t thought of it in that way, but I think you are right.

  16. castor de luxe says:

    great discussion. i found it very odd when elkins said that he wants to “prevent” the art phd crazytalk from “spreading” to the US. what powers he has to stop its spread!

  17. Vato Perez says:

    eat my pussy

  18. Richard says:

    Do you care to elaborate?

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