Jonathan T.D. Neil on “professionalization” vs. “academicization.”

June 15, 2009 · Print This Article

Jesus, I had to check the spelling of that last word like, four times. Those of you who enjoyed Duncan’s conversation with James Elkins about the art Ph.D. a few weeks back might want to check out The Drawing Center Executive Editor Jonathan T. D. Neil’s post today over at Artworld Salon: “What’s wrong with “professionalization”?:

“What, I have to ask, is wrong with professionalization? What are we really criticizing when we deride the graduates of MFA and PhD programs for nothing more than simply having done what one would expect them to do, which is to go and learn about the enterprise in which they are interested? I suspect that lurking behind such statements lies a romanticized and outmoded notion of the artistic subject-which is to say, of the kind of subjectivity (autodidactic, at odds with decorum and the status quo, sometimes tortured, often difficult, always independent-i.e. an ideal of bourgeois bohemianism) that continues to cling to the definition of the “artist” today like some itchy fungus.”

Interestingly, Neil’s arguments in this post aren’t nearly as nuanced and informed as were those that took place over here on the same subject, but I think he does usefully remind his readers that there’s a difference (or at least, there should be) between ‘academicization’ and ‘professionalization’ when it comes to the pursuit of higher education among artists.

8 thoughts on “Jonathan T.D. Neil on “professionalization” vs. “academicization.””

  1. The Shark says:

    In answer to Mr. Neil I would say, look at the work being produced today dummy, if you don’t think there is a problem -but then again there is probably given the nature of the art world/its denizens of today, a more than good chance, that Mr. Neil doesn’t know how to look -hence, his question -a question worthy of Ellsworth Touhy…this is the real creeping, itchy fungus of conformity, of now -as Holland Cotter noted recently in the NYTimes referring to the Yonger Than Jesus and Pictures Generation Exhibitions:

    Surprisingly, considering its programmed nowness, this exhibition, like the one at the Met, gives the impression of being an artifact. It comes across as a kind of classic demonstration of the youth-for-youth’s-sake impulse that has for some time now dominated the art industry, ostensibly supplying transfusions of fresh blood, but in fact promoting academicism and conformity.

    A scan of the catalog’s biographies confirms that, almost without exception, the artists in the show are products of art schools, as often as not intensely professionalized, canon-driven environments. This may help explain why so much of the work on view comes with art historical references and borrowings, tweaks on tweaks on tweaks so intricate and numerous as to defy listing.

    The same biographies reveal that nearly all of these 33-and-under artists already have substantial careers in progress, with solo shows in commercial galleries, appearances in international surveys and so on. So this isn’t a promising-newcomer event. It’s a market-vetted product and one that, my guess is, entailed relatively little adventuring on the part of its organizers. That much of the work might easily have been found and delivered over the Internet may be the show’s most distinctive generational feature.

    Is same generation a useful basis for writing history? Obviously the answer is yes and no. For years now scholars have questioned the validity of viewing the cultural past and the present through the old apparatus of renaissances, dynasties and “periods.” They see these categories for what they are: packaging designed to sell an account of events that will go down smoothly and leave no spaces blank or questions unanswered. Generations could be added to the list.

    Isn’t the point of art, though, to acknowledge that some questions can never be answered, but to ask them anyway? Isn’t part of the job of artists to refuse smoothness and to keep opening up space, formal, temporal, psychic, emotional, whatever you want to call it? In the end the generational model may be most useful for showing us the artists who don’t fit, who aren’t interested, who think old when they’re young and young when they’re old, to whom it may or may not occur as they walk past the hall of fame, “not me, not here, not yet.”

  2. The Shark says:

    NYTimes referring to the ‘Younger’ Than Jesus and Pictures Generation Exhibitions:……we need to find a way of eradicating typos -not having one diminishes the discourse here-

  3. ew says:

    Are we reading BAS or Sharkforum?

  4. duncan. says:

    You are reading a free and open dialogue brought to you by Chicago’s outpost of the Art World.

    This section is called “Bad at Sports.” Which is a bit weird as it is about Art and Ideas.

    Here some of us like school and/or professionalization others don’t and sometimes it is debated.

    You are very welcome to participate and in fact, these forums are set up to be open dialogues to which every interested party can contribute.

    Bad at Sports would ask that folks not issue personal attacks and engage in name calling but all reasoned arguments or polemics are welcomed. That being said we reserve the right to delete anything we feel is out of bounds or offensive.

    That is how we “roll.”

  5. Another interesting discussion about the relationship between Art and The Academy is found @ BAS Episode 85:

    There, on-screen, some people who no longer write [here] on a regular basis — Mark Creegan, William Conger, and Steve Hamann — left thoughtful comments.

    And the audio contains [among others] the voice of Jerome Acks — who has work up in town @ Lloyd Dobler Gallery, through July 25, 2009, along with Dan Gunn, Michael Hunter, and Andrea Myers.

    Too, another of Episode 85’s discussants, Carrie Schneider, recently had two works on display in Art and the Art of Criticism @ I space Gallery [via Alcia Eler] in company with host Duncan MacKenzie [and Christian Kuras] et al.

    Just over two years past then till now: 2007 to 2009.

  6. The Shark says:

    perfect valley girl (ew?) smackdown/clarification my friend-

    i feel we have had some really productive discussion here the last few weeks -I think Claudine has initiated a good bit of it…now, if she will just lay off for a moment and give me breather -that I might finish my ATTACK! on that new Modern Wing with the 19th century lighting system…..

  7. Joe says:

    Didn’t Duncan just say no name calling?

  8. Richard Holland says:

    Well said, Duncan.

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