I’m in the middle of working up a bunch of interviews for the coming weeks! Really exciting stuff, I can’t wait to get it all out in the world. This week I just posted some notes I put together about studio arts PhDs. I’m working on a longer article around and about James Elkins’ book Artists with PhDs: On the new Doctoral Degree in Studio Art, but I wanted to collect my thoughts before diving into his. Anyway, if you all have any ideas of how to further my research on the subject, let me know.
While objecting to the PhD studio art program might be as useless as anti-cell phone sentiments in 2002, I wanted to wave a small flag. Off the bat, PhD studio practices seem to add one more step in what (already) looks a little like a pyramid scheme; art schools feeds themselves: students are initiated into a canon, which they then struggle to be legitimized and supported by for an indefinite amount of time after their matriculation. While on the one hand self-reliant circulatory systems are wondrous, the success of a given artist is not an automatic consequence of a scholastic advance. That’s applicable to any project in the humanities, of course, and I think it’s something that every participant is more or less aware of. College doesn’t guarantee success, but you hope a good education will get you that much closer to its likelihood.
The first thing to do, probably, is ask oneself what that vision of success looks like. It’s very likely different for everyone, though, I bet, with a common base of economic sustainability. Every artist (or really, just anybody) wants to be secure in their lifestyle. Obviously it’s impossible for any institution to promise that. The question of how to support oneself as an artist, while also developing one’s practice does not have an easy solution. It never will. I have heard stories about artists in Manhattan who can only paint one type of painting (and have been for the last 30 years) because those are the paintings that sell and they have car/house/child care payments to make. On another end of the spectrum, there are those who don’t have gallery representation, don’t own anything and work for money as little as possible in order to make more artwork. Those are just two examples in a sea of countless scenarious. Everybody knows it’s hard. That’s not the question. The PhD just promises to ease that difficulty, to make it *feel* a little bit easier, without necessarily helping in the long run. It’s a balm.
MFA programs do the same thing. I should know, I went to one and I also loved it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything—I learned a lot, worked with fantastic professors in addition to meeting a group of peers on whom I still rely. Furthermore the MFA ensured three years to dedicated to my practice. Bought and paid for, I chose to follow an impractical whim and in so doing, by inhabiting the consequence of that absurdity, began to believe more fully (perhaps by necessity) in myself as someone who could make a legitimate cultural contribution. I don’t know that anyone would disagree—art school is great. It’s amazing. You’re suddenly entrenched in a community that takes your efforts very seriously. It’s kind of like having a therapist, except the therapist is an impersonal building filled with passionate people who more or less share your (largely non-commercial) interests. Once you go to school you are immediately immersed in a creative support system.
While the MFA program has become a predominant feature on the artist’s CV, it was an exception for previous generations. Even while more and more people went on to secondary institutions, artists remained very much on the outskirts of that movement. Instead of school, they used cities, underground clubs, music venues and galleries as educational sites and community oases. Their experience was much more affordable; it was also less conventional. Obviously we can’t go back and in looking back we change what was. Nevertheless, I appreciate that our artistic predecessors operated in the margins of a society—working in an easily overlooked wilderness that was impossible to translate at more conventional gatherings—like family reunions, for instance—where one might be asked what one does. Explaining that you make art and work in a dingy dive bar in Alphabet City wouldn’t sell any obvious credibility those conventional others. Telling a relative that you’re in a scholastic program, even if they don’t agree with it, you’re situating yourself within an institution—something larger than the opinion of any one person. Getting degrees is a way to signify public (albeit purchased) support. It eases the loneliness of a marginalized practice/lifestyle.
And what is wrong with that?
Nothing, really. I would probably be one of the first to jump into another 5 years of a studio practice if I could afford it. Further, in joining those programs, I’d be using my purchasing power to ensure their existence—a kind of investment for my own future given that, probably, what one does afterwards is try to teach at one of those schools. The more college/graduate level art courses, the better. And another point: of all the things that people should do more of, goddamn they should learn more! And please, study art! Study the humanities! The more citizens who care about narratives and critical thinking and historical insight and philosophy, the better!
So there’s nothing really to complain about. My objection only stems from the resultant streamlining hegemony and it’s because I have this idea that art is a means for cultural/political/societal resistance. I want it to push again predominant status quos, to question the climate of its times, provoking and undermining the stability and moires it occupies. I worry that the PhD Studio Arts degree perpetuates an already insulated world, one rife with internal hierarchies, that consequently continues to focus on itself, while necessarily needing to inflate the aura of its authority.
I believe a healthy society needs people working on its boundaries. I believe that such a course isn’t easy, but the world needs outsiders, mismatched and perhaps bedraggled or confused, those individuals are inadvertently called to question the structure of the culture they inhabit, precisely because it does not fit into it. By pursuing such lines of questioning, it becomes easier to recognize other taken-for-granted and, often, detrimental notions, which then create new turns of cultural development. Maybe the PhD art programs could have auxillary, shadow departments dedicated to investigating the authority of the institution in which it lives.
I just wanted to call attention to this awesome web symposium inspired by Wassily Kandinsky’s book, On the Spiritual in Art. It looks amazing and people have already started posting their remarks. The announcement is as follows:
The year 2011 marks the centennial of the publication of Wassily Kandinsky’s classic text, On the Spiritual in Art. Inspired by this anniversary, this project seeks to explore the place of the spiritual in contemporary art and to propose a challenge to the current devaluation of the inner life that prevails within the art world in our market-driven era.
Beginning today – Wednesday, March 30th – a ten-day virtual symposium moderated by Taney Roniger and Eric Zechman will be held in this forum.
Our symposium participants are: Suzanne Anker, Laura Battle, Connie Beckley, Anney Bonney, Deirdre Boyle, Nathaniel Dorsky, Jeff Edwards, James Elkins, Max Gimblett, Tom Huhn, Atta Kim, Roger Lipsey, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Joseph Nechvatal, Daniel Siedell, Charlene Spretnak, David Levi Strauss, Alan Wanzenberg, and Pawel Wojtasik. For participant biographies and other project details, please visit our site: www.beyondkandinsky.net.
March 30th–April 1st: Session I: The Spiritual Then and Now
April 2nd–April 3rd: Session II: The Changing Shape of Art
April 4th-5th: Session III: Art and Its Audience
April 6th–April 7th: Session IV: The Artist in Society
April 8th: Conclusions
(And then I just thought I’d quote the very first post, since it seemed particularly interesting to me…)
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
A response to Session I questions
Posted by Max Gimblett at Wednesday, March 30, 2011
(1) How have our ideas about the spiritual changed with the dissolution of the Modernist dream, in which Kandinsky’s vision was so deeply embedded?
What dissolution?! The Modernist dream has deepened and magnified.
(2) How has the notion of transcendence changed? Is transcendence still viable in a largely secular, postmodern culture?
Yes. We know much more about the world’s cultures. For instance: the phenomenal growth of American Buddhism; our understanding and study of Indian Gurus; and the emergence of current Indian Art.
(3) What might account for the deep suspicion — or indeed denial — of the spiritual shared by many artists and intellectuals in our culture?
Postmodernism, cynicism, parody, materialism, suicide. These nihilistic tendencies choose academic study and ritual in an effort subvert our collective spiritual connectivity. Spirituality is perception and clear perception delivers the truth. Krishnamurti delivers the truth. My primary school model was “seek after truth.”
(4) How have attitudes toward nature, the material world, and the body changed since Kandinsky?
As art history moves forward artists have branched off into ever more specialized investigations into all things. New and old ideas are explored and enriched. Beauty is found and lost.
I’m off this week on vacay to sunny Sarasota, Fl., hometown of the Ringling circus and Pee-Wee Herman, too. Someday, there will be a museum dedicated to Pee Wee, and its curators will write sober wall text on the semiotics of the Big Shoe Dance and the erotics of chairy. But not today. Today, I bring you this video, which hopefully will not feel too much like a homework assignment. I personally was psyched to find it, anyway. Over the weekend, that ol’ leftie-pinko group the Platypus Affiliated Society sponsored an all-day conference called What Is Critique? Two School of the Art Institute critical-types, James Elkins and Chris Cutrone, were on panels, and though the ensuing discussions were predictably jargon-ridden, they were also pretty meaty. How do I know this? The organizers were nice enough to put the second of the panels on U-Stream, which I’ve embedded for your link-free viewing pleasure directly below. Enjoy. A brief description of the event follows.
What is Critique? is an all day symposium that consists of panel discussions with artists, critics, teachers, and students city-wide that investigates the role that art critiques and criticism play in art production. The first half of the day will focus on the nature and function of art critiques as a form criticism and pedagogy. The latter part of the day will be a panel discussion addressing the relationship between critical theory, art production and art reception.
It’s framing up to be an interesting weekend, here’s my top 5 recommendations, chronological order:
1. Proof at Catherine Edelman Gallery
I’m actually really excited about this show. Being a photographer myself, who was worked in film for many years and still does so, I am intimately familiar with the selection process that happens whe you look over a contact sheet. They are amazing story tellers that few ever have the chance to see. This is a unique opportunity not to be missed.
Proof opens Friday, from 5-8pm. Catherine Edelman Gallery is located at 300 W. Superior St.
2. The Art of Touring at Johalla Projects
Selected images from the book “THE ART OF TOURING,” images from the road. Ever wondered what a van looks like after 6 unwashed boys have spent 8 weeks crisscrossing the country in it? Do you already know and what to revisit it? This is your show. Work from tons of musicians and music biz people.
The Art of Touring opens Friday, from 7-11pm. Johalla Projects is located 1561 N. Milwaukee Ave.
3. Quarterly Site #3: Stay in Your Lane! at Swimming Pool Project Space
They say it better than I could myself, and I quote, “Quarterly Site #3: Stay In Your Lane! is hosted by Swimming Pool Project Space. Using the theme of direction, three curators conceptualize their various interpretations of the word by dissecting the gallery into physical lanes.” Curated by Anthony Elms, Katherine Pill, and Philip von Zweck.
Quarterly Site #3: Stay in Your Lane! opens Saturday, from 6-10pm. Swimming Pool Project Space is located at 2858 W. Montrose Ave.
4. The Humboldt Moving Picture Show at the Richmond Manor
The second round of the Humboldt Moving Picture Show. I went to this last year and it was FANTASTIC. This year they’ve gone international with artists from the US, Egypt, Kosovo, Palestine, Germany, and Mexico. It’s $5 donation, but totally worth it.
The Humboldt Moving Picture Show begins at sundown on Saturday. The show will happen in the Sideyard at Richmond Manor, located at 1625 N Richmond St.
James Elkins lectures on “Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic” at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the annual Stone Summer Theory Institute.
James Elkins will be lecturing at 1pm in the Morton Auditorium at AIC. The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 S. Michigan Ave.
Calling all theory-heads: the Stone Summer Theory Institute launches its 2009 week-long school in contemporary art theory this Sunday with a lecture this Sunday afternoon by James Elkins on this year’s topic, What Do Artists Know? A rundown on the coming week’s public lectures is below; to learn more about the ideas behind the Stone Summer Theory Institute, check out Duncan’s interview with James Elkins on Episode 149 of the podcast here.
What Do Artists Know?
Co-organized by James Elkins and Frances Whitehead
Thinking on the education of artists is divided in an unpromising way among teachers avid for practical tips, administrators interested in the bottom line, educators invested in philosophies of teaching, and artists proposing idiosyncratic solutions. The 2009 SSTI will focus on three themes: the histories of art education; the current content and philosophies of art education around the world and at all levels; and the current state of theorizing on what artists know in society and outside the educational framework.
Tickets are free for SAIC students, faculty, staff, and alumni
Prices for the public vary. For more information please visit www.stonesummertheoryinstitute.org
James Elkins: What Do Artists Know?
Sunday, September 20, 1pm
Morton Auditorium, the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.
Free and open to the public. No pre-registration required
Presented by 2009 SSTI co-organizer James Elkins, this lecture will consider the principal theories of studio art education, including the First Year, the BFA, MFA, and PhD, while comparing practices in different countries. Elkins is the author of Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students and the E.C. Chadbourne Chair of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at SAIC.
Sir Christopher Frayling: The Hollywood History of Art
Monday, September 21, 7:30pm
SAIC Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave.
Former Rector of the Royal College of Art, London, Sir Christopher Frayling is a cultural historian specializing in the permeability of high and low culture. He became the first professor of cultural history at the Royal College of Art and has published more than a dozen books. Frayling was knighted for ‘services to art and design education’ in
Roy Sorensen: “Artistic Expertise”
Wednesday, September 23, 7:30 PM
SAIC Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Ave.
Roy Sorensen is Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis. While he seldom writes about art, the titles of his books read like a roster of concepts that artists have invoked to describe what they know and how they see: Blindspots (1988), Thought Experiments (1992), Pseudo-Problems (1993), Vagueness and Contradiction (2001), and A Brief History of the Paradox (2003). He has also written a book on perception called Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows (2007).
PRESENTATION AND DISCUSSION
“What Do Artists Know?”
Thursday, September 24, 7:30 p.m.
Performance Space, Columbus Drive Building
As many artists transverse the disciplinary boundaries of art, design, science, and other fields, how do we understand the role of knowledge production in hybrid/ trans-diciplinary practices? SAIC faculty with such practices, reflect on these questions and lead an audience discussion on knowledge in practice.
Participating SAIC faculty include: Ellen Grimes, Adelheid Mers, Claire Pentecost, Andy Yang, and Frances Whitehead.
Advanced registration recommended.
Monday, Sept. 21, 9am-noon
SAIC Ballroom, 112 S. Michigan Avenue
Introducing the problematic of the Institute is a three-hour roundtable discussion, which will be taped and published. Panelists include Frances Whitehead, James Elkins, Sir Christopher Frayling, Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen, and Roy Sorensen.
Saturday, Sept. 26, 9am-3pm
Price Auditorium, the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.
(Use Michigan Avenue entrance before Museum open hours.)
A five-hour discussion by the Faculty, which will be taped and published. The Closing Roundtable includes a one-hour lunch break, and 90 minutes for audience questions.
The Stone Summer Theory Institute is sponsored by Howard and Donna Stone, longtime friends of the School of the Art Institute. Their innovative patronage supports the understanding of art, in addition to the infrastructure of education or display.