29 October 2005

Art Education

The LA Weekly recently ran this article by Aaron Rose called The Kids Aren’t All Right: Is over-education killing young artists? His central point is that the art establishment is churning out over-educated artists, far too geared to the art world than the real world. To quote:

Young MFAs are required to read endless texts, many written more than 20 years ago by stuffy Frenchmen with navel-gazing theories holding little or no relevance to life in Bush’s America. They are then asked to somehow relate their work to these deconstructionist theories and then be judged by how successfully they do this.
The primary problem with this kind of education is that by diving deeper and deeper into the theoretical and self-referential, artists lose touch with their public. As a result, the public, particularly the young public, often feels alienated from art.

I’ve got a few problems with this assessment.
1. Rose is arguing that reading and responding to philosophy materially damages the ability of an artist to communicate with the public, whereas I think any artist who hadn’t read these texts would be woefully unprepared to defend the relevance of his/her work. To claim that the writings of Derrida, Lyotard, or Baudrillard (the stuffy Frenchmen?) drive an untraversable wedge between an artist and the public is laughable.

2. Navel-gazing? Maybe. But these men were also writing about the condition of our times, our society, our progression as a civilization. In other words, far from being irrelevant, these texts were written in reaction to us, and in some cases, predicting with great accuracy our future. Any art worth the price of the materials to make it ought to be able to hold its own in the presence of these writings.

3. Ahem. When was the last time that the public felt spoken to by contemporary art? How far back do we have to go before we find art that did not alienate the majority? You certainly have to go back to the days before modernism, and once you go that far back you find yourself in a world in which art was the province of the rich and educated only—a very restricted audience not unlike the one we have today.

Lament all you want that art has lost its power. Cry over the sad and sorry state of the art world. Curse the bifurcated realms of art and life. But don’t, don’t blame education.

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