Art Education from Noun to Adjective (2012)

Art Education from Noun to Adjective

Pablo Helguera

(originally published in Dis Magazine, Spring 2012)

The literature, symposia, essays, and other similar efforts produced around the reinvention of the art school focus on the premise that art making requires a space outside of the normal confines of the university.
2. The emergence of the European academies was based on the drive to professionalize artists through a separate environment that would best facilitate their development.
3.This rationale has continued to pervade every thinking about the art practice, ranging from the Bauhaus’s first year program to the present day art school.
4.Given the era of specialization of every discipline that we live today, it would only make sense to think that the art profession needs to continue existing, more than ever, in its own environment.
5. Yet this is precisely the push to isolate the art school what is now outdated in terms of how artists have moved art into the social realm.
6. Art that is fueled by a modernist, and even a post-modernist sensibility continues to need a self-enclosed environment that helps signify it — a social and cultural space which, like the museum, is specifically designated to turn any gesture into a gesture specifically designed to be interpreted within the cultural framework and universes of meanings of art.
7. Yet the gradual push toward art as process and the abandonment of the art object —or the use of the art object merely as a reference, but no longer the final product of the art experience— has also eroded the boundary of art and the world. By and far the desire of the new generations of artists who try to break new ground is by reintegrating art practice into the world, and not rejecting it.
8. In this state of affairs, the art school gradually fulfills more and more the place of the art academy of the XIXth century. Art students in art school produce academic conceptual or performance works, pieces that only replicate the rethorical twists and turns of feminism, identity politics, and minimalist aesthetics, but always without fully resolving the great contradictions that rebelling against a safe enviroment generate.
9. As an example of how the art school is the new academy, it is not difficult to look at the roster of most influential artists of the last two decades, and the extent to which most of them did not go to art school, or nurtured themselves throught their interest and knowledge from other disciplines. While the existing art school model has excelled at providing artists with the manufacturing and technical skills to present their work, and only barely has helped artists at articulating their ideas, it has generally proved to be a very poor environment for true multi-disciplinarity, producing artists with mostly very naïve ideas about any other area outside of the art practice. In reality, —although I can’t prove this— I believe there is a “correcting” process that every art school graduate undergoes where he or she integrates their own life experience or other expertise into their work, reconciling it with what they have learned in art school. I remember Gabriel Orozco saying once that he truly started being an artist when he decided he would give up making art, shortly after leaving art school.
10. It could be thus argued, as it is often argued, that art cannot be taught, and as such art schools are meaningless institutions anyway. This commonplace and fairly superficial statement glosses over self-evident truths about the art practice: certainly there is much to be learned about the manufacture of art, about the historical context under which art is made, about the myriad ways in which art becomes a language, and more specifically, to learn about the worldview of a wide number of artists. While all of this could ostensibly be learned individually, this statement is similar to calling for the end of all structured schooling.
11. The likelihood is that the art school, like its predecessor the art academy, will continue living, in the same way that the academies continue living in their own anachronical way. In the same way in which there is a market for academic art, there will likely always be a market for abstract painting and conceptual photography.
12. The true debate is thus not about whether the art school model is viable; it is on what is the viable model to form artists who will advance the art practice.
13. At the core of this discussion is the debate on deskilling/expertise in art, one which revolves around the discussion of what artists need to know, what is it that they do know, and where do their expertise lie.
14. Many current art schools have dismantled the technical skills once provided by the Bauhaus model, while not truly replacing them by other than theory along with a tenuous and generally random set of subjects that usually satisfy the personal taste or political views of the instructions and the school’s decision makers . As a result, we produce artists without developed traditional skills and instead with an extremely self-conscious understanding of their own practice, as method actors who focus so much on the method that they become paralyzed.
15. A traditional model can’t be dismantled to be renewed; it either needs to be followed thoroughly or replaced by a new model.
16. So while the traditional XXth century art school may still be functional and necessary for the production of XXth century art, the new school needs to respond to the terms under which new practices are currently redefining art production.
17. There may certainly many models to conceive and pursue in the future, but while we must be visionary as we reconfigure the new environments for art learning we also currently need to think about it in pragmatic and realistic ways.
18. The most direct and logical way to think about this problem, I believe, has to do to institutionally embody the idea that art has become a metadiscipline —that is, that it modifies other disciplines by bringing their activity into a territory of experience, ambiguity, contradiction and criticality. Art making becomes a vehicle of producing knowledge in relation with other disciplines, and while it can continue to be a vehicle in it of itself, it can also function as a vehicle to advance the discourse of other areas of knowledge and human activity.
19. An art university wo

Tags: , ,