Saturday 28 June 2014

My Friend Bela

Super sized!
photo collage

I recently watched the DVD of Dracula with Bela Lugosi directed by Tod Browning, the Universal 75th anniversary edition. To think of where vampires have been since his 1931, iconic performance! He is the father of a veritable hell’s worth of pointy teeth and neck fetishes, blood lust and sexual dysfunction. Those eyes! Those hands! That accent! No wonder he is a cult hero.
The accompanying featurette entitled Universal Horror and narrated by Kenneth Branagh was however, a reminder of something we tend to forget: the monster movie genre grew in parallel with the effects of the First World War and matured in tandem with the Second World War. The monster concept, whether mad scientist doing unspeakable experiments on helpless victims, deformed and vengeful creatures driven mad or to rage by social repudiation, or the poor, alienated victim whose longing for kindness and love is misunderstood by those he frightens, ‘the 20th century creature’ is not an imaginary invention. As attested by scenes from J’Accuse, the 1919 film by Abel Gance, the ‘monsters’ in the physical world became the veterans returning from war hideously maimed or disfigured, or horribly traumatized and terrified, and abandoned by the societies they served.
They say that the process by which tolerance is built up to something strange or frightening is slow and incremental: one small relaxation of the fear leads to another until it disappears altogether. You would think therefore that our society, bombarded as it is by images from war zones, terrorist strikes, natural disasters, abuse, assaults and on and more would be done with fear and respond courageously, compassionately and with ready help to those who are traumatized or victimized in our world.
Alas, no. Fear is apparently not enough; we now need to be terrorized. What we seem to have developed is not a tolerance but a hunger, even a vampire-like lust, for horror. It turns out we like being appalled. We want to be taken to the brink of our instinctive flight reaction. We find it titillating, exciting, as long, that is, as we can sit safely in theaters or in our homes and watch it happen to others. Films today indulge us, especially with the wonderful capabilities of animators sitting at computers who indulge hyperactive directors, who indulge box-office-mad investors, who cater to addicted gamers and thrill seekers. But even more, the news indulge us, by bringing to our very living rooms the images and the experiences we are hugely relieved not to be experiencing ourselves.
So we come to the horror scale, or to the horror of scale. In movies, the bad guys have had to buff up, they’ve had to become more ingeniously evil, more gigantic, and more resilient to death. Battles must now involve the entire galaxy – our poor heroes can no longer ‘just’ be human, they must be enhanced by technology (magic is for children!) and grown in labs, or better yet, replaced almost entirely by machines. Where once ‘average persons’ had the possibility of rising above their human smallness to achieve great, heroic deeds, now they need a state-of-the-art, fully staffed, small country-sized laboratory and a bank account to match to even step out of their living rooms. The Greek (geek?) gods have returned thanks to state of the art technology! How physically puny the ‘normal’ person ha once again become in our fantasies, and how monumental has become the arsenal behind which he must hide!
But so-called ‘real’ life horror has also reached such monstrous proportions that it dwarfs, no, it micros the average person. Think of landscape-devouring pipelines that can eat up entire First Nations’ rights and threaten land and sea. Think of resource and worker consuming multi-nationals. Think of weapons easily available to any fundamentalist hive, weapons that can be snuck in to public places and take out people by the hundreds. It’s a competition between them and those who not only deny (thrive in?) the horrific effect of greenhouse gasses, but also eagerly plan and wait for the day Armageddon may come to pass. Talk about a blockbuster!
Well, there are increasingly powerful social forces that push the horror factor way off the tolerance scale for me. Even the visual arts, my home, have become the domain of the gigantic: huge installations, massive sculptures, land-art that covers miles of territory, production costs off the accessibility scale…
I think, looking back, that Bela’s Dracula was plenty monstrous, and King Kong or Godzilla were big enough in their original format, making them bigger has only proven we’re running out of original ideas (by the way, get new characters and story lines, Star Trek movies! Tolkien adapters, write your own romances!).  We’re just trying to outdo what has come before, bigger, meaner, louder, more expensive, art imitating life or life imitating art, both out of ideas and unable to envision a future or to stop or change the flight response.
Maybe we’ve ‘monstrosified’ so much we’re hyperventilating, gone so far we’ve titillated ourselves into irreversible terror. Maybe we’ve come to realize we’re not the be-all in this world, that we really are puny and vulnerable and not as smart as we thought we were since all our arrogant ingenuity might be the end-all of the world. You’d think it would make us want to scale back, to slow down, to breathe a little. As I said, maybe we’re not that smart, maybe now we’re just prey for our monstrous creations.
It’s too bad. Because I, for one, still like my heroes even Frodo-sized, and while I think having a home 3D printer, a talkative, interactive house - I’d like mine to sound like Bela Lugosi please - or a personal slave android that looks like Johnny Depp might be nifty, I still prefer to get my own hands on a bag of wet clay and make a sculpture I can load in the kiln by myself, or tap my fingers arthritic writing a children-sized story or diary-style Blog entry maybe a few people might read. Then, I’ll walk my dogs and go sit my happily tired body to rest as I sip a delicious cup of coffee watching my flowers grow.
Who needs flesh-eating, invisible alien invaders with impenetrable exoskeletons only a nuclear explosion will deter (or terrorists or pipelines?) The mosquitoes are monsters enough for me.

Monday 23 June 2014

The Artist's Quest 2

photo collage

            As a young artist, my research into the gallery system in my town brought me to a gallery on a major downtown street. It was well located, a good space, apparently a little small for a group exhibition but perfect for a solo. I had made an appointment with the owner, who had accepted to see me because an artist she’d been courting had referred me to her. She’d asked me to bring my portfolio, which made me nervous. I’d just recently finished my first independent series of works, but there I came with it in hand, supposing she wanted to make sure I was a serious artist, not someone likely to waste her time.
            I am a punctual person; I presented myself exactly as appointed. The gallery was unattended by any employee. Though the gallery’s opening hours clearly indicated it should have been open, it clearly was not. I waited, talking with someone in an adjoining gallery but keeping an eye on the door. It was a full half hour before the owner appeared. In lieu of an apology, she said, “My, artists are NEVER on time!”
            She had me wait again when she disappeared into what I assumed was a storage area. While I waited, I walked around the rectangular space. From what I remember there were figurative works displayed, well executed, and with a sardonic sense of humour. The artist was clearly not impressed with authority. I was glad to see the gallery owner had the good nature to show the work.
            I said as much to her when she returned. “He has a following,” she said, without looking at the work. She sat at her desk instead and indicated a chair for me, adding, “He sells well.” I had seen red dots on a few of the tags.
            Eager though I might have been to show my work, I felt I wasn’t ready for it. While I had individual pieces that were impressive, and I was happy with my series, I didn’t feel I had pushed it far enough yet for it to feel complete. This is why I was again surprised when the gallery owner, looking over my portfolio, offered me a solo exhibition before I had a chance to ask her any of my questions. “I have a space coming up, you have to decide now. We’ll set up a studio visit for the end of the week, I’ll come select the work.”
Now, the art world is a difficult nut to crack so that when an opportunity is offered, it is very hard for a young person to be self-disciplined and say, ‘not yet’. What if it blacklisted me? I therefore ignored my gut as she picked and rejected work during her studio visit. How arrogant would it be for me to refuse a solo exhibition in a selling gallery? I was being offered, just like that, what other artists I knew would have salivated over. They’d accuse me of being a wimp if I refused, ‘seize the opportunity!’ they’d say.
I listened a little numb as the gallery owner told me of her extensive mailing list, her contacts with ‘very rich people’, her reputation as a no-piece-left-unsold dealer. “I’m a hustler!” she said, and I didn’t doubt it for a second; well, only for a few seconds. She then praised my work saying, “It will sell itself!” as I stood there busy visualizing the scenario she described: a fabulous opening, pieces selling like ‘hot cakes’, press coverage, interviews, commissions, international recognition, all organized by her and enjoyed by me.
It did occur to me to wonder why she asked me no questions about the imagery itself. Was my inspiration obvious? Were my themes so transparent? Did she know the medium and all the technicalities of my process? But the enthusiasm with which she talked about pricing distracted me, She likes the work, I told myself, she wants to sell it, it must mean she understands it.
She did say things that seemed objectionable but my insecurity told me I was being paranoid. For instance, while there were pieces she would not exhibit or represent, she nevertheless expected her commission if I should sell them. Did this mean she was offering me an exclusivity contract and would send clients to my studio? I asked about a contract. “Contract? Oh no!” she said, “We work on trust!”
            I did have an exhibition in that gallery. I won’t go into the details. If I say that her promises were greatly exaggerated, I am being very generous. I’m afraid the experience acted as a kind of revulsion therapy against commercial galleries. It was my fault for being gullible - the signs that it was not a good place for me or for my work were obvious, but my eagerness, and I’m afraid my stroked ego blinded me. It took me a while to recover. When I did, I resumed my quest to unlock the secrets of good representation.

As a curator, I advise artists that a solo exhibition is an important step in an artist’s’ life It is a career-defining exhibition, the one that can set the tone for the artist’s relationship to her/his own work while positioning her/him professionally and in the public eye. It is crucial that an artist not enter into such an undertaking prematurely, whether as a first-time exhibitor or to show a new body of work. A good experience in a gallery is a gift; a bad association may derail the artist creatively, and maybe even professionally, for a long time.
To enter into such an undertaking, one potentially fraught with challenges like expenses, contracts, conflicting agendas or mutual expectations, divergent philosophies, inflexible timelines, misunderstandings and uncertain commercial success, the artist must at least be sure of her/his own imagery and well anchored by her/his body of work. This is the only way the artist can know if a dealer, gallery or exhibition is right for the work, because ideally, the intents should merge: the artist’s who creates the images, the curator’s who positions them in a critical framework, and the dealer’s who helps establish their market value.
If any of these three players has an incompatible understanding of, agenda for or attitude toward the work or the exhibition, the artist may be the biggest loser.

Friday 13 June 2014

The Artist's Quest 1

Channelling Carmen
photo collage

            As a young artist with visions of a prosperous future, I needed to clarify this business of gallery or dealer representation. I knew this involved paying commissions, and that many artists were resentful of this, but I thought that if the percentage I had to pay got me real services that I couldn’t provide for myself, well then, it would be a fair exchange. So, I set out on a quest to discover how galleries in my environment went about representing their artists.
One gallery I visited had gigantic photographs on display. The photographs had two subjects; majestic, very remote northern landscapes under luscious skies or very rich, expansive castle or mansion interiors, beautifully detailed. What they had in common besides the scale was the absence of people; the viewer was given privileged access through the photographer’s eye. They also generated a subtle feeling of disquiet, as if that access was somehow permitted the artist but trespass on the part of the viewer. Still, I suppose that was meant as part of the thrill for the viewer. After all, by showing the work, the artist shared his permission; the viewer lived it vicariously.
Technically, I could imagine the effort the photographs took to produce. Access to remote locations by boat or helicopter, permission to set up equipment in castles and mansions, by the look of them all in Europe, and then getting the images printed to that scale and to archival standards by a reputable lab… Even the frames were impressive. Altogether, these things justified the photographs’ price tags.
That’s when I noticed not one but numerous red stickers on the price tags for most of the images. This surprised me. A salesman that had been keeping an eye on me came bounding up to me as if on cue. He very eagerly pointed out that each photograph came in a limited edition of ten, each produced through a very expensive process that made it ‘as good as a canvas painting’.
Ok, editions of ten, I thought, ‘as good as a painting’. This was the beauty of it, he continued, each time a copy sold, the price of the next copy went up: for instance, if the first one sold for say 30 thousand, the fifth would cost 25% more and the 10th 50% more (or something like that). He meant to titillate me. I guess that sales style worked well for him. In my innocence, I was shocked. I understood that the work got more expensive not because of its aesthetic or cultural value but simply because of the supply and demand principle. Clearly, people who saw the red stickers accumulating were expected to do a fast calculation about how much the work had already appreciated in value and reach for their wallets.
I thought, hey, the person who bought #1 can wait until #10 sells, then put #1 up for sale and make money. Number 1 doesn’t even have to leave the gallery, since the seller who takes a 50% commission from the artist (plus of course the cost of framing, plus maybe 50% of the cost of any catalogue, plus   ) will be happy to resell the work for an additional commission. As for the other nine versions, they were not even printed yet; they’d been sold but would be delivered, I presume, hot off the press.
Everyone, hopefully the artist as well though it’s doubtful, and probably not the salesman unless he’s on commission too, everyone else walks out and drives away in his/her Mercedes.
            I should have been impressed. I should have been jealous of the artist and desperate to get my work represented by that gallery. Perhaps if I made works in a material that lends itself to reproduction and to limited editions, photographs or bronzes or prints, I might have felt an envious itch. Instead, I felt… what’s the word? Let’s say ‘discouraged’. All I saw was that the gallery would have no interest in one-of-a-kind work such as mine.
However, what really bothered me the most was that not a word of my exchange with the salesman was about the photographs as art. The image was in fact irrelevant, he expected me to love it on sight – who doesn’t love dramatic landscapes and opulent still lifes? Not a word was volunteered about the artist either, after all, there was his name on the tags, what more did I need to know? The technique was relevant though only insofar as it made the photograph ‘as good as a painting’, whatever that meant. I felt sorry for the artist.
I walked out of the gallery actually relieved that there was no point in my approaching it to represent me. Onward I went with my quest.

Friday 6 June 2014

Being Inspired

Thinking of Home
photo collage

In speaking with a couple of artists about the difficulty of selling art in Quebec, I apparently used the word ‘Decorative’ to explain why one artist might sell more than others. I don’t remember using the word, I am aware that Quebec artists are sensitive to it, but if I did, I certainly didn’t use it negatively. Unbeknown to me, however, this artist took it so. Luckily, she called and asked for clarification
I have what I suppose can be called an ‘European’ - or is it Asian? - attitude to art. I do not stratify the value of works by placing so called Fine Art at the apex of a pyramid with Crafts as its base. The usefulness of an object, its ‘popular’ or cultural heritage, its medium or technique, these are not its automatic disqualifiers as fine art objects. Nor is its ability to beautify or integrate decoratively into an environment. Besides the artist’s INTENT, what in my opinion distinguishes art objects from each other is whether they are well made, have a strong aesthetic presence and can stand beside other work of the same medium, aesthetic or intent.
It is clear from museum collections and from what people value as cultural icons that great functional pieces can stand shoulder to shoulder with great conceptual or purely aesthetic ones. Works that are not valued long-term are those in which the artist’s focus on its structural and visual properties, or lack of focus, detracts from its conceptual qualities, if it has any.
To me, the issue of something being Decorative relates exclusively to private ownership questions. Is it something with which people will want to live? If so, is it something that can enhance and enrich the owners’ experience of using the object or of living with it? Once owned, is it something that can sustain that relationship on a permanent basis? And, over time, can the relationship evolve to span multiple levels of response?
 To our artists in this province, at least to many of the ones I deal with, the word ‘decorative’ is seen as so pejorative as to cause debilitating bouts of self-doubt in the one at whose work it is leveled. Here, it denotes kitsch, holiday souvenirs, images that match the furniture or blend into a d├ęcor and are forgotten until re-decoration time, at which point they are garage sale bound. The very concept of ‘Decoration’ has been so abused and misused that the very word has been demonized in our art millieu. That goes a long way to explaining the level of sales in this province, and perhaps elsewhere in North America as well.
Do we blame universities that focus on the concept rather than on the esthetic (as if ‘esthetic doesn’t include concept)? We could except works that have a Decorative value do need to function on both visual and philosophical levels, they have to engage both the senses/emotions and the imagination/intellect. Good university arts programs go there.
Do we blame government granting agencies that favour so-called ‘experimental’, supposedly ‘cutting edge’ and obsessively ‘new media’ works and create competition between traditional and contemporary approaches? We could, if artists competing for grants feel they must work to the grant’s requirements rather than to their own motivations and modify their practice to get it. Their work then becomes more self-conscious and perhaps more self-important when they succeed than actually relevant in their culture.
Do we blame galleries for their gradual descent into pure commercialism and furniture stores for buying ‘made-in-China’, mass-produced knock-offs or supposedly decorative objects?
Do we blame the educational system that is commandeering art to teach everything except art to students? Sure because people then have no idea how to relate to or interact with art objects, whether they are traditional or contemporary, and only respond to them on the ‘decoration’ level, unable and unwilling to go beyond it, and perhaps convinced that they shouldn’t need to try.
Another problem with this part of the world is that artists have become so defended against the idea of Art being Decorative, and so defensive about that association, that we’ve created a sense of alienation between our Fine Art – Heaven forbid it should be ‘Decorative’ – and the public. We’ve scared away many who might otherwise have wanted to hang it in their living rooms; they now go appreciate it only in museum collections or during exhibitions in galleries.
 Once Fine Art went from artist’s studio to private home, maybe via a gallery. Eventually, if it had all the necessary qualities, it might have ended up in a museum, Now, much of it languishes in artists’ studios perhaps until the artists die while too many people’s homes are decorated with kitsch and garage sale fodder which they’ve accepted as decoration.
It’s too bad, Because much of the Fine Art I see as a gallery curator is really excellent Decoration.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Falling for False Advertising

photo collage

As a child, I wanted to be An Artist but I was very shy about showing people my art. I’d grudgingly come to accept what I was told, that ‘talent’ was obvious from birth and that if I found anything difficult to render, it meant I didn’t have any.
If there was learning to be done, I was told that it could only result in something useful, like design, or pleasing, like decoration. If I had the courage to envision a life of isolation and struggle, these were the goals I was to set for myself. Failing that, I was to consider art as my leisure activity.
Everything in my environment confirmed these fine art lessons. After all, after WWII people were expected to be practical, art had to have a commercial application, and many of those who might have wanted to become such things as painters or sculptors in the Fine Art sense had learned to put their own aspirations aside For the Greater Good. It became normal for them not to question the ‘starving artist’ narrative and to expect their children to do the same.
To me, however, there seemed to be a conspiracy to lead me to abandon my aspirations, despite the books I read about all the art in the world, and regardless of all the art I saw in galleries and museums that seemed to suggest other possibilities. Another conclusion I had been led to was that THOSE artists were dead geniuses who’d come into the word both rich and skilled. Luckily for my mother, I guess, but not for me, I had not been born with a chisel or paint brush in my hand.
Like my elementary school teachers, my parents were very clear about what I should learn to represent and why. Art, according to them, especially if made by a girl, was meant to be beautiful and uplifting. “Beauty, usefulness, therapy!” was the litany on the one hand and “Starvation, decadence, self-indulgence!” was the sermon on the other.
Starvation? I wasn’t a big eater, and decadence and self-indulgence sounded pretty good to me. Anyway, why would anyone worry about what I made and why before I could even make it? Maybe, I thought, if I worked really hard… logically, if I could learn to make beautiful things, maybe they wouldn’t HAVE to be useful like cushions or vases, maybe they could be beautiful like a Bernini or a Dali.
I worked hard. When I did have the temerity to show any adult my images with the hope of getting an enlightening reaction, they zeroed in on what they considered errant marks. These they were quick to correct as ‘mistakes’ by drawing or painting over them or by telling me exactly how to redo them, even as I wondered, “How do they know it’s a mistake?” The way they corrected it made it their image, not mine. How would they understand what I was trying to express if I couldn’t learn how to render it? My frustration levels rose.
Deep down, I knew there was something terribly wrong. I just knew it. But how was a child to defend herself against such an onslaught? I had no access to practicing artists to give me hope and support, art in school was so… elementary as to teach nothing at all, and I had no money of my own to run away to Italy and find a sculpture academy that would take a twelve-year old. When I finally begged for lessons my father, a designer, enrolled me in a mail-order school with colouring book-type exercises. I was deeply discouraged.
There was nothing to it but to put away the dream of being An Artist. I locked my imagination into the fantasy cage; it was difficult to hold it back. By applying myself to ‘practical, useful’ things when anyone was looking, but by privately consuming every bit of information about Art that I could absorb, I managed to keep it at bay. However, I withdrew more and more in the process and a great, alienating sadness settled over me.

In high school, I built up the courage and signed up for Art. Rumour had it that it was ‘great’. My parents would never know. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance in grade ten, and I hid it among the science, math, language and other ‘useful’ subjects I had to take. By then all I could think about were the innumerable skills I lacked that I couldn’t teach myself, especially about sculpture. I was desperate.
Turns out that to most of the other kids, ‘great’ meant ‘easy’ and besides, the grade ten, high school art teacher had other ideas. She called it, “The Curriculum!” like it was some divine order, and I became convinced she was a secret agent for the government meant to brainwash us into being “Responsible’. Art that did not serve Society, well, we would fail, of course.
“You will make posters – not paintings, posters - to address human injustice / war or peace / global warming / endangered species / recycling / … “ the teacher commanded. “There’s one brush per student. Don’t waste paint. Don’t make a mess! You will be marked on your compositions.” Time in class was regimented, and motivation was always delivered with a “this might be on your final exam!” What to do with the colour wheel of grey scale once we’d made them? Figure it out. If the teacher had information to clarify our thinking, techniques to refine our skills, or methods by which to improve our use of the tools she didn’t share them.
Afraid of what I would find in CEGEP art classes at the time, I didn’t apply. Anyway, the advisor told me my portfolio wasn’t good enough, it was full of figure drawings, portraits and surrealistic scenarios I’d created on my own. I didn’t even cry.
I took literature, drama and dance classes instead of art, and followed that up with a university degree in theatre. Oh joy!  On the set and prop design/construction team for the major productions, I finally learned all about materials, their properties, and the methods and tools with which to create images. This literally saved my life. While I sacrificed membership in the ‘art millieu’, I learned more of the art techniques and gained more of the skills I was craving as a Theatre student than I’d imagined possible.
Still, I needed to be ‘an artist’. I went back to university for another degree. I needed to transform my art craft skills into fine art skills, especially to refine my painting. Sure. How was I to know universities taught art as if they ran a carousel? You had to get on while the program spun at full speed and wait for the exact class to join when there was room or you’d spend the three years of the degree fighting not to be thrown off your motivation. When I jumped on, the pencil was an endangered species, the human form was persona non grata and abstraction and abstract expressionism were gods.
Anyway, the workload! We tackled assignments like we were Greyhounds chasing Alice’s rabbit in Wonderland. In fact, the focus wasn’t on making art, it was on defending it conceptually. Words flowed where media splattered, and discourse built structures around what should have been self-supporting. What I mostly learned was to understand, explain or defend something that had meaning for other people but in which I didn’t really see any meaning for myself.
Typical design class instruction:
“Figure-ground. Figure: the subject. Ground: its environment. Good composition: a perfect balance between them. Your assignment: 100, 12”x12” black and white figure-ground images in collage for next week. Get to it.” Design by formula, available in any how-to design text.
Typical drawing class:
“Draw the model: poses of 30 seconds, one minute, three, five, ten, fifteen. Stop! Enough representation. Now, loosen up! Express! Accuracy is constricting! Technique is dictatorial, push that medium around, let it reveal the image! ! Don’t think, interpret! FEEEL!” Drawing by instinct, better done privately with music to individual taste.
Typical painting class instruction:
A professor says, “Paint,” at nine a.m. and soon leaves. He is gone for most of the six hours of the class while the students proceed to do as they are told, some with abandon, others hesitantly, some at a complete loss. A number help each other. At four p.m., the professor returns. He walks about the room inspecting the paintings. He is a real artist; his contempt for hesitant technique is palpable. “Wrong blue,” he snaps, or “Weak brush stroke,” or “Garbage! What were you thinking?” or, rarely, “That’s painting! Look, learn. Evaluations in three weeks.” Class over, he leaves. The students slink off to their next class. Painting by guesswork or ‘experimentation’ or even bullying, resulting in mostly incidental or subjective critiques.
In the sculpture class:
“It will never work!” the professor says of the proposed project. Sculpture by negation, on the defensive before the work is even attempted.
Thank you theatre degree! After all, when you make things for the stage you have to make them well. They have to: convey the play’s meaning; help create emotion; integrate with the costumes, the lighting, the sound effects, the style of acting; carry an actor’s physical weight or open and close noisily or noiselessly on cue; be moveable and endure over many nights of use or abuse. You can get away with a lot of bad (but expressive) technique as a visual artist that would get you in very big trouble in the theatre!
Better yet, having worked with theatre directors, I knew how to defend my work. I could take responsibility for the risks I was willing to take, to at least TRY something challenging and ambitious, even if it might fail. The secret was not to work for approval, and not to care about low marks or bad critiques, but be very focused on my vision: in that the years of creating secretly paid off. By that time, all I needed from the educational system was access to materials, equipment and locales I could not afford to provide for myself.
Getting professors who actually taught anything was an unexpected bonus.

            That was a long time ago, in a place not so far away. Here, in fact. I have met artists who had a vastly different experience of their art education, but they studied in Europe, or in the United States, way before me or in other provinces. Still, I have met too many others whose educational experience as aspiring artists has been as harrowing, and not just those of my age. Regardless, all have to deal with audiences who are largely ignorant about or indifferent to art because of THEIR education.
Has the kind of 20th century art education I had changed for the 21st? Many will say that it has. After all, computers and Internet have made images even more prevalent in our interactions, and people imagine hefty salaries as animators or game designers. As well, technology and our concept of popular art in multi-purpose spaces make everyone an artist. Yet cuts to the arts in education and in its dissemination are epidemic in our society, supposedly because they are ‘expensive’. These cuts have only been as devastating in dictatorships where it’s desirable for people to think sports and leisure are ‘culture’ enough without being aware of what they are losing.
As people read this, perhaps they see nothing at all wrong with the styles of teaching I described. They might say, ‘Well, you’re an artist now!” accepting that real artists won’t be deterred (what more do they want, they’re gifted!). Perhaps they’re art teachers who teach in these ways themselves, hogtied by huge classes, re-directed curricula, loss of facilities and equipment, and their own compromised artistic education and practice.
Or perhaps they too experienced these educational approaches in the visual arts as students and learned to ignore them, doing the work just to get the degree and get out of there. How many thrived, how many just survived as artists, and how many gave up their art and their ‘useless’ degrees to get ‘a real job’?
Other artists I know who did survive the system say they ‘like’ this situation: they think it means that there is less competition. They also get to earn extra money by teaching art techniques out of the educational system, and since they can sell by Internet now, they’re happy to be free of the galleries, now closed, in which they lost huge chunks of income to commissions.
Maybe they’re right but I just don’t see that they are. Why should I care if people continue to be subjected to what I call Teaching Art By Omission and its sub-genres, Teaching Art with a Hidden Agenda and Teaching Art By Assumption? I care because I think that the kinds of approaches to ‘art education’ I described above cheat those who want to be artists.