I was talking to Janice Schoultz Mudd last night at the Members' Show reception at Chesterfield Arts about why it is that I do what I do, and we touched upon the topic of art education. I have not yet begun to work towards a Master's or Doctorate degree and the question was posed as to why, since many artists working in a predominantly conceptual and less commercial manner survive by teaching, which requires a higher level of education than I currently have.
I have felt for awhile that many of the institutions tend to feed into the alienation of the general public. Art education is unfortunately lacking in much of the educational system, especially in the public schools where funding for art programs is cut over and over again. Thus many people coming through our educational system lack the exposure necessary to appreciate much of modern art because art itself wasn't emphasized as important or was treated as a "blow off" course. As a result, those same people can later have a hard time justifying the expenditure of their tax dollars to support art and programs that they do not understand, and so more funding is cut and the vicious cycle continues.
Unfortunately, I find that the institutions are doing little to remedy this. To a nonartist who lacks exposure, museums and galleries can seem austere and alienating. The environment thusly created is often not welcoming, and most people do not go out of their way to place themselves in situations where they don't feel comfortable. A lot of artists studying in the formal university setting develop their styles and approaches in such a manner that if you hadn't been following that artist from the onset and seen how the work developed, you may not be able to fully appreciate the result of this intensive study of self in relation to the art world and past movements.
I am not saying that we, as artists, should cater to the general masses and make art that is easy to understand and matches people's sofas, but rather that we need to strike a balance and celebrate diversity so we can offer as wide a range of experiences as possible to connect with people. By encouraging people to expose themselves to more art, we can expand our audience while simultaneously offering the new viewers and patrons an opportunity to enter into the discourse of modern art. By taking a stronger interest in art, viewers are more likely to come to a better understanding of where a lot of modern art is coming from and how it developed, and to better appreciate and patronize the arts as a whole. Some artists have connected with both nonartists and artists very well, closing the gap and encouraging people to take a stronger interest in what is happening in the art world, such as Dale Chihuly.
Because I feel that the institutions can cater to this sense of alienation by the general population I have had a hard time justifying going back to school to myself, simply due to the fact that I wish to connect with as broad of an audience as possible. I realize that there are a lot of really good programs out there, but I just don't feel that I am ready for it or am willing to commit myself financially or temporally. But, as Janice pointed out last night, it is difficult to incite change from the outside looking in.