Saturday, June 28, 2008

Art School and Art Attitudes

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.


ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Marlene Di Fiori Locke responded to my previous ideas as follows:
"Since Modern Art is considered part of art history, and most well-known "Modern Artists" are no longer living, much of what is defined as Modern Art is generally accepted by a wider audience. This happens for many reasons two of which are probably that (1) a select group of Artists, throughout history, become part of what is published and collected; and (2) the "strange" ideas of these chosen Artists (and "movements") no longer seem strange but, as time passes, are recognized as part of their genius; "Accepted" does not mean people care about fine art, or want to live with it, but they no longer consider it junk. What is defined as Contemporary Art, however, is less acceptable to more people. I am not convinced that ..."lack of exposure..." is the reason many people do not appreciate what is called "Contemporary Art", or for that matter, most all fine art. It usually takes time to appreciate any subject in depth. This is not limited to the arts."

That is very true, Marlene - it does take time to appreciate any subject in depth. It may very well not be lack of exposure, but the more exposure one has, the more time one has been willing to spend with the subject at hand (again regardless of what that subject is). As you stated, it "does not mean people care about [it]... but they no longer consider it junk." I would like for more people to be less dismissive of the arts as a whole and to try to seek out more involvement in some way.
It is also true that there are a good many more options when approaching artmaking, due to the fact that we have such an extensive history on which to build and people are constantly questioning and charting new territories. This is also true beyond art. Technological advances have enabled us to communicate with people on a global scale and there is far more information to process and learn from than ever before. Unfortunately this can be overstimulating and I don't know that we've entirely figured out how to process and what to do with the glut of information available to us.
If you want to get technical, I think it's easier to understand "Modern" art as opposed to "Contemporary" art because of the time factor. What is often considered "Contemporary" is in the here and now and is in the process of charting a new direction - we may not yet be able to envision where it is going and what we will build upon it. We are a little more distanced from the "Modern" and have had more time to process and respond. In regards to terminology, I am personally not a huge fan of labels because I find that many things reside in between someplace, but I do understand that it is sometimes necessary to make such distinctions.

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Marlene DiFiori Locke also stated,
"You mentioned Dale Chihuly. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art has a very comprehensive permanent exhibition of his work. It traces his work through its is an amazing display!
I am curious as to how you separate "Commercial" Artists (or/and commercial success?) from Conceptual Artists.
I find that most Artists, have (or had) other jobs to support themselves. There are very few Artists famous enough, or selling enough, to make a living selling their Art year after year. This is simply a fact."

The argument of commercial vs. conceptual arose when I was talking to Janice Schoultz Mudd about how I came to do installation art, because she'd always wondered how people chose such a commercially-difficult form to work in and how they then approached artmaking or measured success. It wasn't so much a difference of commercial vs. conceptual (she is also a very conceptual artist), but more of a matter of understanding how we approach artmaking differently in regards to what we emphasize and strive for - what we want to gain from our work.
I think a vast majority of artists reside someplace in between pure commercialism, or marketing primarily for commercial success as Thomas Kinkade has come to do, and pure conceptualism, more often seen anonymously or in street art, more akin to what Knitta is doing (especially before they became well-known for it and it was a totally anonymous movement). As with most things, a vast majority of us tend to fall in the area in the middle but with tendencies towards one or the other. I personally lean towards the conceptual end of the spectrum.
Many artists develop their ideas and work conceptually but with the intention of making marketable works to sell. I know that the commercial aspect of artmaking can limit an artist's pursuit of ideas that he/she might otherwise want to pursue and things that he/she would otherwise like to voice. However, it also affords many artists the opportunity to be consistent in their work (so that clients, knowing what to expect, keep coming back), to explore techniques to a fuller extent and to develop a style that is singularly their own.
Unfortunately, I also know that many artists, for all that they would like to live off of their art, are unable to earn enough income from their artwork not to have another job.

Thank you for the heads up about the Chihuly work in Oklahoma. Although I will not have the luxury of traveling there anytime soon, there is a lovely book that accompanied the exhibit which I will keep an eye out for.