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Making of the Artists in the American University- PART I
:::::::::::::Making of the Artists in the American University- Part II  

  
 Contemporary Discovery I. Symposium
- The Shaping of the Artist in the Institution -
 
Symposium held in Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall
California State University, Long Beach
Saturday, September 23, 2000
Organized by the University Art Museum Organized by the University Art Museum of the California State University Long Beach in conjunction with the exhibition Ken Price: Centric 62, Contemporary Discovery I is a full-day symposium exploring how art is taught in the contemporary art world.
Mr.Singerman : The Master of Fine Art /
Mr.Kvapil: Observations & Pleas /

Mr.Kauper : On teaching diversity

Mr.Bonami: On Urgency
Discussion

For a full transcript of the Symposium, klick here

  - :::::Welcome by Ilee Kaplan, Associate Director of the University Art Museum ("UAM"):

Welcome to our first Contemporary Discovery Symposium: Consequences of the New. (...) Contemporary Discovery is a new program for the UAM. It combines exhibitions bringing artists from all over the world, and from this country who have not really been exposed to Southern California and bring new ideas and new projects to us. In addition to that, we have started the symposium so that we can examine in context with our exhibitions some of the newest ideas and trends in the arts field. I'd now like to introduce the UAM Curator of Exhibitions, Mary-Kay Lombino, who will be our MC for the day. Mary-Kay has been with the Museum for a little over a year and has already introduced incredible artists and programs to our campus and to the Museum. With her experience at UCLA's Armand Hammer Museum and the National Endowment for the Arts, she brings both a regional and a national perspective to the UAM. So join me in welcoming Mary-Kay. [applause]

Mary-Kay Lombino: Hi, I want to thank everyone for coming today. (...) I'm going to introduce our panelists for today. I'll just go down in order so you know who's who. Beginning with Howard Singerman. Howard is serving as the facilitator of this panel, and he's visiting here from Charlottesville, Virginia, where he's professor of art history at the University of Virginia. And he's also the author of an influential book called, Art Subjects: Making of the Artists in the American University. It was published last year by the University of California Press. I'm going to hold it up, because anyone who's interested in the panel today would be really interested in reading the book. It was one of the reasons why I actually thought of this subject for a symposium. And the book really traces the history of the development of professional training in the country. I learned a lot reading it, and it also fleshes out a lot of the issues that surround this training process.

 


 Howard Singerman: Thank you, Mary-Kay, and thank you all for coming out this morning. There's a long tradition of complaining about art schools, a complaining about their failure. The president of the newly formed College Art Association in 1917 insisted that "in no profession is there such a woeful waste of the raw material of human life, as exists in certain phases of art education." Recently, there's been lamenting again. But what is being lamented and decried of late is not the failure of art schools, but their success. At least, what is lamented is their growth, which seems prodigious. And the kinds of careers they're now producing. A little bit about that growth, first. The first MFA was awarded in 1924 to one Mabel Lisle Ducasse at the University of Washington. By 1940, there were some 60 graduate student artists enrolled at eleven institutions. In 1950-51, there were 320 MFA candidates at 32 institutions. A decade later, '60-'61, there were 1,365 graduate students enrolled in 72 MFA programs. But only in 1960 did the College Art Association finally approve the MFA as the single terminal degree for graduate work in the studio area. Thirty-one new MFA programs opened in the decade of the '60s; 44 opened in the 1970s; and the first half of the 1990s in the United States, across this most recent decade, more than 10,000 MFAs were awarded.

Over the past decade, where the criticism has been focused most consistently-what has been decried the most consistently-are art schools in Los Angeles. Indeed, the art schools have come to characterize the art scene in LA, not only for those of us in it-or those of us who have been in it-but also nationally, and to a certain extent, internationally. A particular set of schools have come to stand for that success, and have become the particular target. In a series of articles written from 1989 to this year, Cal Arts, UCLA, and the Art Center College of Design have been singled out: beginning with Ralph Rugoff's "Liberal Arts" published in Vogue in 1989 about Cal Arts; to Dennis Cooper's "Too Cool for School," which was published in the music magazine Spin in 1997, about UCLA, to "Surf and Turf" by Andrew Hultkrans published in Artforum in 1998 about UCLA and Art Center; to Deborah Solomon's New York Times magazine article on "How to Succeed in Art" from 1999. None of the authors, it seems, quite trust the school, the art school. And why should they? There's a very old and still quite strongly held belief that artists, if they are real artists, are not made in school. That they cannot be made there. In earlier times, artists were born. "Truly he was a painter in his mother's womb," Albrecht Durer was purported to have said of the Dutch painter Geertgen tot Sint Jans. But even as late as the 1980s, around Mary Boone Gallery, Robert Pincus-Witten could write of David Salle that he was a "painter born." This is rather late in the day, for in the modern period, the myth, or the narrative, has been far more often that artists are formed in struggle. Most of the artists of this vanguard have found their way to their present work by being "cut in two," wrote Harold Rosenberg of the abstract expressionists. "Their type is not a young painter, but a re-born one. The man may be over 40, the painter around seven. The diagonal of a grand crisis separates him from his personal and artistic past." The slow, halting formation of the modern artist is a recurring motif. The path is personal and circuitous and the outcome far from obvious. Schooling in any conventional sense always and necessarily fails. A series of false starts that continue until the artist finally learns to make himself.

The commentators on Cal Arts, UCLA, and Art Center-and indeed on art schools in general-clearly don't trust the phenomenon they are describing. And it's interesting that at some point in each of these articles-which I've spent a great deal of time re-reading of late-a certain version of the unschoolable artists, the irrepressible, unteachable real artist is rescued, whether in the halls or studios of school, or precisely outside them. For a couple of the articles, because the schools are schools, their graduates are in a real sense not artists-or at least, not yet. The LA art schools may be able to produce careers, and in that sense to make artists. But, for these authors, the very fact that these artists now come fully packaged, if not fully grown, out of art school and spring into galleries, is used as evidence of the shallowness of contemporary art ?its lack of culture or maturity, its aesthetic, or even its moral emptiness. At least that's what it reads like in the pages of the New York Times, which has quite a high brow take on new art in Los Angeles . . . or at least an East Coast one. The audiences of Vogue and Spin expect something different from that of the New York Times. And what they use to rescue the artists, or the student artists, is youth and freedom. Schooling in any conventional sense is not what is going on in Ralph Rugoff's Cal Arts, or Dennis Cooper's UCLA. And since they are not schools, art and artists can emerge in the spaces they provide in the teaching they don't do. According to Ralph Rugoff's history of Cal Arts when it opened in 1970, it offered "no drawing classes" (craftsmanship was considered passé) but the course catalog included seminars in joint rolling and witchcraft." The editors at Vogue seemed to have understood Rugoff's attempt to rescue Cal Arts from being a "school." They chose that sentence to blowup and box as a pull quote (you know, one of those pull quotes that goes alongside the article), along with part of the artist Barbara Bloom's recollection that for the most part it was total anarchy. "We were irreverent, drug-taking, smart-ass kids, and we had a lot of fun." This they blew up, too. But what they didn't blow up, what they decided was somehow part of the general narrative of the articles, and certainly not worth singling out, were the invocations of Deleuze (Gilles) or Baudrillard (Jean). And Ashley Bickerton's commentary that "Intellectual terrorism is the Cal Arts shtick. It's how students there prove themselves."

Not only did the students in the pull quotes of Vogue magazine and in Barbara Bloom's recollection not play the role of students, the faculty, too, in these essays do the work of not schooling; of separating their involvement from the task of teaching, since art is, in some sets, the name of what cannot be taught. "As long as I've been here," said Charles Ray from UCLA, "I've never written a curriculum, never prepared for a class." And in Dennis Cooper's article "Too cool for school," ranks this difference between UCLA and other art schools is constructed precisely around the roles of teacher and student, or rather the refusal to occupy either of those roles. Here is Charles Ray: "Most art schools are about students and teachers. UCLA is about artists working with artists. The reason the kids here are getting all this early success is because they're not art students. They're young artists. Young artists get galleries, students study. Simple as that." One UCLA graduate student profiled in Hultkrans's Artforum essay makes it clear that the students themselves know this difference, that they're taught it. "They stress production at UCLA, he said. During orientation, Larry Pittman told us, 'We don't want to think of you as students. You're just working artists, who happen to be in school.'" Thinking of art students as artists, or the claim to treat them as such, isn't unique to UCLA. It has been one of the defining pedagogical assumptions of contemporary professional training. And it's something like an answer to, or an allusion to the question of whether or not art can be taught. This claim, that the student is an artist, has been the stated policy of a number of programs since at least as far back as Subjects of the Artists, an art school started by Mark Rothko, William Bazoites, David Hare, and Robert Motherwell in 1948. Robert Motherwell wrote the bulletin for the school, and in it is the following line: "Those attending classes will not be treated as students in the conventional manner, but as collaborators with the artists in the investigation of the artistic process-its modern conditions, possibilities, and extreme nature, through discussions and practice." Closer to home and closer to the present, when Cal Arts opened in 1971, its first catalogue pared Motherwell's language down to its basics. "From the day he enters, the student is an artist."

In this sense, artists, we could say, are neither born nor taught. They are seen and treated and thought of as artists perhaps until they learn to think of themselves that way. This is not a fiction, let me add. At least, it's not any more of a fiction than any other modern identity. Working alone in a studio, making work, and being responsible for it, for its display and its interpretation, is being an artist, now. For many graduate students, indeed for most, despite all the success stories, the two years of an MFA program are the only time they ever will be artists, that they will ever be able to occupy that role. The architectural counterpart to that being-an-artist in the art school-being seen as an artist-is the private studio, the graduate studio, where one works on one's work. This is, despite its ubiquity and its familiarity, a new form. It emerges in and around the 1960s, particularly in the form that it takes in graduate school, where everyone has a kind of private space that's cobbled together out of a larger space, and kind of set in a grid of other private spaces, one after another. In fact, reading the bulletin for Tania Mouraud's school in France, I was quite taken that in French the graduate studio is referred to as a box. "A box for your own work." They are, on the one hand, private, insular, as if to match or to make individual artists. And on the other, they're strung along this grid, open to the public. Private, yet permeable. And what they are permeated by, and what passes between them, is language.

Irving Sandler, recollecting the school of art at Yale, in the very late 1960s and the early 1970s, suggests how language trades in and out of studios, how it ties these individual boxes together. "Like most other graduate programs, Yale's was based on individual work, done by a student in his or her private or semi-private space. The basic instruction was criticism of ongoing work by resident and visiting faculty. "Work was proof of seriousness and it permitted students to enter into a verbal discourse with other serious colleagues." While the school may have been based on individual work, discourse, language, trumps work fairly easily in Irving Sandler's description. What work does, is to allow the artist to speak ?to enter into discourse. That is the work's purpose and the outcome. And at the same time, discourse, language, underwrites the work in the crit, in a seminar, it allows the work to exist by mapping it and articulating it. This is, by the way, the threat that Michael Fried imagined that minimal art posed to modernist painting, that it "defines and locates the position that can be formulated in words." And it's also the threat that the minimalist Dan Flavin suggested that any smart young graduate student might pose to those teachers who would indoctrinate him into vocational training. "As he knows, he talks." He takes "overt verbal responsibility" for the work.

Along with the theme of artists-being seen, being thought of, being worked as artists, and graduate studio space that is its architectural counterpart, that speech (or the presence of language) is what characterizes modern teaching. The two forums that seem to me to embody modern teaching as it differs from traditional or an earlier model of art teaching, are the visiting artist and the crit, both of which (if you think about them) are ways of focusing language on the student and on the student's work. The visiting artist is easy to get. The visiting artist is that link between the language of the broader art world, its markets, its institutions, how real artists talk and stand and present themselves-and the individual student. In the crit, the work itself, and the artist (him or herself) is articulated by language. We could say, using a type of linguistic model, that in the crit both the student artist and the student work are like the linguistic sign, doubly articulated, plotted both historically in the history of art, and in the narrative of personal development. Across a field of positions and possibilities, likenesses and differences. The work is pushed along, opened up in relation to a narrative of exploration of what the medium or the times demand and what is to be done next. And the student is pressed to make it clear how the work belongs to him. What I want to say is that in the crit the student is produced in a certain way as an artistic subject.

So these are the things I'd like to sort of leave on the table, or the podium, for the panelists: the visiting artist and the crit, as they pump language in relation to works of art, and as they work as the network, the ligatures, that tie artists as individuals in the type of studio spaces that mark their professionalism-tie them together in something that we call the art world in art schools. Thank you. [applause]

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For more information or tickets/reservations for any program, please call (562) 985-7601 or email us at eharvey@csulb.edu

 

 

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