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
DISCUSSION to the positions of Singerman, Kauper and Kvapil  
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.

Then we have Jay Kvapil, who is the Chair of the Arts Department here at Cal State Long Beach. Some of you are from the Art Department, so you know that it's one of the largest art departments in the area. And it's still growing. We're actually in the midst of a major construction, where when it's all finished, we'll have a brand new facility and seven new galleries for showing student work. So that's something to look forward to that keeps Jay busy these days.

Then Kurt Kauper is here. He's visiting here from the East Coast. Kurt is someone who graduated from UCLA. He got his MFA in 1995. And just within the last year, his work was involved in the Whitney Biennial. He was given his first one-person show in New York at Deitch Projects. He's also beginning as a faculty member in the Art Department at Yale University. And, he's showing here at ACME in Los Angeles.

Tania Mouraud is visiting here from France. Tania's installation, as I mentioned, is called "A Collection" and it's up at the UAM. And "A Collection" is exactly that. It's the titles of the collection of the UAM, and there's a brochure available which you can pick up when you go over to the Museum. Tania has been teaching in France since 1976, so we're hoping that she'll bring the European view of art schools to the panel today.

And lastly, Francesco Bonami, who is the Senior Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Last year, he was the Curator of Manifesta-or actually, maybe that's this year. Also, he's been a contributor to Parkett, and very influential in the international magazine Flash Art. And last year some of you might have seen his exhibition Examining Pictures which was on display at the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum which was the traveling show that originated at the MCA in Chicago.

So, that's the panel, and I'm going to pass the microphone over to Howard, who will begin the program. Thanks. [applause]


Howard Singerman: The next step here, I think, is to ask panelists whether they have questions for one another on issues of art and training. But I do want to say a few things to open up. In each of the talks that were offered today, a number of terms came up that seem to me important, even pressing. Francesco Bonami's "talent and urgency" might be terms that we can all agree on, terms that we all use. The question about contemporary practice, and maybe practice across much of the century has been about how and where to know where talent and urgency emerges. What talents does it take now, that it didn't take a hundred years ago, or 200 years ago. It's not clear that the same talents are involved in making work now as might have even been involved in making work even 20 years ago. Perhaps the urgency is the same, but what one might have needed to have been born with, or the interests one might need to have--it's not clear that they're the same now. And that moving target is one of the things that it seems to me makes art education, art training, so difficult, and that to pick up on a word that Francesco offered, makes the scene of teaching, as far as I can tell, the psychoanalytic scene? The scenario of teacher and student, of younger artists and older artists, the scenario of the crit that I began with, seems to be a specifically psychoanalytic scenario. (I would sort of insist on that, although people can take this apart however they want to). In some earlier training that I may or may not be nostalgic for. What was worked on was a work of art for a certain set of technical skills. What is worked on now and has been worked on since the post-War years, is the artist, as a psychoanalytic subject. What is worked on in art school is the artist, which is why I think Tania's question of money is kind of an interesting question. One of the things that was circling around everything that she said is that, if you're paying $24,000 a year to go to school, you might expect a different outcome, than, say, if you're going to school for free. Where the time that it takes to be an artist, the kind of time to think things through, the time that it takes to learn that doesn't have to be a necessary relation between production and consumption. I mean that the time it takes to be an artist may be different if the student loan meter is running. In France in 1968, they talked about the "time of the student" as though it was not a means-ends rationality put into the factory or model, because the time of the student could be outside that model. And it's not clear that that's offered to American students currently. And to speak to my nostalgic training, I would argue that, to Kurt and Jay, specifically, that there is a unified training now. And that the points that I was trying to . . . or the current issues that I was looking at-the graduate studio, the crit, the visiting artist-these are the terms of unified training. They assume (if not exactly what any individual work of art looks like) the arena in which art will take place. They assume the definition of art-- that category of art that Jay was suggesting they sort of couldn't get-- and that's one of the ways I would like to, in a very biased way, tie together some of the terms of the panel. But I would like to ask the panelists themselves whether they have questions for one another, or me, or comments they would like to make.

Kurt Kauper: Can I just say that what I was saying, the unified technical training. So, I'm not sure we disagree on that point.

Jay Kvapil: If we have this unified method of training graduate students, are you saying that's a good thing or a bad thing?

HS: The advantage of being an art historian, is that I don't have to say! [laughter] No, no, what I will say is I cannot . . . I have no suggestions and no clear sense of how it should be done. What I want to say is that the way it's being done now allows a certain group of people within the school to emerge as artists. Both for themselves, for others, and to cultivate perhaps the kind of urgency that Francesco was talking about. It's also really cruel to many others, which is one of the things that Francesco also mentioned, and that I talked about in the very beginning: for most students in an MFA program, the time they will be an artist most successfully is actually in those two years… the time they will be able to believe themselves to be artists. So what I would like to say is that this is a system with . . . how to put it . . . contradictions and meanings built into it. And what I would want to say is that the reason I started to look at it is because in some sense it seems to have left its mark on the way art, both art we like and art we may not like, looks now. And so, that's dodging your question even more. I think it's a very mixed system.

Tania Mouraud: What I wanted to add is that I am going to stick on the money aspect because to criss-cross what Francesco and Jay told. In fact, the main difficulty during the first three years of teaching in France is that when the student arrives, they think that the artist teachers are sold, because they are selling art. Whereas when they arrive, they think of art, not as a profession, because they don't pay to study. So they think of art as an ideal. And so during about three years, it is very difficult to speak with a student. And then slowly, they become like salesman (thanks to the curators and the critics speaking about their work) and they become more and more versed in selling their visual art. And that is the point. In fact, if we could ask the artist teacher to represent, I mean be, a kind of ideal in fact from the beginning, we are not an ideal. We are the devil. The devil who is selling what should not be sold.

HS: What a great line that is. I think this might be a time (since we've spent a lot of time talking) we could ask those of you in the audience to ask questions.

Question [woman]: I'd like to ask, what is it that is being sold by the devil?

TM: No, in the eyes of the student, the artist teacher is the devil who is always selling art. And art should not be sold. It is so pure that it should not be sold.

Question [woman]: How did we get to a philosophy-driven curriculum? Such an intellectual . . .

HS: The question was how did we get to this intellectually and/or philosophically-driven curriculum?

JK: I don't think it's one thing. There's a lot of things that came together. But part of what I regard is that it happened partly because the university became the center point for art. Not just for educating undergraduates, but for graduates, and largely a patron of the art, and so on. And when studio art especially came into universities through the back door or the front door, there was a need to justify our existence in the university, and I think many times we pushed more and more toward the edge of language becoming a central topic of art because we were now in the university, where language was the central topic of everything. And the studio artist had to participate in that as much as anyone else in the university.

HS: I would also add to that, even without the university . . . I mean, the university is crucial to the story as I know it in the United States. But the other thing is that . . . and here again, I will compare it to an earlier academic mode of training. That in the École des Beaux Arts, for two and a half centuries, drawing was all that was taught. The actual technical skills you learned in ateliers and studios, but they didn't enter the École… what was at the École was drawing. And drawing was in some sense the theoretical practice of art based in the visual world. When that system breaks down, it is part because it no longer is able to carry and explain the kind of world that artists live in- All the academic tradition could explain, was the classical tradition . . . But when you have the art of tribal peoples, the people that were increasingly colonized and brought to European centers, that needed to be discussed in some way--however tied to a language of ethnography or anthropology, and so forth--others' terms and other possibilities were made available to the tradition of drawing. And [413] academic drawing couldn't hold couldn't explain those possibilities. And I don't want to talk forever, nor do I want to truncate this a lot. But in the 20th Century, it's not clear what constitutes a work of art. And so in some sense, language is there alongside it from the outset, as the language that is the legitimating force for individual art works. And whether that language is self . . . whether what is told about it is self-expression, or historical progress, or exploration of materials, or French high theory, language has been a crucial part of 20th Century artistic practice. Because you can do anything. I mean arguably, you can do anything. Anyone can be an artist, and you can do anything, are the two tenets of 20th Century art. And that's quite terrifying.

Question [woman]: My question is to Francesco, because I was very impressed when you held out that art is absolute to the extent that you were able to say, if someone is an artist, [they] should and could continue to study to be an artist when the works are valued for exhibition? The problem is, mustn't you consider that the artist created a conflict? His frame of reference, her frame of reference denigrated? Because urgency is culture driven. And so it can be absolute if you draw a kind of circle around who your audience is.

FB: Well I don't think absolute. I don't think I said it is absolute. I say that the urgency is exactly what you talk about, the caucus. It has to be urgent, not in absolute, but urgent for a specific moment in time. There must be something that is relevant in the moment that you produce something. And that's the urgency, to produce something. It's not only the personal urgency. Actually, I think that's the problem. It's not the personal urgency, but there's an urgency that is in sync with the culture that you are participating in. And that pushes you to produce something that has relevance for the culture. I'm not talking American. It's the culture of the moment in time that you're doing it. So that's why, you know, you cannot repaint like El Greco or like Titian, because there is not the urgency for that kind of work. It doesn't speak about something at this time. And there are many artists that do works that are very similar to other successful works, but they are not . . . they are just out of sync. So they don't have that urgency any more. So I don't talk about absolute, I talk about the urgency of producing something-a thought, an idea, a visual image that has to do with the moment in time that you live. And I think that's why all the great artists is relevant, because they had that kind of urgency. I think we have a bad habit to think that the times that we live in are always the shittiest one. But, I don't agree. I mean, if we go to the Metropolitan, we find El Greco, but surrounded by a lot of crap that was already pre-selected, but stops. Also in the 15th Century, there was production that was irrelevant and without urgency that went through the filter and arrived at museums. So, there are always very few urgent, specific elements in a culture. And I think today is the same. We have very few things that can come up with the same kind of urgency. But not because our times are horrible times. But because we can't do a Titian.

Question [woman]: The sense of urgency that you feel might not be the same as mine. So it does become absolute in some sense, because the subjective level of your tastes and colors and moods, and urgency might be quite different for me.

TM: When you mix urgency with color from its art, it is not that which is at stake. The urgency is without form, color, or space. This urgency can be expressed differently with form, color and space by different artists. But the urgency is without form and space. That is why we have different expression among the different centuries.

Question [same woman]: Right. But once again, that urgency that the Westerner might feel is quite different from what the Easterner might feel because of their cultural background. How does the culture develop with the sense of urgency, and how do you respond to it? I don't think it's so universal.

JK: That's why I would like to have both of you in the art school together, with opposite viewpoints challenging each other. Rather than "I share your urgency." [laughter]

FB: If you read a novel by Salman Rushdie, it's so much about India, but the capacity to be at the same time authentic and authoritative and go beyond the specificity of the subject. And I think that's the urgency. That you go beyond the specifics of the subject. And yet, maintaining the authority of the subject. And I think that's the important thing. I don't want to know about your grandmother-not yours, but generally-unless your grandmother tell me something about something else that is relevant.

Question [woman]: I think this comes back to the discussion about MFA. How do you teach an artist that urgency because it is a moving object? It's not something an academy defines . . . So why would anyone want to go to an MFA program to be taught anything? [laughter]

FB: You can learn about talking about the grandmother.

HS: Could we leave that question just for a moment? There's one back here.

Question [man]: I wonder if the panel members could say something specifically about how the teaching of art is practiced in the university today as a technical look of the art that we're seeing at galleries and museums. What things would you attribute to the way that art's taught?

JK: I think I alluded to that in my comments I made at the first in the general statement, that if an artist receives a paycheck for teaching that is sufficient to live on, it's therefore not necessary to be selling work. And I think that works both ways. It can be a wonderful thing. It can mean that artists are therefore liberated to not be bound by patronage in a gallery world, and it can also mean sometimes too much freedom is not positive. That you end up with a weak artist. You can't say it does one thing. But I think it's there that there are thousands of university level and college level art teachers throughout the United States today that weren't there 50 years ago.

TM: I can speak about my small experience. When I began to be a teacher, at that time I was a tough conceptual artist. I had been very much involved with a few of the key persons of the time. And I began to teach and I had in front of me people who had no notion of philosophy. So just to begin to explain that I am not a teacher of philosophy, just to dig into it was too complicated. So what I said was, "Do something that you feel." And that is how we created in France. We were the toughest conceptual, the toughest political people, the toughest materialistic people. We created people who work about their body. That is how, now, in the galleries we see things that unfortunately we pushed the student to do. Because we had no communication possibilities. No intellectual communication. And now that the students are becoming more well-versed, there are more philosophers in our school, we see 30 years later very hard conceptual directions like in the 60s and 70s. So I always say, please don't let me feel like a grandmother. Do something of your time.

Question [woman]: Howard said in his statement made earlier something about cultivating urgency. And I was going to ask Francesco if you thought that you could cultivate urgency or if urgency is from within a cultural context?

FB: Well, I think you can cultivate a sense of urgency. I don't know if it's from within. As I say, you can point out when there is not urgency. And I think it's a way to also teach urgency. I think that there's some people that indulge in non-urgent issues which maybe they are capable to have that kind of urgency. So I think, yes, you . . . I don't know if you can teach urgency, but you can definitely try to make it one of the major objectives of your practice.