On the general subject of university change

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On the general subject of university change

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Greg Scheckler: The classical realist's "attack bad art" approach probably won't be taken seriously in most colleges, whether it's from students or faculty.

That's true, and one of the main reasons why I have written them off as irredeemable in general.

GS: It has some merits, and often the anger about bad art is warranted. But many people really do prefer non-realist art, and the better among them will defend themselves very articulately and very capably.

You think so? I find that they can't begin to hold their ground in a debate and immediately resort to posturing, silly arguments, and personal attacks. Outside of their hothouse of weird philosophical premises (which they also can't defend very well) they can't get any traction at all. That's why they are so disinclined to leave it and so frustrated and threatened whenever anyone questions those premises.

GS: More importantly the attack approach doesn't build the bridges and isn't diplomatic or personable enough to win over the more serious enemies of figurative work or even of art in the college system in the first place.

Your premise is that they can ever win over the serious enemies of non-modernist art and that diplomacy is the way to do it. On what basis do you found this optimistic view? I find that the modernists are so committed to their point of view, and so psychologically affiliated with those ideas that they react with great hostility to anyone who seeks to undermine their little scheme no matter how diplomatically one does so. These guys are like religious cultists, Communists, or Nazis in their level of commitment to their world view, and I don't believe that any amount of "diplomacy" can change them.

That said, how "diplomatic" should one be when confronted by someone who claims that an artist who puts his own excrement between panes of glass and calls it a work of art? Should one say that this is a reasonable alternative to learning to draw and paint and that it's "just another approach no better or worse than drawing and painting"? That is the very idea we are trying to fight here. One does not fight a war by conceding the victory of the other side.

GS: Often it's the administrators and not the faculty who really get things done. To help many administrators understand the case, the philosophical or stylistic approach to art is not compelling and the endless attacks on this or that art only make it seem like there shouldn't be an annoying art program.

Exactly! If we could accomplish that we would be way ahead of the game, no? The other side has gigantic institutions with vast funding sources and they turn out millions and millions of graduates whose only exposure to art has been through the modernist lens. Why shouldn't we consider it a good thing if their government-paid proselytizing were curtailed through lack of funding, etc?

GS: Instead you'll need hard economic data that supports the arts, clear budgets and business plans to make the case that any new program will be worth investment. Results are far more compelling than any particular art philosophy, and these results are usually things like bringing in significant dollars won through grants or donors, direct evidence of increased prestige [...]

Prestige among what group? Modernist art professors? Modernist journal editors? Modernist authors? Modernist art critics? Right now those are the kinds of "qualified" individuals whose opinions are supposed to matter in the academy.

GS: [...] direct evidence of increases in enrollment and student retention, direct evidence of improvement in student performance across many disciplines but because of the arts, direct evidence of national arts trends and arts funding or economy, etc. In many cases the business side of things is equally if not more important than the type of art, at least from an administrative viewpoint about growing and building the school.

I agree. That's ultimately the way we can reverse the modernist trend in universities, but that's the place to end up, not where we can start. Before there can be big money, prestige, and so on associated with having a real art department in the universities there needs to be a cadre of capable teachers, a market for that kind of art, and a body of buyers educated in what to look for and financially capable of paying for it. There need to be publications where that kind of thing is talked about intelligently, and so on. Only after that is all in place can we make anything but accidental impact, and that's what we are working to put into place.

GS: In my experience as a professor most institutions will not risk their stability on financial losses, but will risk some losses on reliable plans that strengthen the institution. If you don't have the time to look the financial and economic data up and build a strong economic case for any new program, then you can probably forget about building new programs at any college or university.

Do you think that right now a university that embraced our artistic views would become anything but a pariah among the modernist establishment that decides such things today? Would they get the big grants from modernist charitable funds? Would they get heaped with praise from the modernist academic journals? I don't think so.

--Brian