On the general subject of university change

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On the general subject of university change

From Jeffery LeMieux

Published before 2005


Brian Yoder wrote:
… How can one have too much accountability for skills training? And on what grounds do you conclude that this is a likely problem or more likely a problem than that we will quit before getting far enough?

Let’s avoid falling into a current political debate, but while that’s said, I think we’re walking on the thin ice of “outcome-based education” in which the only variable that determines the success of the student is the competence of the teacher. That’s definitely the primary variable, but not the only one. In fact, isn’t art history full of artists who could paint up a storm but who never produced a student who matched their level of accomplishment? Teaching art and making art really are two different things. The most relevant comparison I can think of is coaching. Vince Lombardi was a good American football athlete, but not a great one, but became a great coach (using some of the uncompromising attitude I see in your posts, BTW.) I don’t subscribe to the model of the instructor-student relation that all the emphasis is on the instructor… especially when we are speaking of adult students. I am not suggesting that there is not a dependent relation. I am suggesting that the student’s motivation, maturity, and ability bring much to the equation.

Brian Yoder wrote:
… I think that a certain amount of educational breadth is a good thing, but certain specialties require very intensive training for a long time and that might interfere with a four year degree, and certainly would interfere with a PhD.

We agree on this. (Of course there is no PhD in studio arts in America that I know of … the PhDs are reserved for critical theory and art historians….)

Brian Yoder wrote:
…. I find something seriously wrong with the [university’s rejection of] someone [who]might want to focus very intensely on learning how to make great paintings or sculpture and [who would] spend little or no time learning about Picasso's psychology or the supposed virtues of collecting blood splatters from gunshot wounds.

Maybe. There’s a couple issues, one is whether the student is the best judge of what to study in a particular discipline. Another is the purpose of an art degree. If a well-rounded education is the goal of an undergrad degree, then Picasso’s (aberrant) psychology is a proper thing to become aware of if for no other reason than to develop an argument about it. I see the Baccalaureate degree as a kind of familiarization with a discipline’s “landscape,” and then post-baccalaureate studies as a focus on one area of that “landscape.” I think most people in positions of responsibility see it in similar terms.

Brian Yoder wrote:
… What's wrong with being a craftsman? What's wrong with becoming really really good at making art?

Those seem to me to be two different (though related) questions. I think art “stands on” craft, so we agree that we need to focus on producing “craftsmen.” But do we agree that art is more than craft? I think the answer to this question determines whether the kind of craft training you are advocating belongs in a program dedicated to breadth or not. The atelier system may just be the best possible answer to the question.

Brian Yoder wrote:
… I don't accept that notion and I don't think I'm that kind of "conservative" [that holds it true that all humans err]. If you want to assert that I have made an error then you have to do more than assert that we are always making errors. I'm not saying that I have never made a mistake before or that I will never make one again, but you can't just assert an error without proof or argument.

I like your rigorous argumentative style and agree with much of what you propose. The main purpose of my responses is to warn against the tendency to take a too narrow view of what constitutes art. I see that as a very real error, and I hope that if the 20th century did anything, it showed us that good art can go outside conventional boundaries.

Brian Yoder wrote:
… I am not calling for an emperor. I am calling for a return to sanity in the arts and in the education of artists. If you can't even identify the error you are afraid of then I don't think you have a case to make.

Neither am I calling for an emperor. I am pointing to what I see as the human tendency, the human inevitability of an “emperor” whether it be an overarching and constricting convention or a person who guards that convention.

Jeffery LeMieux:
A figurative atelier as the complete university program would seem arid.

Brian Yoder: Why? Because the idea that a room with flashing lights is a work of art that makes all the rest worthwhile?

Jeffery LeMieux: No, you've replaced one aridity with an even worse one.

Brian Yoder: … What's so arid about teaching artists to make art instead of nonsense?

That would depend on the definition of art. It is my understanding that because of political and stylistic differences, most of Courbet’s work was not admitted to the Salons of the 1840’s and 1850’s. The only reason Courbet was able to continue was because his family was wealthy.

Many similarly talented artists would find their lives withered on the vine because they lacked a wealthy family. When we have developed a “court” of approved artists, we increasingly risk such a desert.

Brian Yoder wrote:
… What is that supposed to be? Is it a sculpture composed bunch of green velvet cats? In the image on the website looks more like a poster. At least it's something recognizable and has a certain mood to it, whatever it is.

It is a photograph of an installation (undoubtedly one of the non-art forms rejected by the court.) I’ve found Skoglund’s installations to be witty and obsessively disciplined and quite refined.

Brian Yoder wrote:
….. “Of what value or significance is that? Does someone have to go to college to learn how to so that kind of thing? Why would anyone want to pay thousands of dollars to do that?” “I'm explicit in claiming that things like the Goldsworthy drawing aren't art and furthermore that they have no aesthetic or any other value.”

Actually, that work is a photograph of a “sculpture” that Goldsworthy has made with sticks he’s installed into a very still pond. The top half is the sticks, the bottom half is a reflection of the sticks. I find his work very inspiring. (It reminds me of an experience I had once on a clear northern Wisconsin lake on a summer night. Friends and I had wandered out to the end of a long dock on a moonless and windless night. When I looked down, I saw the reflection of countless stars in the water and for a moment I experienced a dislocation in which I was floating in a sphere of stars. It was the most surprising and memorable sensation. Goldsworthy uses mostly materials taken directly from the unrefined natural world (besides the photograph) to make these. His work is a very precise and disciplined commentary on chaos, order, human effects on environment, beauty, nature, etc. I simply find his work to consistently reveal a subtle and perceptive intelligence that I find remarkable.

Brian Yoder wrote:
…. What exactly would you lose if that was just called "doodling" rather than art?

I’d like to see Goldsworthy’s approach become well-known. If it is held to be “doodling,” I doubt it would make sense to discuss.

Brian Yoder wrote:
… How is the world more "rich" by containing such things as the Goldsworthy drawing? The same goes for his other collections and piles of rocks, twigs and pebbles.

I see Goldsworthy’s work as a very perceptive integration of several important ideas in art, philosophy and science. On the subject of science, I see his work directly related to chaos and non-linear dynamics. Goldsworthy takes a random distributions of colors, shapes, etc., and reorganizes them into a startling coherence. It’s a commentary on randomness vs order. Philosophically, he has added to nature in such a way that the addition is nothing more or less than mind acting on nature in a most pure and elegant manner. There’s shades of an analysis of perception as well. With regard to art, this work does challenge many ideas about materials, location of the art object, etc.

Brian Yoder wrote:
There are all kinds of mistakes people can make. …… This idea that realism is the sign of a closed-minded and bigoted person is a prejudice that has been cultivated for a long time.

I can see that this is a central issue for you, and I tend to agree. That said, I still think Courbet’s relation to the French Academy illustrates what can happen even with the best of intentions. I am simply suggesting that in the seeds of a promotion of realism is the next Salon of 1847.

Brian Yoder wrote:
…. I think that art in order to be art needs to express an idea through the manipulation of a medium and to produce that expression by the selective recreation of some aspect of reality. That's a broad enough category to allow for a huge amount of diversity, but it isn't infinitely broad.

Argumentative fellow that I am, I would say that your definition is surprisingly broad, and admits lots of things you might also find surprising. And I find it interesting that there are no value terms in that definition, no “good” except in the act of offering a definition. I think all of modern art fits into that definition if one allows abstractions like the number five to “exist” sufficiently. Are you implying a materialistic definition of reality? I’d suggest there are lots of things that don’t exist materially that are “real.”

Brian Yoder wrote:
…. Well, I have heard some people say such things in the past and I disagree with them. I do think that people with more experience often have more and better things to say about the subject of their discussion but as stated this is an ad hominem argument and of course I reject it. When have I ever said anything remotely like this?

I think the danger of holding atelier trained realists as the only judge of quality in art is similar to my Marine Corps buddy’s statement about combat.

Brian Yoder wrote:
…. To reuse an analogy, I don't think that Jews are immune to greed or blacks immune from stupidity, but I think that when someone constantly accuses them of such things without any good reason to do so it is out of prejudice rather than an appreciation for the facts.

Agreed. And when this analogy is seen in the context of defending realists against modernist assault, I’m with you. But I foresee a time when the realist campaign succeeds, and I hope not to repeat the mistakes of the figurative/realist past when we are back in control.