Chance to Change College Art Teaching

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Chance to Change College Art Teaching

From Virgil Elliott

Published before 2005


Greg Scheckler wrote:
Personally I think the higher education art system as a large group is very much in need of some serious, constructive overhauls.

Greg, I'm glad we agree on that.
Virgil, you are right: the sarcasm and attacks are unconvincing. They're unconvincing when Brian, you, Fred or others here attack higher education, and they're unconvincing when higher education makes them against various kinds of good art.

I didn't say "attacks," I specifically mentioned your sarcastic response to Brian. I don't see that I'm "attacking" the institutions in question, but I'm certainly critical of them where criticism is warranted. You may declare my criticisms unconvincing, but your perspective on it might well carry the taint of bias, in light of the fact that you derive your living from a teaching position at a college. Don't forget that quite a few of us here have seen the system from the inside, so we are not likely to be easily convinced that things are other than what we saw while we were there. Whereas I have not been a college student since the 1960s, I taught a class at one as recently as 1998, and the only difference I noted between 1966 and 1995-'98 was that somehow a person like me managed to get hired to teach a (non-credit) painting class. However, I was the only instructor at that school who was able to paint as I do, or who, according to the students, actually taught anyone anything helpful. I lasted three years before the anti-Virgil campaign waged by the other instructors succeeded in ending my time there. Then all the serious students left the school, and continued to study with me in my own studio. One of my former students teaches at another college nearby, and she says it's the same there. I visited her there, walked through the art department's building and classrooms, and saw so much awful crap that it was obvious that no detectable reforms had taken place in academia since I was a student myself. Maybe there are isolated exceptions here and there. I hope so.

So, anyway, I think that making the love and practice of realist painting an us very reasonable non-college folks vs. them crazy college-artists is a bad strategy. I think groups like the ARC would do better to build coalitions rather than burn bridges.

I'm speaking for myself when I express my thoughts here, not for ARC, but I'd be happy to encourage universities and colleges to do things drastically differently from the way they've been doing things for almost my entire lifetime, and work with them, if they would demonstrate the good sense to pay attention to what I and people like me have to say. The first thing they ought to do, though, is drop the requirement of an MFA degree for a teaching position, and look instead to the person's work, and hire with more weight on the quality of the work than on bullshit credentials. They should also find a way to get rid of instructors who are not equipped to do the job well, who hide their deficiencies behind a smokescreen of rhetoric. THEN we can consider working with these institutions if they are open to it. But as long as they can't do a very good job of teaching people what they need to learn to become good artists, I see no reason to recommend them to anyone who's serious about becoming an artist, and I see no reason to pay lip service to them or show them any respect whatsoever. Respect should be earned.

Virgil Elliott