Art School Confidential

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Art School Confidential

From Brian van der Spuy

Published before 2005


Just saw a film on DVD, titled 'Art School Confidential.' It is a satire lampooning modernist art schools, and is both hilarious and infuriating at the same time. As John Malkovich, who plays one of the modernist teachers, said, he just found the idea of a bunch of talentless jerks at an art school, where the teachers are ALSO a bunch of talentless jerks, very funny. And it is. But also maddening. The film relates the tale of Jerome, a talented but somewhat clueless youngster who goes to the famous Strathmore College (apparently loosely based on the Pratt Institute), where he turns out to be the only one in his class who can actually draw at all. But his work is either ignored or shot down in flames by both his pretentious fellow students and the teachers (although he does get an A at the end of the semester. But so does everyone else!). The star pupil in the class paints naive, childlike pictures of cars and trucks, but before he can achieve fame, it turns out that he is actually just an undercover policeman on the trail of a serial killer that has been terrorizing the campus, and that indeed, he knows nothing whatever about art. In the meantime, Jerome becomes the prime suspect and is promptly arrested. And then, thanks to the instant notoriety, his art career of course suddenly takes off in a big way!

Here's the IMDB page on the film:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0364955/

There is also a message board there, and I found some of the comments by viewers very instructive indeed. One unfortunately has to register to read the message boards, so here are some comments by people who saw the film:

"I was surprised at how much this little film was right on...when i studied art at concordia university i can tell you that this is exactly the way it was in school....from the wannabes who couldn't draw a boob to the classicly trained painters who got trashed with no mercy by the lesser skilled students...."

...

"That is pretty much how it was at my college. I didn't think the film was that great; of course the main character turned out to be a hack with a gimmick, but sitting through the critiques, especially during the early foundations classes I found myself in many "WTF" moments. And everyone still gets an A.

Something you start to pick up on during group critiques: The flat out worst work in the class always gets the nicest critique, while the best work is picked on through and through."

...

"One of the situations that happened in the film that happened quite a bit during my foundations classes were students turning in effortless work that had little to do with the assignment, and often times little to do with the class all together. Students in a drawing class, when assigned to do a self portrait, would bring in a three-word written piece; one guy even brought in a mirror and hung it on the wall with the rest of the drawings (DRAWINGS, as in pencil or pen). Like the main character in the film, I thought it was all a copout, and it frustrated me how the class would eat that crap up."

...

"I went to art school expecting to learn techniques and skills, but I was disappointed to learn that there would be no actual teaching. It was just a collection of failed artists with little or no skills whose teaching consisted of encouraging students to "explore your personal expression". There was no actual instruction and the "best" students were the ones who puked on a canvas or painted like a kindergardener.

I used to scoff at the ads for the "Art Institute" and other "lower" trade schools, but now I see how they actually offer a better art education. At least they offer some marketable skills and it doesn't take 4 years and cost $50,000.

The most rediculous aspect of art school has to be the graduate students. What are you going to learn in another two years after having learned nothing in the first four? At least go get a job or try to sell some art! An art undergrad can be cut some slack for being young and niave -- someone getting a Masters in Art is like a 40 year-old living in their mom's basement."

...

"...But the critiqes, could be extremely amusing,like the art student who painted one color canvases with wax for a whole semester, and he wowed the crowd! Like no matter how bad your art was if you could argue for it well, the instructors would back down. Usually, if you work was not abstract, the other students were like piranas with blood in the water...... "

...

"This movie is amazing. It pokes a lot of fun at how art school really tends to be. As a film student at a small arts school. I've found that much of what is thrown around in the classroom is a load of bull. I remember feeling a lot like Jerome when lectures about Dada or abex art came up. I have basically come to the realization that no one under any circumstance should buy into a definition of what art is or isn't. It's what you make of it, and if you find something pleasing or stimulating in some way then it may as well be art to you. I really hate what goes on in art school."

...

"The type of stuff that happened in Jerome's class would have been happening in senior classes and in graduate schools. The sad thing is that I've seen a lot worse than what was going on in the movie. Students are taught by untalented professors that art is nothing and therefore art is everything. You can photograph your genitals, glue pipe cleaners to a canvas, or de-moralize a serial killer for all the art world cares, so long as you don't actually learn anything."

...

And here is a comment from someone not at all into art:

"I was an engineering student at university and never ventured close to the art department for fear I would run into people like those stereotypes. Its interesting to read these posts from people in those circles that actually agree its portrayal of art and artists is actually fairly accurate. I've never really understood art, if anything I always thought it was more the physical expression of your personal inner thoughts and feelings and hence wouldn't have any or at least its original meaning to someone else. I can't understand how people can look at art in a gallery and feel something, or be able to judge its merits. I would only ever own a painting or sculpture if it was a gift and then its only significance would be its presence reminding me of a friend or event and not the actual content of the piece of art.

From my non-art technical background I guess I could logically determine where Jerome was coming from. He was asked to draw what he saw, his drawings were closer to photo accuracy than anyone else and hence he concluded that he was therefore more talented and deserved a better grade. To hear that some of the *beep* people spun would have flown in real life art courses just hardens my thinking that art can't and shouldn't be taught. Sure you can teach and grade things like art history and you can teach (but not really grade) skills like perspective and anatomy etc. But in general I've thought that anyone who goes to an institution to learn to do something that is subjective is really only wasting their time and money and should instead just spend it being prolific and learning through doing without the critiques of others."

And then this, by a high school student who had ambitions of studying art:

"what the *beep* people? now i dont really want to go to art school."

The above is but a smattering of the comments. If I had to post them all here, it will melt down Yahoo's servers. And virtually all of them express the same anger and frustration, although here and there, an indignant modernist pipes up. Needless to say, I added a brief message of my own there, including a little plug for ARC's website. Hopefully it will help to steer at least some people to the right places. ;-)