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Re:[teacherartexchange] meaning as overemphasized...technique held in contempt


From: Jerry Vilenski (jvilenski_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Jun 23 2005 - 07:40:41 PDT

Hi All,
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long-overdue discussion of what should be an important issue for all artists and teachers of art. I attended university from 1969-1973, and during that time I discovered exactly the same approach to teaching and art that Larry seems to have encountered. The over-emphasis on process over product, lack of critical analysis, and almost outright disdain for technical know-how was as pervasive then as it is now. In graduate school, it was even worse.
 In my opinion, a lot of this attitude and approach came about because during the 60's and 70's, abstract expressionism was the cutting edge form of artwork out there, and most art schools and universities rejected most other traditional approaches out of hand. At the time, most of my professors were painting blue dots in the corner of a 6-foot orange canvas or engaging in "happenings" of one sort or another. The only instructors I had that taught technique or specific skills in a given media were the Asian or European immigrants, who were well versed in traditional art forms.
In addition, anyone enrolled in the art education department was regarded as not being a serious artist, and generally treated like a second class citizen. I found this particularly ironic, because those professors with the most disdain for art teachers were themselves art teachers!
Long story short, a lot of those people are still professors in our universities or have trained a whole new generation of professors who think along the same lines, so I don't expect things to change much. There are some excellent instructors out there, but they tend to be in the minority, at least in my experience.
The end result of this pervasive attitude is the "everything is art" theory that many preach. If that is true, then engaging in meaningful dialogue about good or bad art, good or bad design, the reason for studying art history--all becomes fruitless. As in most controversial subjects, when artists get themselves into conversations about art theory and approaches, they tend to look at things in terms of black and white, when in reality, the truth is steeped in shades of gray. Not all abstract art is bad, not all representational art is good, but we can probably all agree there is a lot of bad art out there among both approaches, and a lot of it has to do with a lack of skills!
My greatest fear is that we have produced a couple of generations of art teachers who don't have a fundamental understanding of the technical part of art, and that is where the lack of teaching techniques or technical skills lets us all down. Your professor probably doesn't approach teaching those skills in your workshop because she doesn't have them herself, or hasn't had to use them for years. I teach with art teachers who haven't practiced fine art themselves since they graduated from schools in the 70's. How can they begin to teach the nuance of art media to their students if they don't understand it themselves? You can understand art theory all you want, but if you can't put the theory into practice, what good is that knowledge?
I hope all of you take the time to weigh in with this discussion--it really is goes to the heart of why we teach art.


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