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A good starting place is an examination of our own motivation to change as
a result of pressure from "the outside." I find, in myself, a tendency to
resist such "friendly persuasion". It is a typically political strategem
to point fingers and work to "correct," to gain leverage, or to establish
control over some entity perceived to be in error. I have always read such
political solutions as non-adaptive and hasty intrusions into a delicate
It would be good to remember the art educator's relationship to future
faculty of the fine art departments around a nation --our students. It
is, I would argue, a healthy thing to continually question our
perspectives and values and, beyond that, a worthwhile skill to develop in
The questions Dr. Galbraith asks would be excellent ones to challenge
our students with. Such questions engage a future shaping perspective and
a curiosity about what art MIGHT become, as well as a much needed sense of
participation in that process.
The set of ideals which guides the oldschool faculty of our art
departments, the ones who often appear responsible for many of the horror
stories we have been reading, do not seem unreasonable from their point
of view. The represent a methodology for achieving excellence OF A SORT.
There seems to be a tendency to define excellence in numerical terms,
among others. Rarity marks a thing of value and if everyone were capable
there would be little value in the practice of art. I have head similar
arguments, on listservs, from professors I otherwise respect.
One might argue that there is a darwinist slant to their perspective. As
art educators, we must ask ourselves if we are, in any way, contributing
to this competitive and reductive process. Do we see or present art as a
vehicle which generates "stardom" and masters of media equivalent in
"superiority" to sports idols? Producing such "superiority" has its cost.
Harsh criticism is one way to weed the garden or to sort through the
candidates to find a few most likely to prove "fit enough" to survive at
the top of the food chain.
If we present a pantheon of artists as models and as goals to our
students K-12 we should not, then, be surprised to find individuals
prepared to complete the process, to narrrow the candidacy, and to polish
the "elite" and complete the process of manufacture by graduating
individuals prepared to step up to the thrones of that pantheon.
(whew, long sentence! :)
The renaissance seems to have established the pantheonic model and named
the masters who, in earlier eras may have been known but for whom fame
was not the point. Masters taught students and tried to produce people
who's skill equaled or exceeded their own. Fame and noteriety were not
a significant part of the scheme.
We must remember as well that in earlier eras, art was taught by "masters"
after the guild model; not by teachers or by professional educators with a
rather different responsibility to fill and with quite a different set of
skills. The masters tradition is one of legacy. The educational model is
more closely allied with manufacture. We must remember that up through
Bouguereau the renaissance version of the masters tradition with its
inherent heirarchy and fame held sway. With the ascendency of the
"moderns" the requirement of a masters blessings (or curses) was swept
away by the god: Individuality. Certainly, remanents of the older
tradition are with us today. There have been any number of attempts to
revive it, from Morris to the Bauhaus. But, in general, the school and
the teacher have replaced the studio and the master.
Before we can act to change the system we must recognize our place in it.
The fine art department is not so far removed. In fact, the department of
art education may, in places, be a subsystem of the fine art department.
There are plenty of discrete "issues" and responsibilities on my plate and
the possible addition of a new one does not fill me with "happy happy joy
joy" enthusiasm. I would rather encorporate it into my responsibility to
the community, my responsibility to explain art to the people who's taxes
will be possibly paying my wages.
The old school mentality is self-limiting and isolating. We can easily
see how often the works of the media darlings are scorned by the larger
body of taxpayers. This is not to say ANYTHING about the quality or
validity of the tradition of modern and quasi postmodern art. More
important, I feel, is the attitude of the leading edges towards thr
general populace. Neither should this be seen as a submission to the
ideals of "popular taste" and zealotry. More important are the
possibilities of art as a vital part of culture and social contexts.
I realize I have expanded the discussion far beyond its beginnings, but I
want to point out the importance of remembering the interconnections, the
ecology of the culture in which we participate. A change of perspective
here has a very significant effect somewhere else. As, when slipping a
turkey onto an already overburdened Thanksgiving table, adjustments must
be made all around.
The attitudes of college faculty members are very close and apparent. It
is tempting to think in terms of a direct and immediate solution to a
problem not of our making. There is a larger picture. I'm attempting here
to persuade people to look at these problems in terms of a balanced
ecology rather than as a machine with an uncooperative part. It is the more
difficult perspective, I will admit. But I believe it offers more value
for the effort.
Dr. Galbraith asked:
> How can art educators broadly defined to include art education students,
> K-12 teachers, and college level teachers and faculty help studio faculty
> rethink how they conduct critques, and how they teach art?
One way might be to explore the meanings, the current outcomes and
the possibilities of art education WITH OUR STUDENTS. Work with the
local community to find an art education with a "good fit." Approach art
as if our lives depended on it, look for ways in which it does. You'll
find them. Help the studio faculty who are yet to be and who WILL BE to
think out the processes. Take your time. Use your art and be an artist. Do
This will not work for everyone. Of course. I expect a few might find
this perspective of value, but not many. Dr. Galbraith is correct. We need
more alternatives; many more. This is the place and the time to share
them. Don't be shy! :) The more the merrier!
(who, in the scheme of things is only a commentator from the community,
and NOT an authority --despite his "occasional" long-windedness and pompous