Rethinking Art Education
Introduction by Steven Henry Madoff
In recent years the role of the art school has moved to a position of prominence, pushed there by the encroachments of an aggressive marketplace and the professionalization of every aspect of the artworld, from the dominance of gallery and museum brands, to the cultural tourism of art fairs and biennials, to today's art itself now so often created precisely for the scale, spectacle, and capitalization of these events.
Under such pressures, art education has become the subject of widening debate, raising a range of issues and questions. To whom should the academy be responsible? Presumably to its students and faculty. But what about to its local community, as a social stakeholder? To the global community, on which it makes its mark as a moral authority or as a talent factory? Should the art school be a research center that enlightens conceptual practices while de-emphasizing skills, or a course of study in entrepreneurship, presentation, strategic thinking, and other matters to prepare young artists for the ruthlessness of the market? Or is art school in the 21st century simply the physical surrogate of MySpace and YouTube—the spawning ground as social network?
Of course there are numerous ways to answer these questions and many others—and a range of conferences and publications attests to this. As an outgrowth of my involvement with a series of international symposia sponsored by the Anaphiel Foundation in Miami, I recently brought together two of the most distinguished artists and art teachers alive today, John Baldessari and Michael Craig-Martin. Their conversation captures some essential lessons from their experiences over 30 years at CalArts and UCLA, and Goldsmiths College in London, respectively. And in their voices we hear the seriousness, wisdom of hindsight, and risible memories of two old pros whose improvisations and practicality still shed light on the issues facing art schools now. Lane Relyea lays out many of these with vehement clarity (and more than a few moments of j'accuse), describing exactly what is at stake in this continuing conversation, and what alternatives are in play to rehabilitate the noble, broken, and endlessly malleable legacy of art education. One of the more interesting questions concerns the very nature of the academy: Do we even need this centuries-old institution anymore? Claire Bishop suggests that the very concept of the art school is being eroded by new initiatives that artists and collectives are establishing—initiatives as fluid, itinerant, and potentially expansive as the artworld itself.
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