What the hell are we teaching artists?
It’s beautiful up here. And I’m feeling like I’m having an actual piece of vacation. Even though there’s work in the morning, I have felt relaxed and happy all afternoon. In fact I feel good enough to rant.
Sometimes the New York Art world (which is shorthand here for the Current State of Affairs in my chosen field) makes me furious. These mornings here I meet with and talk to artists, many of them on a brief hiatus from their regular lives in New York. In so many cases, I hear stories of people frustrated and cowed by a system that they percieve as unyielding and oppressive. Now there’s oppression and oppression, these aren’t people having to struggle against totalitarian regimes in conditions of desperate poverty. Their wounds are more often than not self inflicted, stemming from a belief system that makes them feel like failures. But I have to ask myself, where are they picking these beliefs up from?
And it makes me ask, as someone who has taught artists for twenty years, what the fuck are we teaching artists? How is it that so many people exit art school with a hunted, hounded sense that they only get one shot to be noticed by the right people to get inside the system that will then treat them like some sort of piece worker, churning out stuff until it is no longer interested in what they have to offer? How is it that so many artists have so little sense of their own agaency, or hope that they can make their own lives meaningful? Why do so many feel defeated out of the gate? When did the notes of cynicism, pusillanimity and self sabotage become part and parcel of the art curriculum?
Artists have created spaces of freedom, and turned them into cages of attitude. So many of the people I talk to when I do these sorts of visits are afraid to make the work they really want to because they’ve been given the message that it is too confusing, or too goofy or too obsessive or just too something for anyone else to be interested in it.
Artists and art teachers: we are the guardians of our own power and our own freedom. The next time you start talking to students about how they will never have a career, or how many of them will stop making work or how they have to position themselves and get “exposure” or any of the other tripe that passes for “realism” in art school, shut the fuck up. you are perpetuating a system that keeps artists at the bottom of the heap.