Saturday, October 2, 2010

Opening Salvo

First, a little bit about my background. I have a Bachelor of Arts from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I also have an Master of Fine Arts in printmaking from the University of Georgia in Athens. I bring up these two pieces of paper first not because they have shaped my work more than anything else but rather, they have forced me to establish my "perch" and stick to it more than anything else. Being alive in the 21st century and doing the work that I do are oftentimes at odds with what is going on in the proper world of art. Especially in academia, where being part of the curve or ahead of it is a constant source of pressure. My work is not part of this curve but rather a reflection of the arc of my own personal experience. I have never identified with the urban, post-modern and slightly cynical outlook of so much of the current art scene. Let me elaborate a bit further...
My view of art in a very broad sense is an idea contained within or blended with a medium that complements, supports or otherwise enhances the idea. There is a balance between the two. Technique matters in the context of supporting the idea. Today, thumbing through most current art mags (ArtForum, Art in America, Etc) and reading a blurb or two but mostly just looking at the pictures, I come to the very swift conclusion that technique, process and the actual building of an idea with materials does not matter much at all. If THE IDEA is current, profound, groundbreaking or whatever adjective curries favor that week, then the work is validated. The idea is EVERYTHING. I did not learn to "paint" in school. I taught myself. And I think this is because the nuts and bolts of color mixing, use of mediums, building a painting with value and the host of other technical processes necessary to make a picture and understand how painting evolved historically is not valued or even known by many artists anymore. This is a profound loss to arts education and is creating generations of artists who think relevant art history began around World War II. I have seen students with advanced art degrees who can't draw a figure or even put together an interesting two dimensional composition. You should not have to read the artist's statement or listen to the accompanying audio tour in order to "get" what is presented in front of you. It should first and foremost be a profound VISUAL experience. Where it goes from there......?


  1. I agree Mike, pretty much wholeheartedly. I do question the role of academic teaching of art - I mean the academies and atelier styles of teaching - and their relevance today. I so emphatically agree that there is a lack of basic skills and techniques being taught at so many colleges and universities these days. My experience though with many students "trained" in the academic style, is that they can't let go of the "rules" and their work blends into that of so many others, and/or they don't enjoy what they do very much. They lost their voice in the process of learning the skills and they can't seem to shake off their "training". I think there is a middle way, one I strive to reach when I teach - teach enough technique via perceptual painting exercises so that they gain confidence and experience through doing, without squashing all of freedom that comes with spontaneity and what I call "engaged not-caring".

  2. Good stuff Phyllis. I debated bringing up the whole "atelier" training resurgence which seems to be gaining ground these days. I feel the same way about how all that work tends to blend together but I like that people are searching it out and using it as they see fit. I've got a few old books, etc and I really like the discipline it inspires but it does tend to shut down other avenues of expression. I think this didactic approach is better appreciated later in life rather than in the formative years of arts training. At least it has been for me.

  3. Hi Mike!
    Firstly, welcome to the south! And thanks for stopping by my blog.
    And yes I do own two of your beautiful bug prints. They hang on my living room wall in Melbourne.
    As for your much to think about but I would have to agree with your main point. Keep it coming!

  4. For a laugh on this subject, I recommend this video of a Mike Daisey performance:

    It talks about how artists who are trained in schools tend to retreat into academia. At around 3 minutes the rant about the ivory tower begins, and it culminates in this very funny bit:

    “And, increasingly, people who teach people theater have never acutally worked in theater. In a couple of generations, no one who is teaching will have been taught by anyone who worked in the acutal theater, and the entire enterprise will dissolve into a kind of intellectual mist that will have no connection to the kinds of things that are happening in this room tonight.”