MANIFESTO ON ART PEDAGOGY
What is the value of a one hundred and twenty thousand dollar art degree?
We have been up all night, my friends and I, questioning the real political potential of art. Sitting on cement under a yellow mosquito covered lamp, arguing about art theory until the drunken creatures of the night had found their way back to their overpriced bedrooms in the city we call home, Boston.
Boston, a city of brownstones turned status symbol, sports embracing spectacle, tourism profiting on revisionist history, and students that never grow old, replacing one another like a worm regenerating its amputated tail.
Boston, haven to Ivy League Universities, the burdens of the white male intellectual, the atrocities of colonial America, and the ever multiplying parasites of gentrification.
Boston, home to the only publicly funded art institution in America, increasingly privatized. Perpetually feeding larger portions of the bloody carcass of the art student to the beast of capitalism, the heavy cost of a design career. Maybe not $120,00 like the institutions of our choice, but still left a decade or more in debt.
Yet, we sit behind the safety of our desks praising the artist as the creative problem solver but ignore the very issues that collide into us like a rude pedestrian on our walks home. We hide behind theory, the reading, discussion, and evaluation of Art, Art History, and Art Theory.
Art, if not taught and utilized properly, is a monster no different that the atrocities of late capitalism itself. It can be used as a poison to lead the euphoric creative intellectual towards a heavenly pristine death, void of all the problems of the real world.
Thus, we, artists of all disciplines, must examine, evaluate, re-evaluate, and discuss how we engage with our Art Educations for the preservation of our creative integrity. We must actively fight against the slavery of the artist to capitalism. We must revolt against the pillars of inactive and exclusive intellectualism. We must seize the knowledge spoon fed to us by our institutions and demand that pedagogy change to accommodate the shifting cultural, political, and economic landscape of the lived world. We must actively question the tools we are given by our institutions, and rework them into weapons against racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, late capitalism, intellectual elitism, and the real issues of our real world.
For this reason, we must have an understanding of our art pedagogy, and an aim in its evaluation in order to understand how we can make traction towards this aim.
- The Art World does not exist. The Art World is a construct that exists in the real world used as a tool to seperate the creative elite from the issues of the real world. It is used as a tool to justify the canonization of the mimetic works of the creative genius who’s work aspires to make the viewer feel something, to affirm that they are important by making work in conversation with The Art World, to validate their ego as a visionary while the work itself does nothing but reiterate the inconsequential dialogue of the potential of color, or the breaking of past art traditions.
- This is not to say that these dialogues are totally useless if utilized properly. Breaking tradition can be the site for revolution against creative oppressions, the potential of color psychology can be used to convince the viewer of the artists position on the actual content of the work, the ability to make a viewer feel something can inspire them to make tangible change. These are the tools of the artist, and their mere use with no end goal does not warrant their canonization as important works of art. A work that aims to make a viewer feel something is not as poignant as how the viewer feels, for example, when oppressive and dangerous legislation is passed on a National scale.
- However, to examine these canonized works is crucial. We can not deny that the history of Art has valued these works of men considered creative genius. An ahistorical education is not an education, it is diversion from the real issues of art pedagogy.
- Consequently, a revisionist history is also not an art education. We must refuse to learn about Joseph Beuys as an important historical artist without discussing his Nazi associations. We must refuse to learn about Western Art History without discussing why much of the work made by people of color or women is omitted or demoted to the low art category of craft rather than mastery. We have the potential through agency in our classrooms to ask these questions, and create spaces for these dialogues, to change how we are taught Art History.
- We must not accept the education of Art without leaving the classroom with an understanding of how the knowledge we are taught can be applied to change the issues of the real world. What is the value of reading about Architecture without understanding how its impact on how we segregate and genrify cities informs our cultural, political, and social landscape. What is the value of reading about Architecture without understanding how we, as creative problem solvers, can create interventions that both share what we have learned and create traction towards solving the issues of our cities.
- The creative genius is a mythological creature. No man, even if he thinks and creates differently than his peer, is a creative genius. This is a word we use to elevate the arts education, intellectual modes of thinking, and the bourgeois creative separate from the working class. Rothko and Pollock were not geniuses, they had the advantage and privilege of making work to escape the real world without being critical of it. Why Rothko did not make work critiquing the elitism or racism he experience at Yale, or after his immigration to the United States I do not know. That work, however, may have been more valuable than his use of color.
- However, we must not hold the artist as responsible for retelling their hardships, or making work critical of their oppression. To limit the artist to making work about their oppression is oppressive itself. This is to say, that work totally uncritical of the real world itself is without need for canonization. It is important to make work about the issues of the real world, if Rothko had made work even about how colors and shapes are used as tools for psychological manipulation in propaganda and advertising, the work may be useful in its canonization.
- This does not mean that beauty is not useful. In a world populated with capitalist advertising and cold glass towering fire hazards, beauty itself can be a site for revolution. It can draw the viewer in, grasp their attention, and hold them captive in its poignant critique. Without beauty, we have nothing but an empty audience and an incurable disease of capitalist aesthetics informing how we engage with our cities and one another.
- We must actively integrate non canonized artists into our pedagogy to both understand our current history and the real history. The real history must be one that does not limit its scope to artists with degrees, artists of white male privilege, artists born with the money to make art, and artists appreciated by The Art World.
- We must value and listen to artists exterior to our institution, and artists in our cities operating without arts degrees to dismantle the elitism of art pedagogy, create a network of working artists, and foster space for intersectional dialogues. To work towards future histories of art that are not void of the issues of the real world, work against elitism and discrimination, and include successes of art as a medium with potential for political and social change, we must practice the changes we would like to achieve in our institutions and artistic practices now. Community run artist spaces have the same capacity for critical arts education that institutions do, and to reject this is to devalue the successes of artists without degrees, ignore histories of radical artist run spaces, and reassure old problematic traditions of The Art World.
- To ensure that our future histories of art are not void of the issues and of the real world and work towards solutions, we must seize the means of writing these histories. To make and practice this work is not enough! If the intellectuals creating the essays and textbooks that will enter art pedagogy to be taught in our institutions and inform the next generation of artists, curators, and teachers, we must assume that without change they will continue to omit, devalue, or revise our artistic practices, works of art, and political and social critiques. However, change is possible. We must learn to read and write as critically as we make work. We must learn how to document and write these future histories now, and share that knowledge with others in order to achieve a more encompassing, diverse, and critical art pedagogy. If we continue to let those with the privilege of being good academics, a category often exclusive to white cis men, we will give up our own works potential for long term change. History is written, and thus we must learn and fight to publish, to print, and to write.
- We must agree that a class does not have to occur within the walls of an institution to be a class. We must agree that a student is not only the status of someone enrolled at an institution, but encompasses any person in the pursuit of knowledge studying with another person with that knowledge. The person learning coding from a friend in a bedroom is a student in that context. A person learning painting at a community arts organization is a student in that context. By sharing skills and being open with knowledge, we can all be teachers to one another. A student must not always pay to be a student. A teacher must not always be paid to be a teacher. To pay and be paid does not always include money, but can take the form of skill sharing, food, or gratitude.
- We must know and be aware of one anothers artistic practices, personal histories, and location in the world itself. We each navigate learning and making spaces at different levels of knowledge, experience, mental health, economic positions, and other variables caused by the real world that inform our ability to learn. We must accommodate students who take longer to make work or complete assignments who work full time jobs, have children, or struggle with personal trauma or mental health. This does not mean that we should not push these students to grow, it is our responsibility as students and teachers to help one another learn and grow. The point here is that the penalization of a student due to absence, lateness, or slow growth is the inherited disease of elitism passed through institutional pedagogy. We must consider other ways that are more effective to help these students stay on their individual path, not the pace and path expected by traditional academic institutions. For example, if a student is so depressed or anxious they are struggling to attend school, how can we aid them in keeping on their path of learning through a triple pronged approach of mental health resources, other styles, modes, or approaches to understanding the content, and a system of accountability rather than penalization. We have computers and smartphones to aid us, we have strong communities where a peer mentor may aid the student struggling, we have libraries and shared equipment to lend the student if they did not make it to class. We can hold them accountable through clear expectations and goals discussed and agreed upon with the student, not imposed by the teacher or institution. To penalize a student rather than to hold them accountable is a lazy, ineffective, and elitist mode of teaching.
- Just as art institutions must unify in solidarity with community art organizations, artists without degrees, and artists of diverse experience or resources of learning, we must unify in solidarity our studies of art with studies and acts of other disciplines. Science and math, history and language, political activism and business, philosophy and agriculture, these are all studies of the artist. Without the intersection of art education to other disciplines, we limit arts potential as a medium, separate art from the real world, and put artists at a lived disadvantage. The artist must know business to have the potential of working successfully as an artist navigating late capitalism. The artist must know science, math, and physics to understand some of the practical formal decisions of architecture. The artist must know tactics of political activism to create successful political critique or intervention. This does not justify what we call liberal arts in our institutions. A required course on Literary Traditions has both no use to the student who’s practice and privilege has been reading great works of literature throughout their prior educations nor use to the student whose education has not had the privilege of learning how to critically read or understand theme. We must instead, offer the cross registration of all courses across all departments. Prerequisites must be flexible. Courses in the cross disciplinary study of all intellectual pursuits must not be requirements for the sake of accreditation, but aimed at being flexible to the students prior educational experience and diverse in types of study to aid the students individual path. What if instead of a Literary Traditions requirement, we had the requirement to enroll in one of 4 options: Introduction to Critical Reading: A Survey of Culturally Influential Works, Literary Traditions of Scientific and Mathematical Writing, Socratic Seminar on Theoretical and Philosophical Essay, and Advanced Literary Traditions which included a book or essay each week of Graduate level texts. Requirements are important because they can become sites of learning new interests, passions, or intersections of research. However, by limiting these requirements we often waste the students time by not respecting the students prior knowledge of the subject matter or their personal aims for their creative practice.
- We must be actively discussing how these fields of studies intersect with creative practice in order to ensure that the cross disciplinary study of these subjects does not become a burden, misunderstood as menial labor. We must also reconsider which definitions of Science, Art, Math, and so forth that we accept as true. Why is an engineering course not considered a Math or Science at our institution? What and how do we as a community define and agree on the practical definitions of these terms for the purpose of completing requirements in cross disciplinary study? We must discuss these definitions with other institutions who hold these requirements. We must write, use, and reevaluate these definitions based on their success or failure in our curriculum of cross disciplinary studies.
- To understand a work as critical or with potential for political change, the work must not be didactic. To study the work of didactic artists should come as a lesson of the failure of the work, not its success. To make work with obvious moral, patronizingly instructional, and transparent educational motive is to leave no room for question, evaluation, and constructive disagreement. These three acts are crucial to critical thinking. Many artists are already of liberal mindset, and the regurgitation of our similar ideologies back to one another is futile. The work is effective and subversive if it does not tell or show the viewer what to think, but instead guides the viewer to a critical conversation or reflection about the content. For example, the Shepard Fairey Hope poster of former President Barack Obama tell us what to hope for, Obama as President. However, the work would have been more politically effective if it guided us to a critical reflection on what to hope for in policy and action during Obama’s presidency. If the work was able to guide us towards a complex dialogue on political legislation, then we may have had the knowledge of what to advocate and who to work with in order to demand those legislations. The work was successful as propaganda but not critical political art. To study works as such as critical political art is to do the artist a disservice in realizing the full potential of their own practices, and to have an understanding of how the works of others actually inform the real world.
- Art is dependent on artistic production, the modes of curation and exhibition, the current socio-economic conditions and the political context. This does not mean that it is a means of political action, but instead can be an active part of an activist practice. Thus when studying art, we must not only examine how the work functions formally, or within the context of its exhibition. We must also demand that in our art education we learn how the work fits into the socio-economic and political context of its time. We must examine how that shifts as work is shown over time in new contexts. We must learn how the work fits into the life of the Artist and their other activisms, practices, and their career. We must learn the impact and reception of the work during the time it was made. An Art education without the examination of this interrelated histories is ahistorical education.
- If Art is dependent on artistic production, we must create inclusive spaces that encourage and reward artistic production.
- If Art is dependent on modes of curation and exhibition, we must study the industry of curation, study its history, and understand how to operate successfully both within and exterior to the industry of curation.
- If Art is dependent of the current socio-economic conditions and political context, we should make space in our classes to discuss the real world, current events, and socio-economic and political histories.
- If the value of a $120,000 art degree, or any other means of art education, is creative problem solving, critical thinking, access to tools, resources and knowledge, and growth in artistic practice, the we must also learn how to use these tools to achieve the political changes, the social landscape, and the future histories we would like to see.
Manifesto on Art Pedagogy is a publication by Montana Gulbrand featured in Boston Art Review Issue 01: Notions of Place.The magazine is available for purchase at Bodega, Brookline Booksmith, MIT Press Bookstore, Institute for Contemporary Art, and Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard. The magazine is also available for purchase at Boston Art Review's online shop.