“Part of the problem is that artists of my generation were not educated. We were not given the equipment because it was generally believed to be irrelevant. Drawing, eye-hand coordination, art history – Really fundamental stuff was considered unnecessary.” – Eric Fischl
I recently read an article on the Huffington post called “Is De-skilling killing your arts education?” by F Scott Hess. In it, he describes the attitude of the “academic field” of fine art. He is able to concisely explain the reservations I have about continuing my arts education through the university system.
It is not that I dislike academics. In fact, I patently enjoy academic subject matter and possess a natural affinity for them. I realized something while sitting in an English class one day though. The professor would always ask us to describe what the author had meant. I have always enjoyed the exercise of placing myself in another perspective, but I also realized that there was something fundamentally wrong with the question itself. Having done creative work I understood that I rarely understood my own intentions in successful work to the degree I could explain what another artist or author had meant by their work. The questions of “what the artist/author meant” was simply a pretext to describe my own experience.
The pedagogy of the academic system strives for some kind of intellectual purity however. It seeks to apply objectivity to otherwise subjective experiences. When objectivity (in the humanities) is understood as thinly veiled disguise, it becomes a wonderful tool with which to foster individual growth. The inherent risk however is the institutional inertia of orthodoxy. A rejection of the exercise of individual interpretation which does not conform to a group consensus. Because of this, I believe fine art barely qualifies as an academic subject at all as the making of art cannot be approached in either a pedagogic or surrogate way. It develops organically and in direct correlation to physical motor skills and sensual (visual, touch) stimuli.
“Conceptualism replaced abstraction as the dogma of the day, and has been in turn replaced by Postmodern hybridity, identity politics, or pure theory on the majority of college campuses...The idea that you might train a surgeon to be clumsy, or an engineer to build poorly, or a lawyer to ignore law, would be patently absurd. In the arts, however, you will find an occasional musician who purposely plays badly, or a writer who ignores grammar, but only in the visual arts is training in the traditional skills of the profession systematically and often institutionally denigrated.” F Scott Hess "Is De-Skilling Killing Your Arts Education."
Rather, Visual Fine art is a craft. It is an art in the oldest definition possible, “a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice.” To have an idea is not enough. The realization of the idea through the traditional media is necessary. The communication of that idea through the medium alone is also a requisite. Words cannot compensate for a gap between vision and execution. A philosophical understanding is not equivalent to a sensual experience. I believe we should be reminded that the forbearers of Western Art, the Greeks, described their art with the word “techne” meaning craft or craftsmanship. It describes the act of making and doing over impassive abstract understanding.
Here is a link to the original article. It is certainly worth the read.