Monday, March 17, 2008

Good Work if You Can Get It Open Thread

Hell is relative, or so they say. In New York, where very talented artists I know work as construction workers, bartenders, bookkeepers, data entry specialists, proofreaders, and all kinds of other glamorous professions, the notion that the poor Danish artists who've been living off the state, but are now being told they have to teach to earn their way, might strike some as a nice step up. From The Art Newspaper:
Unemployed artists in Denmark should teach in schools instead of just receiving unemployment benefits, the ministries of culture and education have proposed.

Although Denmark has the lowest rate of unemployment in the European Union at 2.7%, graduates from art schools are far more likely to be jobless than the average Dane. [...]

By employing artists as teachers both problems could be partly solved, suggests the government. "We have always had an unemployment rate higher than average and if politicians want to employ arts graduates as teachers, they should do so. But they should not ask us to train students as teachers. That is not our task," Mikkel Bogh, director of the Royal Academy, told The Art Newspaper.
That raises a good question, though. Should art schools prepare their students to teach? My first response to that notion is "of course not, art schools should give them the space and guidance to master the craft of their chosen media [which may not include "craft"] and the courage to go out there and take on art history." But perhaps I'm being unrealistic. Perhaps a course in arts education, presenting artists with a few of the skills they might need to teach one day, isn't such a bad thing. I mean, I know artists who very much want to quit their mind-numbing day jobs and teach art. Does a lack of education education make this more difficult for them? Would graduating from a program known to require arts education as part of its curriculum automatically give them a leg up in competing for opening instructor positions?

Consider this an open thread on arts education, teaching, and the artist lifestyle.

Labels: artists lifestyle, arts education


Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

Just about every artist friend I have is wrestling with the teaching debate. I actually think for a lot of us it seems like an ideal situation. (I'm a bit concerned about becoming part of "the machine" though). Teaching in a good school, even adjunct, is a very difficult position to get nowadays. More likely is a small lib arts school, or a good one but way out of state (bring your thermals). As far as should schools prepare artists to teach?... Grad school itself is the most required qualification anyhow. Luckily most who go to grad school teach to the undergrads. That's how we get our chops.
I do believe that the more educators and the more educated people we have, the better! Can artists teach more than just art? is the question I have.

3/17/2008 09:02:00 AM  
Anonymous pedro velez said...

Teaching is great, it keeps you on your toes.

3/17/2008 09:31:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

It doesn't make sense to limit this topic to arts programs. What about all the other programs in the humanities, social studies/history, philosophy, English. Is it impractical to have liberal arts curriculums focus solely on specific subject areas or should we make it mandatory for students to take typically useless education courses, the kind that are necessary for teacher certification in the public schools? I personally do not think arts education classes should be mandatory but they should be made more widely available. Most people who get a liberal arts degree and go on to teach do so in the public schools not in the field of higher education and that is purely based on job availability. And not only that, many adjunct professors or people holding Ph.Ds are realizing that they can make out much better in the public education system. Often adjuncts get no benefits, can lose their job from semester to semester, get low wages, and teach the crappiest courses. In the public schools, at least in NYC, teachers with Ph.Ds are on the high end of the pay scale, get excellent and cheap medical (and dental!) benefits, get a pension, get summers off, and have job security once they are tenured, after three years of teaching. Try getting tenure nowadays at any college or university.

Teaching in public schools requires a bachelor's degree in your subject area and a poop load of education classes, passing a minimum of two state education tests, including one in your chosen subject area, a serious number of observation hours, and several work shops in detecting drug and physical abuse, etc. It is a costly affair. To teach even as an adjunct on a college level, no matter how big or small the college is, you need a graduate degree. They are expensive too. I think liberal arts school should include more education classes in their schedules so forward thinking students will at least be able to get some credits out of the way before getting their undergraduate degree. I would have preferred to do that rather than waste money taking such required courses as racquetball, bowling, tennis, and yoga. I got plenty of exercise on my own by riding my bike around campus and it didn't cost me anything.

3/17/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

It seems that teaching is the only alternative an art school can come up with. It's self perpetuating. Want to teach? pay for more classes, so we can give our part time uninsured instructors something to do.

Have you noticed the growth of art schools?? The Maryland Institutemust have trippled in size in the last 10 years, spending lavishly on new and renovated buildings.Undergrad basic tuition is 30,000.

Bottom line is you should follow your passion, but be prepared to use your creativity to make art and your way-it can be done.

3/17/2008 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous nathaniel said...

I love teaching, even see it as part of my practice on some level, and am about to accept a position somewhere back in the states (first time I'll live there in 8 years!). But, yeh, I'll have to bring my thermals (per Aaron), and make time for arts production on weekends and summer - and around spending time with my daughter - for now. I wish I didn't have to teach, even tho I want to -- on and off or adjunct in a bigger city would be better, if I could afford to support a family -- but compromise is necessary, and I don't imagine I'll be any less happy than I already am, any more busy than I already am, or ever stop pounding out work on a regular basis. Still, teaching is definitely not for everyone. And sometimes bartenders make more... Perhaps once my daughter starts school I'll go half-time....

3/17/2008 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems to be an endless, never answerable question. Currently, both situations are occurring in my house.

My partner has a mind numbing job at an NYC institution, and I teach at 3 schools, in two states, as an art adjunct. Frankly, both situations suck. The institution pays well, but is 40 hours per week. As we all know 40 hours per week really kills studio time as the weekends are used to catch up on other tasks.

For myself, teaching as an adjunct allows me some freedom, but pays nothing. And by nothing I mean $1800 - $2400 per 15 week class, with no health care or benefits. It's abusive, the institutions know it, and could care less. One institution employs 4 full time art faculty in their department, and 45+ adjuncts.

Something has to change.

3/17/2008 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger chris said...

The field of teaching in the arts is so over saturated, I don't think creating more teachers has any upside. We should be seeking to expand the range of possibilities, not narrow it.

3/17/2008 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach occasionally, and I enjoy it. Personally, I prefer to teach adults, whether through a college's continuing studies department or through art guilds. The feedback is immediate, and it's possible to develop a loyal following who will take a course a semester with you, or a course a year. Don't settle for the institution's offered price if you don't think it's fair. Set your price and don't waver. If you have what they want, they'll pay you for it. (I guess this is true for many businesses, as we've learned over the past week....)

As for accademia, there's a world of difference between being a faculty member and being an adjunct. Even on staff, there's a huge difference between being full-time (and tenured) and being a half-time lecturer who has affiliations but no security or benefits.

The lower you go on the totem pole, the more you will be exploited. God help the adjuncts. That's the system. You may be asked to attend faculty meetings or to sit in on a faculty member's class. If those take place on a day when you're not on campus, well, that's an extra day you're going to give to the institution. If you say No too many times, you're not a team player, but if you ask for compensation, there's usually no money in the budget.

If you're an artist who's looking to earn a living from teaching in this part-time or adjunct way, you won't. Your time will be eaten up with meetings, syllabi and the demands of needy students. Honestly, I suggest you look elsewhere. On the other hand, if what you want is spending money and you want the academic affiliation or the camaraderie of other artists who teach, then go for it.

One other thing: I would never teach in an institution in New York. The number of artists who are eager for work give you no room to negotiate better wages or hours. You'd be better off figuring out what you have to offer and then offering it through your own studio. Life classes? Painting with acrylics? Quilting? Whatever. Craigs List, blogs, postings in art supply shops will bring your initial students, and word of mouth will bring others. I paid my studio rent for several years with Tuesday and Thursday night life drawing sessions. And I got to draw, too.

If you're an entrepreneurial type and you're in a studio building, organize a loose consortium and offer classes as the "Such and Such Studio School." There's more administrative work the way, but you get to keep everything that comes in.

Pardon me for writing anonymously but I wanted to speak freely.

3/17/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I wanted to respond to your question about art education classes and whether or not they help give a budding teacher an edge.

Unless the artist is looking to teach K thru 12, art ed courses are not needed. They are not necessary to get a job at the university level. Having just gone thru the the interview process at CAA here are the things an artist needs to get the job:
1) Work,work and more work- art departments want fully engaged, working artists with active exhibition histories. Unless you teach at a community college, you are considered an artist first.

2) Diversify your skills- I have learned this the hard way. To anyone out there in an MFA program, I recommend taking the time to learn new skills so that (say you are a painter) learn graphic design or photography so you can teach those courses as well.

3) Luck- With the economy the way its headed things are about to get really tough on us adjuncts (hard to imagine it could get any tougher). The 2 schools where I teach are already cutting back and it looks like I may need to get some other employment just to survive next year. I currently teach 5-6 classes per semester and barely make it, I may be cut back to 1-2 in the fall.

4) Praying may also help (and thats coming from an agnostic!)

3/17/2008 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Nothing, except successes in the studio, delivers more satisfaction than teaching when it's going well. However, the culture of teaching, at both upper and lower levels, will cause you to suffer.

We have regulated away all the incentives to innovate in the public schools. The teacher's unions exemplify everything wrong with unions in general: corruption, inertia, protectionism. Jobs at private schools compare to university jobs in competitiveness and pay. Although to answer the question, urban and rural public schools need teachers so desperately that you can get around the myriad requirements one way or another. Frequently a school will allow you to teach as a substitute, pay you, and then waive education course requirements in return for the contact hours. So adding some education coursework into an MFA wouldn't have much effect on the graduate's competitiveness, especially against someone with an MA in Arts Education. I know several people who have taken education courses, and every single one of them characterized them as a waste of time.

University-level professors in the humanities, by the nature of their work, enlarge the applicant pool for diminishingly available university teaching jobs. Students graduate hardly qualified to do anything else - what else will one do with one's crocheted commentaries on contemporary capitalist cultural consumption, or what have you? The situation amounts to a Ponzi scheme. Even worse, adjuncts typically slave away at institutions with the idea that the university will consider them for full-time work. When associate professorships open, the university does a nationwide search for a candidate and selects someone with a promising career, which the adjunct doesn't have because he has been slaving away at the institution as an adjunct. Anyone who adjuncts more than four or five years with the expectation of landing tenure-track teaching is kidding himself.

I don't know if it constitutes a trend, but I've noticed something else lately: gallery and museum recognition of artists with advanced degrees in non-art fields. I first picked up on this with Christopher K. Ho, who has an M.Phil instead of an MFA. Then I noticed an advertiser on Culture Pundits, Sarah Ferguson, who has a PhD in Mathematics. What if conceptual art becomes so prevalent that the MFA turns into the wrong degree for a career as an artist?

3/17/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I have a completely different angle on this. My wife is an award-winning professor at a nationwide university. It's a position she basically fell into by accident; she discovered she was not only good at it, but enjoyed it.

Only a small number of people are truly good teachers. Just like any field: not everyone is talented in that area. I really don't think we, as a society, should encourage people to teach if it's not their calling. This includes artists.

3/17/2008 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

While I've been struggling with the debate of whether or not I should get my MFA, I've come to realise there are a lot of creative ways around not getting one. The greatest reasons being they're expensive and the jobs are hard to get once you graduate. That being the case, I'd rather stay in the studio, make art, get shows, and continue to pay off my already expensive undergrad education. I'm hoping that by attending residencies, I'll be able to fill the void without the expense.

In a positive direction around the lack of a terminal degree, I've found a great job running an extra-curricular art studio where I get to teach drawing and painting to kids who wouldn't otherwise have an arts education, since public schools no longer fund programs. I give them a classically based foundation, they have fun, I'm fulfilled because I'm giving back, and I still have er, at least some time to work on my art although that 40 hours does cut in something fierce.

To answer your question, I feel that it might be a really good thing to offer teaching courses to undergrads, because the ability to teach what you know doesn't come easy and it would be a valuable skill to have.

Having said that, I would very much like to see the world of art academia take the pressure off artists who might otherwise feel an elite terminal degree with a job in an elite institution (academia by it's very nature is elite, and all of us who participate in it are privileged) is the only trajectory there is. It should be made clear there are plenty of other community based and often artist-run venues where artists can teach and not sink further into ridiculous debt for a masturbatory career path. In other words, there are options.

3/17/2008 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think people are not already interested in teaching, people who are just using it as a way to make a living, should be encouraged to teach. I had more than enough bad teachers, resentful teachers, artists who would rather be in their studios, artists who don't want to pass on their knowledge (or contacts) to their competitors (their students). I've spoken about this before (maybe elsewhere, possibly at Sellout), so I won't go on and on, but I had a lot of unhappy teachers in art school. I agree that it's a ponzi scheme. It depends on your temperament (and whether you are good at and enjoy teaching, but I've always supplemented art sales with corporate office work. That sucks too, but in different ways.


3/17/2008 01:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First line above should read:
I don't think people WHO are not already interested in teaching,


3/17/2008 01:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The teacher's unions exemplify everything wrong with unions in general: corruption, inertia, protectionism. Jobs at private schools compare to university jobs in competitiveness and pay."

Okay let's get this straight; teachers' unions, and by association, public schools bad, and private schools good. Sorry if I disagree with this formula. Yes obviously unions have corruption and problems galore, and yes there are some good private schools, but I think that the typical Libertarian stance, let's throw the whole darn thing out and let the wisdom of unbridled capitalism, free from any and all government tampering, sort out the whole mess, is the byproduct of jaded people who have turned their backs on progressive politics and are too cowardly to bite the bullet and just become full fledged right wing nuts.

3/17/2008 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger jen said...

As a graduate of a grad school whose whole goal, it seems, is to churn out art professors, I can say that I wish they'd spent a little more time trying to churn out artists with business sense. While I'm just beginning to adapt to the NYC art world and its (mostly) capitalist ways, it was bit of a shock after attending two schools that didn't like to mention "art" and "money" in the same sentence. And call a piece of artwork a "product"? Blasphemy!

I have to admit that I am glad I have teaching as a back up, but I feel like it is quite a different animal to teach students how to carry on the traditions by teaching them to teach than to teach students how to be artists who break with those traditions to further the cause of art and hopefully make a living at what they love to do.

3/17/2008 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Okay let's get this straight; teachers' unions, and by association, public schools bad, and private schools good.

Not exactly. When I said "Jobs at private schools compare to university jobs in competitiveness and pay", I was referring to intense competition and lousy pay. You take a big financial hit going from public to private school, because the latter typically offers a safer environment and better students.

As for the rest, I can only speak for myself, but I personally refrain from becoming a right wing nut because I oppose what right wing nuts stand for: continuing the fiasco in Iraq, unchecked executive power, theocracy, curbs on individual liberties, pretty much the whole platform. You can easily find information about libertarianism online if it interests you.

3/17/2008 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

so boring this kind of debate - though of course necessary. The sometimes bitter, burnt out or otherwise disafected cryptomarxists at many institutions would do well to take an early retirement. Make room. The world has changed.

If you want to get a teaching position learn to use a computer - schools love someone who can teach marketable middle class skills (economy notwithstanding). There is always room for someone who can lay out catalogs, menus and bankruptcy flyers. Not glamourous enough? Fine, beg borrow or steal, its what artists do, time honored. Live off your spouse. Again, real artists are traditionally "scum" in the eyes of the bourgeoise, so don't sweat it.

SHould artists be forced to teach? is the question - yes absolutely, the bad teachers will gain valuable experience in rejection, which will only fuel their angst, and who among us doesnt recognize the value of angst as a muse?

That or go to Iraq as an embedded hemingway.

But why bother separating church and state? if you are lucky you can be a koons, Kostabi or Kinkaide (the three k's) - they eat their cake and enjoy it, too.

3/17/2008 03:15:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

As an ex-professor who will probably be a professor again in the future, I think that university works best when it's impractical.

The goal of a college is not the goal of a trade school. A college degree shouldn't get you anything practical at all. What it should get you is intellectual freedom from practicality. Ideally, a college graduate is a critical thinker who can back away from a problem and see it in the largest possible way, applying lots of different lessons in each unique real-world context to come up with the most workable solution to each problem.

So you don't get something specific that you can point to, but you get something much bigger: the ability to think for yourself.

College trains you to give yourself options. It's your job to use those options--to apply them to real-world situations as you see fit.

When colleges try to shortcut this intellectual work and present recipes for doing well at specific trades, they create students that are not very good at being critical thinkers who give themselves options. You wind up with a bunch of people who wanted school to give them more, instead of people who go and get more with what they got from school.

3/17/2008 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The sometimes bitter, burnt out or otherwise disafected cryptomarxists at many institutions would do well to take an early retirement. Make room. The world has changed."

Funny I thought the universities and colleges were filled with jaded Libertarians. Too old to be progressives, they become Libertarians so that they don't look bad in front of their mostly progressive students. I do agree though with the suggestion that hordes of crappy burnt out teachers should retire. The problem is they are at the top of the salary ladder during their final years so they usually hold out until the very end, regardless of how useless their curriculums and evaluative skills are. Let us follow the advice of the sage wisdom figure David Horowitz and rid the universities and colleges of thoese "brain-dead liberals" and get some healthy, patriotic conservative blood in there.

3/17/2008 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Some of the most distinguished practitioners (in any field -- science, art, law, etc.) make TERRIBLE teachers because they don't remember what it's like not to know everything they already know. They can't put themselves in someone else's mind set.

Also, making art is often solitary and relies on visual skills. Teaching is entirely social and heavily weighted toward verbal skills.

Some people are able to do both well, but I doubt that's the norm. I'd rather see artists employed in a WPA-style program rather than thrust into classrooms against their wills.

P.S. To all you artists working long hours at day jobs, consider moving to Montreal - "the new Berlin." Even if you're merely a permanent resident here, you get all the same grants and opportunities as Canadian citizens, including healthcare.

3/17/2008 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

In a pertfect world, I'd agree with Deborah: Learning for learning's sake. To make art, I might add, for art's sake.

Alas, this is not a perfect world. Down here on terra firma, art school should offer--no, require--a business course so that newly hatched artists understand how to get a resale number, find a studio, keep track of sales (or expenses, anyway)and understand something about how galleries work, how to make a presentation, how to make an impression and how to follow up on the leads they will work so hard to create.

As for teaching artists how to teach, I'm with Oriane and Chris: Don't teach if you don't feel a calling for it. Or as Sharon said, come up with your own educational offerings.

Whenever a discussion arises about teaching, I recall my mother's "advice" about having teaching as "something to fall back on." But if you go into debt for your undergraduate degree, and then for your MFA and you still can't find a teaching job that will actually pay a living (unless you're willing to relocate to Lower Podunk), you may well need something else to fall back on to pay for the fallback.

3/17/2008 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do we really need more artists in the world? If everyone is an artist, then who will buy the work?

That was only slightly facetious.

The ability to teach is as rare as the ability to sell. Some have it; most of us don't.

But as a curator what I've noticed is how teaching saps the energy from artists. I look at old work, grad school and a few years out, and it is exciting stuff. After five years of teaching/meetings/tenure track pretzelling, the work looks tired.

Ultimate conclusion - one answer does not fit all. Maybe all artists should be taught how to become electricians....

3/17/2008 03:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lisa, is that true re Canada? One can just move there and start getting healthcare, etc.? You don't even have to marry a Canadian?

Where do I sign up?


3/17/2008 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous 3:49,
I'd suggest thatthe reason early work may look fresher than work five years after the fact is not because of teaching per se. It's the stress of living in the real world and trying to make art while trying to pay studio rent, pay bills, deal with rejection.

And I'll bet that rejection more than any teaching job, or any 9-5 for that matter, is the more debilitating force. But that's for another thread....

3/17/2008 04:27:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I second Joanne's idea. All Humanities programs, English, Philosophy, Theater Arts, Painting, Sculpture, Film Studies,, should create a mandatory Freshman course titled Economics and the Arts. it course should be taught jointly by an economist and a working artist or gallery owner. They should tell students about the harsh statistical reality of the post college world and make them more business savvy and more realistic in their expectations. Then they can decide how they want to rack up an inordinate amount of student loan debt. I know for a fact that undergraduates take a minimum of three to five courses that they consider stupid or a waste of time so why not require this one helpful course. I know I wish I had taken a course like that in my Freshman year. At least I was smart enough not to get an MA degree in English and I switched to Library Science after working as a legal proofreader for a few years. There must be a better way to get real world experience and to develop the tool kit Deborah talks about in her comment. Sitting in lecture halls, doing drugs and jello shots and watching TV in the dorms, pulling all-nighters. I really don't know how much I learned from my undergraduate experience. If I was doing something that required more interaction with the world at large, rather than the insular college community, I probably would have learned a lot more.

3/17/2008 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

I couldn't agree more with the suggestion of business classes in art schools. My 2 1/2 years at Pratt never offered anything remotely similar, while my senior year at Cornish in Seattle required an applied art business class. Though most of my classmates groaned the entire way through it, I've found it to be the most valuable class I had in all my four years.

Also, Montreal is beginning to look very, very good.

3/17/2008 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I teach an art business class. It's the course I wish I'd had when I was in school.

Sometimes on the first day of the semester I ask the seniors, "OK, so who would like to earn $100,000 a year immediately after graduation?" Of course all the hands go up.

"Well, then," I tell them, "go into investment banking."

Everyone groans. Then I show them an exibition I curated and, artist by artist, I tell the class how each one makes a living. Fewer than half the artists are doing it through studio work alone--and these are solid, internationally exhibited midcareer artists. It's sobering. But necessary.

3/17/2008 05:09:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...


It's not the curriculum's fault that you didn't find it more worthy of your time than jello shots with your buds.

Liberal arts education is an amazing force, but it requires someone who's paying attention, who isn't holding down two jobs, who isn't conceiving of themselves as jumping through hoops.

It's an elitist thing to do, and it only works if you're going to be an elitist about it!

Instead of just making it more socially acceptable to not go to college, or to wait until that's the only thing you are doing, we attack the curriculum.

I think business of art classes in college are an awful idea. My own business of art class did nothing but put me back a few years and make me waste a ton of internal resources on stuff that isn't that important, first of all. And there are about a million places outside college where one can find out all the information they need!

To say that you need practical information in college is to assume that learning is a lifelong endeavor, and that those "worthless" classes were actually worthless. I call muggins!

3/17/2008 05:21:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

sorry, I meant "assume that learning is NOT a lifelong endeavor..."

3/17/2008 05:23:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

If I can remember back a few comments ago I think Joanne basically said that your concept of college is pie in the sky. I absolutely don't want to put words in her mouth though. I find your view of college nonsensical and oblivious to the profound structural and foundational problems that exist in higher education (just like they exist in grade school programs).

So you went after me. I didn't have 'buds' in college. Sorry if the hours upon hours of time I spent reading and writing in the library, editing the art section of the school newspaper, while completely avoiding parties doesn't seem like a worthy scholarly experience to you.

In fact, the friends I had in college, had to hit the pavement running so to speak right after school. I am glad you have this wonderful idealism about higher education but it might have to do with the fact that you worked in the environment and according to you, you plan on going back to it.

I don't know what your personal situation is in life but I can tell you this. Plenty of people I knew from college and who were hard working in college, who took full advantage of a free stduio, etc., are not making art full time now but are living lives completely outside the art world. And this is because of economic reality.

Yes they might continue to make art or see a museum or gallery show once in a while but they don't walk around saying I am a student for the rest of my life, blah blah blah. Even though they their interests usually manifest themselves as hobbies. Sorry but I had to drag out the horrid word.

Yeah so I don't think I had a receptivity problem. I did't have a problem tuning into the brave scholars who tried to open me up to the magical world of whatever you elude to instead of sharing their own prejudices, grumbling about their lack of creative time, and their frustration with sloppy and lazy student work and the nitpickings of the administration. I went to a SUNY school though so this of course impacts my overall impressions. The best thing about college was having a lot of free time to read what I wanted to read. This often had nothing to do, or only related tangentially to what went on in my classes. If I remember correctly, the entire visual arts building in my school was entirely empty, except for a few dedicated people, and only filled up when end of the semester deadlines were looming.

3/17/2008 05:48:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

So if I am not talking about a problem with the curriculum I don't know what I am talking about. The visual arts building was empty most of the smester and filled up when deadlines were looming. Oddly enough, the photography majors appeared to be the hardest working. And by the way please notice, Deborah, that aour opinins are based on our own experiences at college. You hated the art and business class you took so this shapes your opinions. I have expressed my views. Again though I went to a SUNY school so if you went to an expensive private school perhaps the experiences you had truly are a wrodl unto itself and has nothing in common with my experiences. But again this relates to economics.

3/17/2008 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Yes, it's true. We permanent residents are entitled to everything Canadian citizens get, except the right to vote or hold office. For all grants and government-funded project, we're considered "Canadian." And there's a LOT of government funding for the arts here.

Another benefit is the legal right to marry a same-sex partner. The only downside is snow.

The link to Canadian Immigration, if you're really interested, is:

3/17/2008 06:16:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Also if your mantra is "art education should be elitist" then there really is no point to this discussion. The way I read your comments it appears that you are saying that if you have to work at a job while you are studying art you won't be able to get the full impact of an art education. Funnily enough the hardest working person in the visual arts department in the school I went to also worked almost full time in the cafeteria because she was poor. As someone mentioned earlier there are so many factors involved in what people get out of school, what they take away from it, etc. Sorry if the word practical seems poisonous to you. Again, if you are lucky enough to be an elitist through and through and not have the practical realm muddy up your deep experiences as an artist that is great. So I guess my comments are aimed at people who are simply unable to erase practical reality so that they can focus all of their time and energy on creative pursuits. I would say that these people are necessary to those artists who want teaching jobs, because the enrollment levels in liberal arts colleges would drop dramatically without them.

3/17/2008 06:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie Vegh said...

I think Deborah does actually make a good point about the so-called impractical values of our liberal arts educations (and wealthy or not, I suspect a lot of us here have that background in some capacity), but only insofar as those critical skills are meant to equip us to cope with the challenges of the real world by using our brains creatively instead of succumbing to the predictable teach/get a cash-cow of a job to offset what you'd rather be doing scenarios at the first sign of financial trouble. In business terms, it's just another form of 'thinking outside the box' and could just as well manifest as something so practical as going into work for oneself and perceiving one's studio as a place of business as much as your privileged creative space where you get to ride your high horse all over the poor wage-slaving peasants. I mean, c'mon.

Under these circumstances, I don't think mandatory teaching training is any sort of a solution for the vast underemployment of artists, especially not for those who lack the skills for teaching. TA positions and the like exist in most art schools, even where they might be strictly unpaid and voluntary, so art students with the inclination certainly don't lack for the means to pick up these skills in a practical way.

Business studies of some sort, on the other hand, are well worth considering even in the wake of the whole liberal-arts-makes-you-think-different mindset. At the end of the day, it's just another battery drill in the critical toolbox, and access to more knowledge, especially of something as relevant as self-sufficiency, is always gonna be a good thing.

3/17/2008 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger the reader said...

If education is integrated into the learning that goes on at art school then I think it good be a valuable thing. The idea here is that as the student learns they are also thinking about how they would teach those ideas. Obviously this wouldn't mean simply copying the methods of their teacher but would rather be an exercise in tangential thinking that would involve asking the question, what other ways could this material be taught. the idea here is to tap in to the depth of understanding of a subject that you only get when you try to impart your knowledge onto someone else.

I had to laugh when a read franklin's question "What if conceptual art becomes so prevalent that the MFA turns into the wrong degree for a career as an artist?"
this reads as a bit of a doomsday scenario, the virus of conceptualism spreading so deeply in to the fabric of the art world that the only people who can get a job in art schools are those with pure maths degrees.
strangely enough i think artists (perhaps not all artists but artists non the less) are probably still the people most likely to be hired to pass on their knowledge of conceptual practice and i can't see this changing any time soon.

3/17/2008 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this an interesting "solution" to mandate that art students also learn to be art teachers. Why not make them learn graphics and web design skills? Get welding or electrical certifications? An Accounting cert on the side? plumbing?

Like most people I went to school for art because that's what I wanted to do. It would have been nice to have some sort of job certification to land in my lap but I had the option to go to school for art education like anyone else, but i didn't. I think a lot of people in school have the same kind of outlook. It's those of us looking back after graduation with no tangible jobs on the horizon that wish for this something extra. Perhaps if that is such a dire situation some kind of grants/fellowship to those who would genuinely be interested in it? I don't think handing it down as mandatory like a ruling is the way to go since we've already covered that some people just aren't meant to be teachers. To open an avenue to those who would genuinely jump at the opportunity would be a better route than swamping the teacher pool with everyone who walks out the door with a diploma.

we had one mandatory business of art class where i went to school for fine arts students. i think it was beneficial. it covered basic things like grant-writing, tax information, applying for shows, residencies, grad school, approaching galleries...etc. i think more than that one class would have been overkill. less may have been a disservice.


3/17/2008 08:12:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

Stephanie Vaugh said:

those critical skills are meant to equip us to cope with the challenges of the real world by using our brains creatively instead of succumbing to the predictable teach/get a cash-cow of a job to offset what you'd rather be doing scenarios at the first sign of financial trouble. In business terms, it's just another form of 'thinking outside the box' and could just as well manifest as something so practical as going into work for oneself and perceiving one's studio as a place of business as much as your privileged creative space where you get to ride your high horse all over the poor wage-slaving peasants. I mean, c'mon.

That's exactly what I meant. To borrow a biblical metaphor: we can either ask college to give each student a fish, or we can ask college to teach students how to fish for themselves. Or hunt, even. Or even plant crops. Ideally, it's up to them.

3/17/2008 08:17:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I guess the point I was trying to make, and might have made if I wasn't reacting rather than thinking as clearly as I could have been, is this; the best visual artist I met while an undergraduate was not a visual art major. She was a drop out, but practically everything she made was an amazing work of art. She had an abundance of talent and whether or not she sat in an art class and paid attention or not didn't matter. There are over 30,000 new MFA students per year. Does this mean that humanity is just more artistic now that there are more people in arts programs than ever before? I don't think so.

3/17/2008 08:26:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Sorry but what deborahfisher said in 3/17/2008 05:21:00 PM and what stephanie vegh (Stepahnie Vaughn?) said in the first paragraph of 3/17/2008 07:33:00 PM don't quite match up in my mind. But at least the other shoe has finally dropped and I can get back to my writing and editing.

3/17/2008 08:39:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...


1. I went to a large state university and paid for two art degrees out of my own pocket. I did not have significant financial help from my parents for most of my undergraduate degree.

2. Since I was paying for it, I decided that I was going to squeeze as much value as I could out of my time at school. I found that I could not concentrate on school and hold down a fulltime job. So I quit school until I had saved up enough money to afford *actually attending*, and I took out a sizeable loan so that I could go to school without working my last year.

3. The benefit I got from this was EXTREME. I got to take advantage of all the facilities you describe as empty. I had time to browse and time to think. I used school for what it was for.

4. Once you're really paying for your own education, that math or history class you found a "waste of time" becomes something you really reach to find meaning in. And you usually find it, by going to office hours, asking questions, doing the work and looking past the work.

5. I did re-enter "real life" with much sharper critical thinking skills, the ability to apply broad lessons to new situations in front of me, etc.

6. And I wasted no time whatsoever whining about the curriculum I was offered. I took what I was offered and I made it work for me and if it didn't work for me I kept turning it around until it did.

7. I might have been kind of awful to be around and really intense my whole undergraduate career, but damn if I didn't fully commit to being in school and take full responsibility for being a student.

That's where I am coming from.

From where i sit, it looks like it's really easy for you to concentrate on what people should be offering you and what was missing from your experience, but it misses the point for me. I learned that school is all about the student doing the work. If the student trusts the academic environment and does the work, then whole worlds open up. This was the single most important thing that ever happened to me in my life. It changed the way everything works for me. It distresses me that you'd rather focus on what the school didn't do for you or some small-vision idea of what life should be life when you're out of school, because that's not what school is about. It's about doing the work and changing yourself. I don't know how else to put it.

3/17/2008 08:44:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

I know how else to put it.

This whole discussion is about what schools should do for artists or art students, but that makes the conversation flow uphill.

It's so entitled for artists to think in terms of what should be done for them, and it's definitely not how the world works or how school works. School is about the student. The student submits to learning and is thereby delivered from ignorance. In order to do this well, the student has to be in a bit of a freefall.

Thinking about the real world and getting all practical disturbed my freefall. I think that most students are distracted from their own process of submitting to learning because they are focused on reality. But school is not reality. That is what makes it such a powerful place. That unreality is what makes that fantastic leap of faith that happens when you really learn intensely possible.

It's not pie in the sky. It happens. It happened to me. As a teacher, I work to make it happen for my students.

3/17/2008 08:58:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Now there goes the other shoe. Fine for you Deborah and best of luck with everything. Your description of your experience in college does not alter any of my opinions. Are far as I am concerned (Yes Deborah I do whine but we can't all be perfect beings like you can we?) your experience did not match up with the way I saw most students in the late eighties experiencing college. Maybe things are much different now. I paid every cent of my undergraduate and graduate education but this didn't magically turn me into the most intensest most attentive student in the world. I wish it did. And yes it is better if you take full advantage of everything that is available to you while in college but not everyone is able to do that, it really depends on your individual situation in life. But I do see a future career in self help on the horizon for you if the art thing doesn't work out.

3/17/2008 09:05:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

...or teaching art. They seem to be the same thing according to you.

3/17/2008 09:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I received my MFA from one of the top 5 art schools in the country, I graduated at the top of my class, was chosen for a teaching assistantship, and excelled in my department. I have been trying relentlessly for the past two years to find an entry level teaching position and haven't been able to. I have friends who slept through school, have no interest in teaching and now teach subjects they don't even know at places like Pratt, SVA, and Hunter. Let us not forget that receiving these positions often has so much to do with who you know and not your credentials or even your work. Yet we all scratch our heads and wonder why art education at most schools is so lacking.

3/17/2008 09:18:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...


I tend to rile people who are optimistic because I am so 'negative'. I enjoy reading your blog and I respect your opinions. I hope there are no hard feelings. I reviewed two shows at the Socrates Sculpture Park before I moved upstate. I absolutely love that place. A non-sarcastic best of luck to you. I admire your focus and determination and I am sure that if you continue to feel this way and exude such positive feelings you will do good things for your future students.

(I will never visit your blog again or review any show your work appears in.)

Just kidding...

Time to finish reading "The World Without Us" and go to bloody sleep.

3/17/2008 09:50:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Blog blog blog blog...

Just to reiterate, the comments I made about art school etc., are based on my experiences and the conversations I have had with people, in the blog sphere and in person. Instead of being small minded, whiny, and whatever else they have been called in this thread, I feel that they are true to the experiences many people had in art school and post art school. Have a nice day. Drive safely.

3/18/2008 07:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I thought you said on sellout that you got fellowships or scholarships or something, and didn't have to pay for school. I seem to recall someone came to the conclusion that the people who came out of art school with huge debt had negative feelings about the whole experience while the people who got school paid for had positive feelings. Am I remembering this wrong?


3/18/2008 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

My experience leads me to agree with Franklin's earliest post.

The security, and more importantly, insurance, provided by a full time teaching position at a university can be very helpful in freeing one up to be productive in the studio. It should be noted that there are research-oriented universities where you teach 2 days a week and are required to make and show work as part of your job description. There are other schools that require you to be on campus 4-5 days a week, do lots of advising and committee work, come in on Sunday for Parent's weekend, etc.

I left academia 2 years ago, and, I have to say, it was looking very bleak. I would be hard pressed to recommend to any graduate that they try to get a full time teaching job these days. The field has changed so much in the past ten years. The universities are run like corporations, which means that educating the student is no longer the priority, each professor needs to do the jobs that 2 or 3 people would have done years ago, tenure is ridiculously hard to get, and many professors are asked to participate in fundraising for their department because the administration has a hard time understanding the value of departments who are not bringing in big grants like the sciences. The students are now "consumers", which changes the classroom dynamic considerably.

That said, if you are in grad school and really want to teach, you should get the experience while you are IN grad school, to avoid the "they want someone with experience, but how do I get the experience if they won't give me a job?" dilemma.

3/18/2008 10:34:00 AM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...


The lack of hard feelings is mutual, and I am also reading The World Without Us and it is freaking me the fuck out!

I didn't mean to call your views whiny as much as I meant that I have a hard time with getting past my own students' entitlement to something they don't know anything about.

I think it's really easy for my own students to criticize what they are getting instead of squeezing the damn fruit.

I am *definitely* not perfect. Ask anyone who knows me. I was able to get really intense on school because I am way too intense in real life. Cest la vie--you probably piss off fewer people than I do...

You work what you've got. :)

3/18/2008 12:38:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

The section on Polymers is freaking horrifying. So many wrong decisions as a race...

3/18/2008 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

The Danes are funny making bums out of artist.

Instead of making them teach which would be a complete disaster, why not give say 5 or 6 years to get their careers going after that they should have to move on if they could not live off the art or the degree.

Of course re-training would be in order. It is interesting that the Danes are some of the most content people on earth. They don't have to pay for school or medical or dental.

They are so civilized.

I teach as well as my wife who just received tenure.
I agree with Kate it's one awful profession. She works a 40 hour week or more sometimes. It very demanding and it is now moving into a corporate model.

I am adjunct and its ghetto world as far a I can see, there is no way to get a full time job for me anyway.

The pay is not to bad but the BS you have to put up with from the student evaluations that are tied to your salary to dealing with an increasing dumbing down of the whole process.

The other issue is that last few years the student body has become worse in that they are not prepared for college. More of them are just not able to cope with basic skill sets such as following directions.
It's very scary what's going on in this country on all levels, not just education.

What do we expect, we put absolutely no money into education and let the politicians run the education system. It's a mess from grade 1 through to college.

3/18/2008 04:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, is it true that your pay is effected by student evaluations? Wow. It's funny how the old "the customer is always right" is enacted in academia but not in places where it should be enacted (customer service in the corporate world is practically non-existent).


3/19/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Sorry to say it is, but my pay is affected by them and my department heads as well, they feed into each other.

By the way for all those without tenure in most cases those things affect your job as well. If you get to many in the low ratings your toast in most cases. You can be a great teacher but if you have enough students who for some reason give you bad evaluations you will lose your job if it goes on for a few semesters.

I know of one instructor who did an in class survey of his class and did well, but the same class slammed him on the evaluations.

These things are not a good way to to this, but we are stuck with it.

3/19/2008 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

The Danish directive is classic bureaucracy: ~11% of art students are unemployed, and we have a shortage of teachers, so let's make these artists into teachers.

It sounds like Danish government is looking for more teachers, not art teachers. A likely bureaucratic irony may ensue as the resulting program produces an ample supply of art teachers training more unemployed artists.

Skipping back to the conversation at hand -- the notion that Art Business should be a 100 level course is corrosive and counterproductive.

What's the point of this sobering art business course -- that the student has no future in the arts?

Would you tell a kid on the soccer field that they'll never bend it like Beckham? Is it a disappointment that sunday school didn't lead to the seminary? Studying French didn't lead to a position with the State Department?

The goal of quality education is to enable self-awareness. Self-awareness allows one to create a unique brand that differentiates from competition. Marketing a personal narrative is the key component of any career. Just because every art student doesn't become an artist doesn't mean they were wasting their time in art school.

3/19/2008 10:38:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I don't think it would be corrosive 'patrick'. It would be interesting to know what connection you have to the art world. Ah, anonymity.

For the thousands of students who go to liberal arts colleges and will have to pay a lot of student debt afterwards and/or get a job to support themselves with any help from parents soon after graduating, I don't think it would spoil their mental awakening, fling into the void, or whatever other metaphors have been used in this thread to describe the ideal college education, if they took an art business course. You are the one who said the unspoken goal of this course would be to discourage them, but that is not how I see it.

Knowing a little bit about economic reality, the job market, the practical side of becoming an artist, is not a bad thing in my mind. Art teachers don't do this for the students. Why wouldn't the course do the entire opposite of what you think it will do, and inspire kids to work harder, and think in a business sense? Are you telling me that professionalism has nothing to do with becoming a successful artist nowadays? I know the host of this blog with vehemently disagree.

3/20/2008 10:54:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Should read "without any help from their parents..."

3/20/2008 10:55:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Should read, "I know the host of this blog would vehemently disagree."

3/20/2008 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...


A general Business class would be a valuable 100 level course.

An "Art Business" course would not, because art is a bad business. As the host of this blog would agree, making money in the arts is difficult.

If you're going to teach business, teach it right. And let the students figure out how to apply the concepts. Instead of creating pessimism, create agency.

3/20/2008 11:09:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

Sorry that I didn't have time to create a course curriculum for our fellow bloggers to read so that they wouldn't misinterpret what I was saying, but I assumed that people understood that I meant that art students should learn about the practical aspects of approaching galleries, the different ways one can earn a living with an arts degree, how to put a portfolio together, what is the right way to approach a gallery, and yes what the statistical reality in terms of the job market will be once they graduate.

If you interpreted my comments to somehow mean that we should have a class that browbeats the poor art students, makes them put down their paintbrushes and sob, and tells them that an arts degree is a waste of time, there is nothing I can do about it. It just shows how useless these comment threads are. Yes empowerment is a great thing but in my opinion, as I laid out before, most BA programs do not empower the students (Deborah's happy tale being the exception not the rule).

The course I suggested (along with Joanne Matera and others) that art students take would be helpful in my mind. If we are nitpicking over semantics let's put an end to it, please.

3/20/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Art world etiquette -- while important -- is not the same thing as business.

Every artist I know willing to share the information is sustaining their practice by investing money from external sources -- whether it's a day job, trust fund, or spouse.

Planning an art "career" is corrosive if it causes one to overspend on what is actually a life-long cost center. I hate watching my friends try to take their art to another level by spending more. These debts wipe out the ability to afford an art practice.

The business of art is an odd arbitrage where one transforms real capital into social capital, then hopefully turning that social capital back into real capital. Risk and relationship management are the primary activities.

I actually think art departments do a good job teaching the necessary art world etiquette. What they don't do is teach the students to manage their debt levels. Most instruction is focused on pushing students past their limits rather than working within a budget.

3/20/2008 07:22:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

You bring up good points but based on my experiences the main thing that art school did not teach the students (if it can even be taught) is how to continue making art once you leave school. A majority (and it isn't even close to be only half) of the people that went to the art school I attended stopped making art completely not that long after school ended or it became a hobby. I think it is safe to say that this is the case in most liberal arts schools across the country. Comparing the study of art to participating in the soccer league or taking French classes in high school is comparing apples and oranges. Students aren't dishing out money to do this. Most of the people I know who studied French on a college level are teaching French or using there bi-lingualism in some capacity to earn a living. Sure some aren't but at least they got something concrete out of it, like marrying a French speaking person or something. If you want to believe that taking basic drawing and painting and sculpting classes provides you with invaluable tools that will help you in life regardless of whether or not you ever paint, draw, or sculpt again once you graduate that is your perogative. It would be hard to prove this and I think that it perpetuates bad things in our society. First, if art students actually do work hard and get used to the lifestyle of an artist while they are in school, working all day, every day, at their art, and having a studio space to work in that is provided by the school, isn't failure built into the process if these things are taken from them as soon as they graduate? The art class I imagine would help them mitigate or overcome this built in failure.

3/20/2008 08:44:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

It is easy to pooh pooh my comments and say "My goodness, do you actually think we should remove liberal arts programs from all of the colleges?" How inhumane! That isn't what I am saying. I am just saying this. Liberal Arts colleges should offer a course that shows students in the various fields, music, theater, visual arts, etc., the variety of occupations that are out there for them to pursue. That is all I am saying. If you see this as corrosive there ain't nothin' I can do about it.

3/20/2008 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

First off, I would not categorize an arts "hobby" as a failed arts education. A strict audit from the IRS would classify almost everyone's involvement with art as a hobby.

Still I agree that the major issue with art school is when students cannot continue making art afterwards. I also agree that this problem is embedded in lifestyle of being an art student.

Art is taught through a process of social critique -- both informal and theoretical -- which continually encourages students to commit more to their art practice. Since this is the dominant teaching method, I assume this is where the instruction must begin.

These methods are excellent training for the social capital side of the art business. But they can't teach how to set aside a practice in the short term to preserve its continuation in the long term. Unfortunately I feel it demands great faculty to teach students to manage the risks of their ambition.

As I observe my friends, few are working in art but most have found unique ways of making their living. These friends are happy.

My friends with the least faith in their work are the ones who have committed the most, submitted the most, attended the residencies. And I think they consider themselves unhappy because they are not successful artists, but I think they are unhappy because they have a bad job.

And with a better job, I think they would be more successful artists.

3/20/2008 09:24:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

I appreciate your nuanced opinions. My opinions are the product of having seen many people with BA degrees become very bitter because of their inability to fulfill their vague longings to become a full time artist. Of course their failings probably have more to do with mental dysfunction than anything else.

3/21/2008 12:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And there's a LOT of government funding for the arts here."

Lisa is speaking about Quebec. Arts funding in the rest of the country is pitiful.

3/21/2008 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Marie-Louise McHugh said...

Art education is OK but why get an MFA if you don't want to teach!I come from of school of artists who had to apprentice with artists, look at art, dissect it and work on my own art... old fashion! Yes but a degree will not make an "artist". Of course I also had to teach at times... mostly other adults which can be enriching and inspiring. Art School gives you some knowledge but probably little else.

3/21/2008 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick said:
Art is taught through a process of social critique -- both informal and theoretical --

This is why I hated art school! The social critique was harmful, not helpful. A teacher of mine wondered if my stylish new asymmetrical hairdo (given to me by my roommate, a fellow art student, not a hairstylist, for free) indicated that I was heading in a commercial, mainstream direction (bad!) and away from an experimental, non-commercial direction (the correct path!). This was not the only such incidence of ridiculous social criticism (I'm sure Patrick meant social critique in a different way, but this was partly how it was enacted at the SF Art Institute in the 80's) that I endured. From a professor!

I know, this was slightly off-topic, but it stirred an old grudge of mine about what bullshit I went through. Fortunately, after a year and half at SFAI, I went back to UC Berkeley, where I had started school. I figured, why spend thousands of dollars to listen to crap like that when I could get similar crap (and a BA from a "world class" university - don't get me started on that, either) for about a thousand dollars a semester.


ps An art business course would have been very useful.

3/21/2008 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mary-Louise - you want to know why people get an MFA if they have no intentions of teaching? The connections. Making art is generally a solitary, entrepreneurial activity. I don't teach, but based on my two miserable years at grad school, I now know people in cities and art communities all around the world. They can often provide me with a couch to crash on, a brief rundown on local politics, and/or introductions to some art people in their city.

3/21/2008 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/21/2008 05:41:00 PM  

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