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Archive for March, 2009

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mess. by Laurie Fendrich

Fendrich discusses the conflict between craft and concept in the contemporary Western art world. Until World War II the art world valued skill and technique. Increasingly in the post-War years traditional art based on skill and craft is considered “old” and “outdated”. Fendrich links this to the rise of colleges and universities as new centers of art education. Today colleges and universities are teaching “concepts” instead of skills and techniques. Fendrich points out  that while many schools keep so called “studio practices” courses in their curriculum, these are not skills-developing courses but concept courses. Here students learn what is becoming trendy or popular in galleries. This becomes a “shortcut to artistic identity”, replacing technical skills with the “concepts” that “borrow heavily from the vocabularies of sociology, computer science, and government bureaucracy.

 Interestingly, Fendrich blames this on Romanticism where “the autonomous self as the basis for all knowledge trumps everything”. Closely related to this is another problem: artists consider themselves to be morally superior to non-artists. Art is no longer created for the public, but for the artist. Fendrich suggests that artists need to consider the audience – a simple idea that sounds almost radical.

I strongly agree and believe that this approach is vital to obtaining funding art and support for art programs in school. If people, intelligent and  highly educated professionals avoid going to the museums because they  do not understand Modern Art then maybe there is something wrong with the art and not with the people. This is not to suggest that art cannot challenge the audience, only that it must connect with the audience.

Last, Fendrich suggests we need to change the way we teach art.  Indeed, we need to rethink the whole way we understand art. One aspect of this is increasing attention to developing students’ technical skills. Another is to read writers such as Balzac, Lessing and others to provide students with a context for understanding art. For example, reading Lessing’s  Laocoon helps students understand and place artists such as Paul McCarthy in a larger historical context. Once this is accomplished , students understand McCarthy as a contemporary simulator of “the disgusting” rather than as an originator.

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