Judy Chicago: “Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education”

Judy Chicago: “Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education”


Good evening. As many of you
know one of my goals in creating the
dinner party a symbolic history of women in
western civilization now currently housed at the
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for
Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum was to
overcome the erasures that has repeatedly eclipsed women’s achievements. Contemporary
illustration of this erasure is
the story recently told by the writer Sue
Monk Kidd of visiting The Dinner Party
and discovering the Grimke
sisters of South Carolina which is
where Kidd is from. Although they were legends
during their lifetimes as the
first abolitionist to publicly speak and write about
female equality, she had never heard
of them. As she writes in the
authors note at the end of the Invention of
Wings, her best-selling novel
about the Grimkes, how could I not have heard
them? My ignorance felt like
both a personal failing and a confirmation of Chicago’s view that women’s
achievements have been
repeatedly erased throughout history. The
reason I site this issue of erasure is that
it helps to explain why in 1999 after a twenty
five-year absence I returned to teaching. By then
I had been receiving letters
from female students at numerous
universities and art
institutions all over the world. They
reported that they were
learning almost nothing about women’s history or women’s art. In fact, many of their art
professors both male and female were hostile to female centered
work or unable to adequately critique it. As a result they
felt unsupported or entirely stranded in terms
of their artistic growth. Moreover most of them were
unaware of the Feminist Art
Movement in the 1970’s, which is now noted for having
dramatically affected art
practice. Between 1999 and 2005, I took a series of semester
long appointments at a variety universities around the country first by myself and then in
tandem with my husband
photographer Donald Woodman who is standing right there.
Actually the first year, the first two
years…the first year when I
taught and IU Bloomington, we have a bevy of cats and I took the cats. I had the
cats and then the second year when I was at Duke, Donald kept
the cats. So that was not exactly great for us. So then
we decided we had better team teach so we could both have the
cats. Anyways, as I said at IU Bloomington,
Duke and the University of
North Carolina Chapel Hill I was alone. Then
Donald and I team taught at Western Kentucky University in
Bowling Green, in a
public-private partnership with Cal Poly
Pamona in California and finally thanks to Constance
Gee at Vanderbilt. In addition to hoping that I
might be able to offer
something valuable to students, my decades long
experiences as a practicing artist and the pedagogical
methods that I had begun
developing in the 1970’s, I thought that
my pedagogy might also prove empowering and again
perhaps not only to women. I was also interested
in discovering what had happened to university
studio art education during my long absence and to record what
I learned in Institutional Time, a book that took me 10
years to write. In the first chapter of the
book, I review my early feminist art
programs in Fresno and then at Cal Arts where
working with our students the
artist, Miriam Schapiro and I created
Womanhouse As these programs have been
widely discussed I don’t want
to spend a lot of time on them except to
say that when I brought my
Fresno program to Cal Arts along with
a number of my students
including, Nancy Youdelman who’s been here
on campus, I did not understand how markedly
different it was from the
emphasis of the rest of the art
department In fact, this period at Cal Arts marked the beginning of a
significant change in
university studio art education as can be surmised
from a quote from Paul Brock’s 2007 obituary
in the LA Times. Paul who was Mimi’s
husband, was the Dean of the Art School
at Cal Arts and he was the one who brought the
Feminist Art Program into the
school. Providing us with our own
studio space, a materials budget and the first position for a
feminist art historian not to
mention the first time that any
university art program provided an
educational opportunity specifically for
women. Even though Paul supported the
program, apparently his own
views where that “art school is less
about teaching how to make art than about
learning what it means to be an
artist.” Well, you could have fooled me.
My idea of studio art education was to
help students to find their own
voice by discovering their personal
content then expressing that through appropriate media,
which was the emphasis of the
feminist art program. The important distinction here
is that I stress the importance of content along with
developing the skills to
express it clearly and effectively. But, I
left academia soon thereafter in order to
concentrate on studio work so I really didn’t understand
the significance of the shift introduced by Paul until I
returned to teaching. One of my first encounters with
the consequences of this change was reading Howard Singerman’s
book Art Subjects. By the way there is
very little literature on university studio
art education shockingly little. Art Subjects
was one of the few books there is. It includes the quote with
which I actually introduce my book. Although I hold a
Master of Fine Arts, degree in sculpture I do not
have the traditional skills of the
sculpture. I cannot carve, or cast, or weld, or model in
clay. Why not? I will now briefly discuss my various teaching stints and
then share, oh actually I need the next one
Donald, this is Womanhouse And then share some of my
conclusions that parallel something that
Steven Henry Madoff pointed out in a recent
book, one of the few on studio art education is
called Art School: Propositions for the 21st
Century. And in that book he
wrote, “current and new students are
paying fortunes for inadequate art educations and
getting into bank loan debt, which is a huge
disservice to them.” The subject to which I will
return. When I went back to teaching I was particularly
interested in addressing the gap between art school and art
practice. Many art students find this transition
difficult, but it seems to be especially challenging for
women since many of them have
little or no idea how to generate the
money, space or time necessary to set up a life as a
professional artist. Consequently, at most of the
universities where I and then Donald and I taught, I
instituted a project class that would allow students
to experience the different
stages of professional art practice.
From identifying subject matter and formulating images
to mounting an exhibition. My hope was that by traversing
the gamut of difficulties between creation and
exhibition, the participants might become better prepared
for the rigors of professional
life. At IU Bloomington I had hoped
that some men would sign up for the class as
I was eager to discover if my
pedagogy would be useful to them a
subject to which I will also
return. But that didn’t happen until I
taught a graduate seminar at University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill. The images you see are just a few
from the wildly successful
exhibition that was the result of the IU
project class, which was held at the I.M. Pei Design
University Art Museum. The title was based, Sinsation,
was based on the Brooklyn
Museum Sensation Show, which was up at
that same time. The participants work was wide-ranging and
included this hilarious parody by Peg Brand of the De
Kooning Woman painting in which people could
insert their heads and be
photographed. There by replacing his vicious
objectified form with a laughing, grinning image of
female agency. By the way Peg, who like Constance was married to the head, Constance when I
met her was married to the Chancellor of Vanderbilt, Peg
was married to the Head of the
IU school system. And Peg, like
Constance, had started out in the art department. Also
like Constance, she had ended feeling, in her
case she ended up in Philosophy of Art, Constance
ended up in Art Education. In
both cases they felt completely unsupported in their
graduate programs as artists. Anyway as part of the
exhibition, there were a series of performances some
based on Womanhouse skits and others written by the
students. The more recent pieces were extremely illuminating in
terms of the issues being faced by young women there. When I
was at IU in the 1990’s, post feminism
was all the rage. Especially in the art world,
which was louldy proclaiming
that feminist art was passe.
Assuming a world where the gains of feminism were
unequivocal and its goals
roundly met. But my student’s performances
told a very different story. One that
expressed their confusion about the fact that they were being
encouraged to believe that they
could do and be what they wished.
However their life experiences
were contradicting this rosy view. I, myself,
always thought that this idea of post feminism was
ridiculous especially given the conditions of many women in
the world. As the editors of
Bitch magazine once suggested, we
will live in a post feminist
world when we achieve a state of post
patriarchy. A goal that is nowhere near being achieved at
least not in large parts of the
world. Try telling the women in
Afghanistan that we live in a
post feminist world Anyway, until that time, a wish
I think we will eventually come but not in our lifetime, I
believe will be a lot better
for young women if they weren’t fed such a big
lie, which is the title of the
chapter that deals with IU. Could I have the next? Some of the consequences of this fiction about how
everything is changed now were brought home to me at of
all places, Duke, which is a stellar university at
least of the male students. When I was there the school was
led by Nan Keohane an avowed
feminist. Late in her tenure, she
undertook an initiative aimed
at examining the situation of women on
campus. Of course if she had asked me I
could have give her an earful As I describe in Chapter 4 in
Institutional Time, my Duke
class was structured to lead students through 3 of
the subjects that I had
explored; women’s history, birth and the
holocaust. At that time Duke’s art department was small
and could not provide a studio
space. Moreover, most of my students
were not majoring in art so I assumed that they would
mostly do text based projects. As it turned out, most of them
wanted to create visual works. Which meant that I had to stand
on a desk in the classroom in
order to look at their pieces. That was a
really great way to do crits. Anyway, early on I
encountered the fact that the
female students, my female students,
and they were in the majority, were so preoccupied with what
was happening to them on campus that they seemed unable to
concentrate on the subject
matter of the course. During our group discussions,
they complained about being
viewed as objects the male students,
being judged by their looks rather than their intellectual
abilities and being dismissed when they tried to express
their ideas in class. Some of
the students mentioned that when they first
arrived at the school, their
pictures were placed in little black books that were
circulated among the male
students who competed for the triumph of
being the first one to get them. Consequently, they dampened
themselves down as one student put it. Having these
discussions with my Duke
students, which I could not believe,
caused me to experience an
intense sense of deja vu. It was almost
like being back in the early 1970’s with the Fresno girls.
That’s what I used I used to call my students who
are all now in their 50’s and
60’s. They go, Judy we are in 50’s
and 60’s! And I am like yeah
but you will always be girls to me. Anyway, the stories from
the Duke girls were all too familiar. Identity
confusion, destroyed hopes, eroded self
esteem, but how could this be? This was Duke in 2001 where
there was a strong Women’s Studies Department and
a feminist president. What there was not, however,
was a transformed curriculum. As I point out in the book,
when women were finally brought into higher
education, no thought what so ever seems to have been
given to the fact that they
were going to be introduced to an entirely male centered
curriculum. As a result, as the pioneering
women’s historian, Gerda Lerner, points out in the Creation of
Feminist Consciousness, if you
haven’t read, I would highly recommend.
Men develop ideas and systems of explanation by
absorbing past knowledge in critiquing and superseding
it. Women, ignorant of their own history, do not
know what women before them
thought and taught and I would add
created. So, generation after generation women struggle
for insights others already had before them
resulting in the constant reinventing of the wheel. The
renowned art educator Elliot Eisner often spoke about
the non curriculum. The idea that what schools do
not teach may be as important as what they do.
Sitting in classes that focus on men’s achievement
with a few women thrown in coupled with the negative
ways in which they were being treated called
into question for my Duke students and many female
students everywhere the institutional and societal
stance about about female equality. I am
going to read that again.
Sitting in classes that focus on men’s
achievements with a few women
thrown in coupled with the negative ways
in which they were being treated called into question form my
students the institutional and societal
stance about female equality. It was confusing and confused
students cannot concentrate. They are
physically present but intellectually absent. Or
they engage in an intense inner struggle
seemingly exercising their minds while wrestling
with these crucial issues. As a result, the personal tends
to overpower all other concerns. This
situation places immense pressure on women to accept the
patriarchial status quo. Even if it means,
as Gerda Lerner pointed out, they have to act
against their own best interest. Charlotte Tamplin writes in the
male-dominated curriculum in English that it
is by a process of complex social dynamics that
the tastes and preferences of males have
been institutionalized in the university to the point
where even most women unquestioningly accept them.
This same situation is present in art. As I often
say there’s the big art history and
the little women’s art. Even though for a long time
female artists have been a
major presence in the art world. A history
that I outline in Chapter 2 of the book where I also
discuss that studio art curriculum is
inherently biased against women though perhaps not
intentionally. Rather it is one manifestation of the fact that
few studio art professors, female as well as male, are
educated in women’s history and women’s art. As a result,
they are often unequipped to adequately deal with female
centered art, which in contrast to my own experiences in art
school young women are free to create. I’m gonna get off
the subject for one more minute
to give you and then go back to the Duke
class. To give you an example of what I mean by the inherent
prejudice against women in curriculum. When Donald and
I were living in Santa Fe, a friend of ours who taught at
the Santa Fe’s Art Institute, which is now the
Santa Fe University for Art and Design, asked me to
do a critique for one of his
students. I walked into the students small because he said she was
floundering. I walked into the
student’s small studio and looked at her
work, which was a series of
eviscerated torsos. Very painful. I looked at them
for a few minutes and I said to
her, tell me about how you were molested. Where
upon she burst into tears and said she said
all they said to me in my art
school critiques was it might be better to hang
these from an I beam. In other words, her professors
could not read the content of her work.
Why could I? Because I’m versed in women’s
art history, I’ve looked at the work of
hundreds of women, I’ve worked with hundreds of
women whose subject matter often focuses on molestation, abuse, confusion about sexuality,
their own and so I was able to identify
the content in her work. The fact that none of her
professors even the well-meaning, are well-meaning
friend who asked me to look at
her work could not identify, critique or help her transform this subject
matter into affective art is a manifestation of inherent bias
in university studio art education
curriculum and it how it leaves female
students in particular stranded. Although, I would
learn when I began to have men in my class that it
also leaves stranded men who have subject matter that
falls outside of the parameters
of contemporary art. Okay now back to the Duke
class. *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * *Discussion about sound system
problems * You have to understand how completely both surprising and in some
ways heartwarming this is because for so many
decades people told me to shut
up! *Laughter * *Laughter * Do you have any questions while
we are waiting? Might as well use the time. Who are you? What do you do? I am actually a
theater artist. And my question was about this
young woman, you said that she did not have a good mentor or
someone who could help her with the art, so in other words
there could have been more to be done with that piece that
she was working, but no one
knew how to help her? Absolutely, I mean one of the
problems with the work was that is that it was too raw. It was
too crude and because her professors
could not, did not understand what
she was trying to do in the first place
they could not help her
transform it into art. Okay, so I mean who
wants to look at a bunch of
eviscerated torsos right? There
are ways of dealing with hot subject
matter that helps you and since I have worked
with so much hot subject matter in my life, birth and
the holocaust… I have personal experience as
an artist but also I have this knowledge base of how other
women…look at Frida Kahlo for
example talk about transforming hot
subject matter. So on top of the fact that they, the university professors,
didn’t have that knowledge there were not courses in the
history of feminist art. There were not…it wasn’t part
of the mainstream curriculum even now like a lot of the
young women who have been
interviewing in relationship to this
celebration of my getting to be
an old lady. They who have come through you know a change in
consciousness, they still talk
about they have to seek out this
information. And as I have been
saying I don’t see why we should study
men and men don’t have to study
us. I mean what kind of fairness is
that? I was about to tell you how
smart the Duke students are, they
really are smart Now what I had to do was
provide them with some access
to feminist theory because
after all now there is decades of
feminist theory that could help
them put the experiences they were
having at Duke into a historic
context because most of them had come
through high schools either all girls, you know Duke
is a privileged school, they
would come through either all
girls high schools or like very, very small private schools where
this thing about post feminism was going like
going you can go out there now
and you can do and be what you want blah, blah, blah.
They get to Duke, you know
since we live in a post feminist era why study feminist theory?
Why have women’s history? So they had no context to
understand that what they were experiencing, I mean
it seems remarkable right, but
it was true! They had no context to be able
to understand that what they were
experiencing of course had to
do with their gender. And the fact that Duke was
still a highly male centered school. If fact, when that
whole scandal erupted around
the Lacrosse team, I mean it was not really that
big a surprise having been at
Duke. Before I continue, the Duke show also
had a huge impact. They did a show at the end of
the semester the administration was so impressed by the fact
that it was so interdisciplinary and the students had
produced…I mean these were
undergraduate students working without studio space.
Most of them were working in
their dorm rooms. They just had…they really
wanted to make art. So the
school, the show was just supposed to
be for the weekend, but the
school the administration decided to
keep it open for the duration of the semester
across after the school break because
they wanted everybody to have
access to see it. Before I go on, I
just want to venture an explanation about
why the student shows like at
IU, Duke and the rest of the places we
have taught had so much impact. To again quote Steven Henry
Madoff, the contemporary art for arts sake stands has
generated a fear of narrative content that is not
serving us well in the 21st century. Modernism defines
universalism partly through form devoid of social
content but this has become a repetitive formula
an armor without a body ultimately decorative. Earlier I mentioned the discrepancy
between my early feminist art
program and the direction in which art
school education was heading. A direction that definitely
privileges form over content and learning
how to act like an artist rather than learning how
to make art. Hence, the lack of skill training
outlined by Howard Singerman. The quote about how he has a
MFA in sculpture, but he can’t make sculpture he can
only talk about being an artist. And he came from one of the
better schools in Southern
California. He never would quiet say
whether it was Cal Arts or
UCLA, but obviously from what he said, how he
described it it was one of the best art
schools in the country. Okay,
could I have the next At the same time as my class at
Duke, I also did a graduate seminar at the University of
North Carolina in Capel Hill. Half of the students were
males, which provided the first
real opportunity to discover whether my
pedagogical methods could be applied to more than
the occasional fellow. There
were a couple of guys in the Duke
classes. I was also curious to
see what impact their presence would
have on class dynamics. Over the last 30 years, the
subject of men in a feminist
environment has been vigorously debated.
That is an understatement. The consensus is that when men are present they tend to
dominate the class. Despite the fact that my circle based
pedagogy counters this tendency, there was a time when I was
convinced that if men were present, women
could not be themselves. When I returned to teaching, I
wanted to test this premise and in Chapter 5 I discuss what
happened int he UNC class, which I don’t have time to go
into now. Suffice it say, that a number
of my male students benefited from my approach
especially in the next teaching project I
did at Western Kentucky University, which I
did with Donald. It was called At Home and it
revisited the subject of the
home 30 years after Womanhouse this
time with both male and female students.
And I think you all know that there’s an exhibition in
the Special Collections Library
of all the teaching projects along
with a whole video installation of
the various projects and my teaching, our
teaching. Again, the issue of erasure along with Gerda Lerner’s point
about repetition became extremely relevant in
the At Home project because the women unschooled in
the history of the feminist art movement
reiterated many of the same concerns
already expressed in Womanhouse. In contrast, it was some of the
male work that was startling. Notably the subjects of male
rape by a woman and murderous sibling
rivalries. Some of the subjects
that men took up, work I had never
actually seen directly expressed in art. To further emphasize
some of the deleterious affects of the non curriculum
in this case for men. I want to mention that while
writing Institutional Time, I read a book called, Against
the Tide, by Michael Kimmel and Thomas Moss Miller,
which is a fascinating history of men who supported women’s
struggles for equality. The authors mention how
surprised they were to discover over 1000 documents
indicating men’s active participation in the suffrage
movement. Like I didn’t know there were 30 or 40 men in
Seneca Falls. I never read that. The reason
for the exclusion of this information from our
standard histories is certainly worth pondering. Perhaps it
does not serve the cause of male dominance to publicize the many
eminent men who have challenged this continuation. An
unfortunate consequence of this
silence is that men who find themselves
uncomfortable with the lack of gender equity
in the world are also deprived of role models. Could
I have the next? In Chapter 6, I deal with both the At Home
project and Envisioning the Future, a
public-private partnership that
was supported by Cal Poly Pomona
and the Pomona Arts Colony, which you probably don’t know
what that is. It’s a collection of galleries, nonprofit arts organization, artists and
institutions in and around
downtown Pomona, which is about 40 miles
east of L.A. and it’s called
the Inland Empire. The Pomona project
involved almost 80 participants, but this time
instead of working directly with them, Donald and
I attempted to train facilitators. Each of
whom led a group composed of both students and
practicing artists in an
approach that I used dating to back to Womanhouse.
In fact one of them, the
facilitators is here today. Bill are you
here? Where are you? Bill Catlan was the facilitator
for the sculputure group in Envisioning the Future
and he then became the Head of the
Art Department at Azusa Pacific where he was
teaching. And in the 10 years since
Envisioning the Future, he’s been working on
transforming the curriculum of
the art department, which he is
going to talk about tomorrow. I am very
excited to hear him talk about that because of course it is
part of this whole thing that
is happening here. Which is how to take my
pedagogical methods and make them available. And Bill
is going to talk about how he adapted them. Anyway, while
most of the facilitators, there were 8 of them, were able
to adapt our pedagogy, several of them stumbled at the
point at which they had to
provide content based critiques or crits as
they are called. As everybody knows who has ever
gone through studio art
education they are an essential part of
that process. The failure of the facilitators
was due in large part to the
fact that Donald and I did not realize what a
problem this point was going to be for some of
them. Because for a lot the facilitators the
crits they had themselves experienced in
school where probably focused on form or materials and in some
cases they were brutal. A subject I take up in the
book. Have any of you see, what was the name of that,
oh I forgot the name of that
movie. Oh Art School Confidential. did any of you
see the film Art School
Confidential? You know how people said, Oh
they didn’t understand why there was a murderer in
there. I am like what do you
mean that you didn’t understand? The point of the movie was that
art school crits can be
murderous. Right?! They can murder you,
literally. Particularly at Yale as I
understand it. Although in both Envisioning the Future and At
Home brought some unpleasant surprises mainly centering on
the uneasy, often uneasy relationship between art and
academia. From what we have
heard since about Envisioning the
Future many lives were changed. And some really
interesting art was made that wouldn’t have happened
without the project. As to At
Home, John Oakes, a former faculty
member at Western Kentucky organized a traveling show
titled At Home On Tour, which went to several venues.
And the project lives on in some of the scholarship that
it has engendered and the fact
that now, like all of my teaching
projects, it’s archived in the
Special Collections Library here at
Penn State. And the model that John did, the
1/12th model, that John created of the At
Home project is in the Special Collections exhibition.
Can I have the next? Our last teaching project was at Vanderbilt as I said. Where the
Chancellor, Gordon Gee was then married to Constance.
Constance and i were interested particularly interested in
trying to integrate studio art, art history and art
education more closely. In most university art
departments these are compartmentalized as
you know. In fact, when Donald and I first went
to, just before we went to Vanderbilt, the art and art
history department were fighting so intensely that Gordon was
thinking about putting the department into
receivership. Which is when the administration takes
control of a department and like because they are so
dysfunctional. They did have a divorce. I mean
they actually did have a divorce, which was how
we got this incredible building, the Cohen Building.
Which had lived there together the art
and art history department, but
they left their own quarters. And so
we got this incredible 13,000 square
foot building where the participants worked
and then we transformed into a
huge exhibition. Although, I would say, I don’t know what
Constance would say, but I
would say that our success at trying to
reintegrate studio art, art history and art education
was dubious. The exhibition itself was a
huge success. In fact today, I was in the Special
Collections Library and the TV that has all of the teaching
projects, I was standing there
Constance looking at you perform your piece with the mask. Crowds of excited viewers at
the opening kept saying they
were blown away. And many of the
student evaluations which we we shared with Gordon stating
that they had learned more in
the 4 months with us than they had during
the rest of their college life.
Which I actually attribute to the power of art,
the potential power of art. In addition to describing the
Vanderbilt in Chapter 7, which is titled
Beyond the Diploma, I returned to the subject of
the often bumpy transition between art school and
professional art practice. Oh I am sorry, this is me
working with a student on her
project at Vanderbilt. She was a very talented painter. She is
actually a mathematics student, graduate
student, but she had a burning desire to make art. She had
very little training in art. Usually, when you do paintings
you start with the background and then you lay in
the large areas of your figure and then you do
the details. But since she had never gone to art school she
started with the heads.
Meticulously painted floating in the space,
in the canvas and then she of course got herself into a
great deal of difficulty trying
to pull it all together. How many people here are
artists? At this moment in time now I am going to go back to
this thing about the transition
between art school and professional art practice. At
this moment the sheer number of graduate students is
formidable. According to gradschools.com there are 918
graduate programs in art and fine arts in the
United States alone. Between 1990 and 1995, there
were over 10,000 MFA degrees awarded. A
number that is in no danger of diminishing.
Moreover at any given moment, there are 40,000 young
artists walking the streets of New York looking for
galleries and there is the same number
walking the streets in London. Most graduates emerge into an
art world that provides very few ways for them to earn
a living. This forces many to work at
full time jobs which leave
little time or energy for making art. In
general, unless an artist comes from a
wealthy family, there are only two sources of funding other
than holding a full time job. One is the gallery system which
supports but a fraction of the many artists working or
wanting to work in their
profession. And the only other well-spring
of support is academia. Where the competition is fierce
because the quantity of candidates greatly exceeds
the number of jobs. I understand that there are 700
people applying for every job in studio art at the CAA. This situation is made even
worse by tenure, which ties up positions for
decades even when the professors have ceased creating or
exhibiting which is not
uncommon. Equally common are studio art
professors who commandeer studio
facilities for their own use. A situation we encountered
during our years in academia.
Donald could I have the next. These are all from Vanderbilt. And when we were there, when we
moved into the Cohen Building, we had to cut the locks off three-quarters of the sculpture
studio, which had been commandeered by the sculpture
professor for his own work. And his students had been used as his assistants. So when I say it’s common for studio art
professors to commandeer studio facilities
for their own use I know where of I speak. Or professors who really don’t
care about teaching they only do it to
earn money while they pursue their personal careers. Several
students told me about one of their drawing professors who
spent the entire semester in his office drawing while
they were left by themselves in the studio without any
guidance. Curiously, university level
teaching is the only area of
education where no training is required.
Even Kindergarten teachers have to be certified.
Moreover, studio art education is in great flux
with a hodge podge of approaches including a
lot of winging it. One common problem is that
there is very little honesty
about what the art world is really like. When I
graduated from art school I was able to get by on minimal
resources and to work long hours in my studio. At
that time, there was almost no market for
contemporary art at least not
in Southern California. Today the situation is vastly
changed. As artist, curator and educator
Una Mjurka stated in also in art school, the
pressure is on the art schools
and programs to connect early with the art
market and generate a smooth entry into the system while
young artists are still under
the school’s umbrella.
Unfortunately, the art world has a tendency to pick
up, extol, reward and then discard young artists like
so many used clothes. An unfortunate tendency because
careers disintegrate before the artists have the
opportunity to mature. I often receive requests for advice
from young artists. The best response I can imagine
is Craig Wilson’s eloquent
answer in Art School, I think MFA
programs should resisit the art world. Already legions
of young artists come to New
York to make it. The idea that this
is the beginning of a life-long journey into the
mysteries of making things
seems to be a back-burner thought if it is
thought at all. How unfortunate. How wrong.
Being a nobody has its benefits. You can decide what
you think about things. Realize what is important to
you. Develop your own way of
seeing things and then your own way of
creating things. His words echo my own beliefs
expressed in my studio and in my teaching. That art is a process
of discovery. As I have stated repeatedly, I
believe that it is the duty of the teacher to help their
students find their personal
visions and the means to express that.
What I have learned from my return to academia is that my
philosophy stands in direct contradiction to most
university studio art programs
today. Which emphasis form over
content, dazzling media effects of meaning and
outsourcing instead of developing skills.
So what is the answer? While we were still at
Vanderbilt, I received a copy of an upcoming article in a K-12
Art Education Journal that was presumably a tribute
to me and the Dinner Party. Although I understood that the
teacher had good intentions, her project, which involved
students creating autobiography plates was antithetical to my
goals. In that the Dinner Party is meant to teach women’s
history and to help girls move beyond the personal in order to
expand their horizons. By that time, plans were
underway for the Dinner Party’s
permanent housing. Reading the article
convinced me that there should
be some guidelines for teachers
who wish to incorporate the
piece into their art classes, which
has happened many times over
the years. Like many university trained
artists, I had always looked down on art
education. Intense dinner conversations
with Constance at the
Chancellor’s residence in Vanderbilt introduced me to
a new way of thinking about K-12 art
programs. Which Constance argued should not focus
exclusively on making art but rather introduce children,
most of who will not become professional artists, to a wide
range of possible ways of being involved in art.
Of course this is true of most undergraduate art
students also. They will not
become professional artists. With
Constance as my guide, I ventured into what was
completely unknown territory which was K-12 art education
and curriculum development. Much to
my surprise, in contrast to the paltry
amount of discourse on university studio art
education, K-12 educators, I am sure some of you know
this, but I didn’t, have long been involved in a
comprehensive rethinking of art
curriculum. Something that in my opinion is
long overdue in terms of university studio art
education. I do not have time
to discuss this any detail except there is
a lot to be learned from some of the
K-12 curriculum writers who have been
integrating a sensitivity to
gender and diversity and promoting a
content-based and broad
approach to the arts. Like Marilyn Stewart,
who spoke this morning, about the K-12 Dinner Party
Curriculum that we developed. Admittedly, it is important to
acknowledge that teaching art to children is quite
different from training artists or providing a substantive art
education to undergraduates, but in my opinion there is an
urgent need for a radical restructuring of the
art and studio art programs that are now offered. Which
frankly, are deficient,
dishonest, and lacking in standards. In
addition we need to recognize that being an artist, even a
successful one does not
automatically make you a qualified teacher. In
other words being in a Whitney Bi-Annual does not
qualify you to teach at
university level. I have already argued that
there needs to be a greater
focus on content across the arts. In
addition to helping students
find their own subject matter, critiques
should included discussions
about content as part of a more
holistic approach to art. In
the book I talk about my visit to Moore
College for Art, which is the only art college
in American for women. And the completely, the complete lack of guidance and help those
young women were getting in finding their own
voices. Moreover as I point out in the book, the overly harsh
and unsupportive critiques that are prevalent today need
to be acknowledged for what
they are misguided attempt to separate
out serious students from the rest if in fact that is
their intent. Giving the evolving nature of
contemporary art any curriculum has to be flexible and
adaptable. Certainly, it can
not be the product of one
person’s thinking. Which is why I am
advocating a serious national or international
dialog between studio art and art history professors, art
educators and art professionals of all kinds. The
1970’s ushered in a dramatic change in
consciousness regarding gender
and diversity but that change has not yet
been sufficiently translated into significant institutional
change. What I am calling for is a radical
transformation in policy and in curriculum. One in which
women’s history women’s art, the feminist art
movement along with the history and cultural production of
other marginalized groups becomes fully and equitably
integrated into our museums, universities and art schools,
which continue to promote a white male centered
perspective with a few women and people of color
thrown in. What Elizabeth
Sackler describes as the salt and pepper
approach. If such a goal sounds overly ambitious, I
would like to remind my
audience that long ago I set all by myself to
teach women’s history through art. The
Dinner’s Party world wide and on going impact demonstrates
that change is possible especially if people work
together for a common purpose. I wrote Institutional Time in
the hopes that there many
members of the art community who are
dissatisfied with the state of university studio art
education and who will come together to achieve what Bell
Hooks outlined in, Teaching to Transgress, the
classroom with all it’s limitations remains a location
of possibility. In that field of possibility we
have the opportunity to labor
for freedom. To demand of ourselves
and our comrades an openness of mind and heart
that allows us to face reality even as we collectively
imagine ways to move beyond boundaries to
transgress. This is education and in my opinion art is the
practice of freedom. Thank you. *Applause * *Applause *

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