Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Academia

Take art classes, lots of them. Take them at your university, take them from the guy that’s offering five dollar drawing sessions out of his studio, take them from your local art co-op. That is the only way we will bring sanity back into our lives today.
The reason that the arts are always first to get cut out of any budget of a high school, college or university is not because the arts do not matter, but because they are dangerous. Unless severely watered down by academicism or the market, the arts and artists have a tendency toward the philosophical fringe, the leftist, socialist, anarchist mentality. Tthey do not swear allegiance to any state or nation and do not abide by any establishment. They have a capability to foment reaction if cornered. So take art classes, a painting class, a drawing class, and not just for the technique, which in some respects is secondary to the mental, emotional, philosophical and spiritual growth that ultimately results. Taking art classes puts you within the framework of other like-minded human beings as opposed to the drones we get so used to seeing in the “real” world.
The critique that will ultimately result in opposition to the concept of supporting academia in such a way is absolutely forthcoming. Here the tired old Newtonian adage “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” applies. However, we must consider the fact that there is a lack of almost anything meaningful that could ever replace the institutionalized monster that academia is, and if there is, it will most likely be something even more horrendously evil and dishonest. Just think of the horror that befell the Weimar republic in the wake of the Bauhaus tradition. What the opposition to academia has going for it, is also its greatest downfall, its lack of a framework of interconnectedness.
I am by no means a proponent of academia, nor its absolute detractor. There is a place for academia in the world of art. It is the only institution we have that keeps track of art history, even if it is a Western skewed mainstream history. Reliance on individual competence to keep track of the serpentine insanity that art history actually is, based solely on the individual’s goodwill is akin to giving corporations the freedom to police themselves in hopes that they will not screw the little people, it just cannot be done. Art historians are not CEO’s, but they both need to be under some scrutiny so that they don’t go off on a wild crusade to tell others what they should think. For better or worse, academia through a myriad of bureaucracy and red tape has actually managed to do the impossible, and give us a window to the way art has and is being made up to our present time. It is just a convenient punching bag for failed art students and disillusioned academicians and as such it is serving a dual role in the art world, because those same critics give us the actual avant-garde that is a result of the push back against academia. And so the circle spins. The push against academia is almost always the raison d’etre of the avant-garde, whose reactionary nature must find a sympathetic enemy for its cause, otherwise it would stop being avant-garde. And yet ironically the avant-garde is without fail the product of academia, because most of the artists that are involved with it have to some degree been involved with academia.
So the silly notion that academia is inherently bad or evil, because it is a machine that makes daring art boring and institutional is only half true, because it is also responsible for the creation of the avant-garde. Institutionalization is not created by academia, even though it does support it to a certain point. Institutionalization is created by the will of the art market – the gallery system, the media, the press, marketing agencies, museums and willing artists. Academia is a system by which individuals either enter this market or are repelled by it.
The few artists that have had the fortune or misfortune of not being a part of academia, are still in some ways affected by it, even by the sole fact that they are entirely outside of it. These artists are called outsiders. Outsider art is always genuine but seldom great. For outsider art to reach the level of greatness it would have to borrow much from academic art and would therefore cease being outsider art. The fact however remains that even the most outside of the outsider artists must have seen some form of academic art at some point in their lives, be it the Mona Lisa on a coffee mug or a kitschy replica of a Madonna and child in their local church. This is therefore the real extent of the reach that academia plays in artists’ lives.

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