“If I Knew Then What I Know Now About Arrogance In The Arts, I Would Have Stayed On The Floor And Played With My Balls” 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″
My gut feeling (which is often art) tells me day after day that many, maybe even most, college and university art professors are not artists themselves, although they craft pictures or statues from time to time. They are more like non-believing ministers of obsolete dogma in a practically defunct religion, like radio preachers, pretending a common and vogue Christianity to make a living. I would feel sorry for them if so many weren’t so damn arrogant.
But is it truly arrogance?
I guess not. Though sometimes their mannerisms come off that way. Can creative people even be arrogant? We are often self-loathing, sure, which can breed a tendency to be catty in some social situations. I used to think that my local college art professors stayed away from my painting exhibitions because they were arrogant. Yet lately, after much thought about it, I believe it’s carefulness born from avarice which goads most of them to ignore my invitations so rudely and so often. And “carefulness born from avarice” can never be art. At least “new” or “relatively inspiring” art. Art must bring people together. Therefore college art professors are not artists, per se, but rather, as any institutional job description would verify, players of art. They get paid to teach, some even by example. They may make wonderful images, sculpt beauty, perhaps manipulate digital media with more attention than ancient monks manuscripted. But none of these makers of things can be artists until they bring people together. Not by the force of tuition. Rather, through the oftentimes painful expression of their own intuition.
In my small city we have an art guild renamed an association some time ago. It is supported through yearly memberships and a rent-free grant from the mayor and city council. Every spring for the past twenty years it has hosted a juried exhibition open to entries from anyone living in New York State over 18 years of age, provided he or she thinks the art worth a $30 entry fee. There are perhaps 30 fine and digital art professors employed at the college. Usually the juror is selected from this learned group—most are credentialed with terminal degrees earned in their mid to late twenties. The juror gets paid a modest stipend, judges the work to be entered, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Best in Show, and up to five Honorable Mentions, all receiving small cash award, starting at $300 for Best of Show.
Rarely do these professors themselves submit their work to be judged. Though several give direction to their students to apply.
Now why is that?
Because few of them are artists. Anyone can make art—kids, students, moms, dads, celebrities, even cats I hear. But artists must bring people together. Even if it’s just a group of other image-makers in a barroom or a poker game. The writer in isolation can make art if the work completed gives meaning in expression to other human beings. But if he doesn’t get out once in a while with other expressive writers to be human among them, then nada as an artist. Art must bring people together.
I believe that many of these professors apply for grants and/ or exhibition opportunity from international institutions, in order to build resume and chalk up apparently concrete accolades from the most abstract and subjective of endeavors. If life looks good on paper, a better retirement package ensues. A big thing among art teachers these days is to “go on residency”, and institutional applications want “professional” credentials listed, a several page C.V. (stands for “critic’s viciousness”), because institutions cannot judge originality and meaning in expression—only individual people(s) can do that. I think the institution of college or university stifles originality across all disciplines, as a matter of fact, but when it makes sensitive, creative people (would-be artists) into ladder-climbing automatons, then that distortion of art and art principle cannot help but be passed down to pupils.
How dare these professors send their students to have work judged locally, and yet not join the same game out of mutual respect!
And yet, I still do not think it is born from arrogance.
Maybe fear. What if the student won Best in Show? How would that reflect on the professor’s residency application? I’d say very well if said professor was applying for a residency in the art of pedagogy.
Another point to be made. Art professors are not artists until they show their art at every possible opportunity. Especially locally. My goodness, where do these people think they live? In Brussels? Melbourne, Australia? A 3-month long prestigious art retreat in Appalachia?
No, of course not. They live and buy eggs at the same Byrne Dairy I do. And yes, I even send my exhibition invites to the Byrne Dairy cashiers, yet they too never attend. At least I don’t expect them to stop by and look at my paintings. But I do expect those who teach art to support image-makers like me who, whether their position in life admits it or not, secures their jobs into the next generation. Artists make the art history of the future. I bring people together. I create hard copies of expression and show them to the local clan. In an ancient representation of clan I would be considered clan artist. Those making private cave drawings to be seen first by other clans of far away would be shunned like bad medicine and banished from the clan.
I could go on. I want to make it clear to the art faculty at my local college. Shame on you! When we cold share a beer, listen to some music, discuss art and art artifice like human beings gathered together at local exhibition parties, very few of you are anywhere to be seen. Off building resumes that nobody but you give a damn about. Your students will be showing their work, and the work of some artists like me will be there too. I hope your students detect the irony, and take a path less traveled by, to become artists themselves one day. I believe college art professors could make a revolutionary change to the face of any modern art. For god’s sake man, you all have summer’s off and can afford materials! However not one clan in Melbourne, Australia, or Prague, Czechoslovakia wants to see anything you do. Their institution might, but everyone outside of it knows that the institution is very broken, and that up to this point, a whole heck of a lot of art is created in universities, but very few artists are made there.
To readers and artists living among the New York State Clan, you have until Monday night to apply to the Lakeside Statewide 20th annual juried art exhibition. Please pass it along to friends and family. Some of you must know at least one black sheep non-conformist.
I make the same call to the local college art professors. Let’s see whatcha got!
P.S. Here is another read about the broken art university system. It is what it is.