THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
To the Editor,
This is a deeply engaging problem in the humanities in general. The author faults the skill-set approach to training artists for what he calls the neoliberal market as being successful for 5% of students. His suggestions for change do not sound any better for increasing that percentage. It makes one wonder if that 5% is also the reality for those studying philosophy, English literature, and history, which as academic subjects are generally not structured in the same skill-set approach.
Let’s remember that many who take art and art history classes are not looking for a paying profession. They are looking for something for themselves and a skill set to get to new places. Mr. Siegesmund’s goals would help them, though they are not in the crisis he paints. Decades ago, there were museum curators who worked for what we termed a dollar a year. Some were wealthy collections fully knowledgeable in their fields. I knew one during my tenure at the Art Institute of Chicago who I learned only recently had never cashed a paycheck. There were also several graduates of art schools who became founding members of the Committee on Photography and kept it funded in its infant years.
To the Editor,
I wonder if the 5% can even be changed much. Just based on underlying structural dynamic. Many other non arts industries have a similar “limitation on success %”. Sales. Sports. Politics etc. Maybe some lower. Maybe some higher. But not everyone can be successful in every field in life. Skill training or not. Especially the arts. There are always winners and losers. Those that suceed. Those that don’t. I imagine skills-set training is more valuable and edifying, and gives you a better shot to “compete” and probably more worth the money spent, but it might not actually change much, overall. There are 2.5 million people in the U.S alone that would be classified as “artists”. But probably only enough market/demand to support only a small fraction of them. So from an ethical standpoint it’s probably best to be honest, upfront, with people paying for arts education as well as give them higher quality, lower cost and alternative educational options.
To the Editor,
While I agree that “Neoliberal economic ideology” has had a deleterious effect on art education in the U.S. and elsewhere, that impact is mediated by traditions, practices, biographies and institutions that require careful unpacking. To draw a direct connection, as Diane Thodos does, between the rise of “anti-art” (what Lucy Lippard called the “dematerialization of the art object”) and the reigning ideology of monopoly capitalism is fatuous. To begin with, the chronology is all wrong. The art phenomenon she describes began in the 1960s (Neo-Dada) not the ‘90s. And it was largely a manifestation of the of American left, not the neoliberal right. For all his faults as a person, Carl Andre, whose art is especially disparaged by Thodos, was one of the founders in 1969 of the pro-labor, pro-feminist, pro-civil rights, anti-war Art Worker’s Coalition.
While I also agree that the cultural administration known as Post-Structuralism has led many artists and critics up a blind alley, it has hardly been a boon to valorized culture either, that is, to art as an “asset form” to cite the formation of Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre. The latter development is a manifestation of capitalist financialization and the desire of an international elite of billionaires and oligarchs to bury or launder cash by purchasing artworks from a few, international super-galleries.
And finally, to condemn the conceptualism that underlies some recent art education as “dictated by [the prospect of] commercial and market success” is ludicrous. Does Thodos really think that the activism associated with the “art of social practice” at the SAIC, UIC, Queens College (NYC) and elsewhere is driven by the prospect of financial reward? Critical thinking, as your old teacher Donald Kuspit (and his teacher Adorno) well understood, is often disparaged and hardly ever rewarded.
Stephen F. Eisenman
I enjoyed your analysis of the loss of craft and the hollowing out of art and art education. I’ve often complained that the endlessly repeated neo-DuChampian gestures are weak art and weak philosophy. Like you, I need and respect unalienated (Marx) labor to keep me whole. Richard Sennett, you may have read it, has a book, The Craftsman, exploring some of the same themes you write about. I also used to write about neo-liberalism with respect to precarious labor, another manifestation of prioritizing market forces over people, teaching, ideas etc. in academe. Your connection to student’s debt burden and Engles is timely, and imagine, they haven’t even learned to draw! It’s not a mistake. Free people are hard to control. Congratulations on your essay.
I was thinking I would like to keep writing on the subject of the economic inequality, 1% oligarchs, economic injustice and the different ways it affects art —how its community and values have been altered, how a sense of agency and autonomy among artists has been lost and needs to be found again, how we have more entertainment kinds of work rather than work that expresses existential realities here and in the world, how we got here—what change may we need in our consideration of this. D.T.