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caa honors ferguson and voulkos: in defense of kevin (long)

updated mon 31 mar 97


Peter and Sam Tomich on thu 6 mar 97

I'm *only* an art major, so no credentials here to back me up & only
limited experience as well, but I can relate to what Kevin is saying, if
I understand him correctly.

I'm taking a semester off from college (I'm a senior), mostly because I
can't stand the attitudes of the professors. It is crushing the up and
coming artists going through the program.

I am sorry to have to say this, but I am under the impression that the
"fine art world" is playing out a fine drama of The Emperor's New
Clothes. In the story, The Emperor's new clothes, a pair of salesmen,
using thread invisible to anyone who was incompetant in their position,
showed the king cloth they had woven and ooohed and awwed over it. He
didn't want to say he couldn't see it, because it would mean he was not
fit to be king. Likewise no one in his service would say they couldn't
see it. After the garment was finished the King wore it in a parade
through town, where no one would say they couldn't see it either until a
small child started laughing and shouting that the king was buck naked!
At which point people gained confidence to snicker and working upwards
through the ranks it was admitted that no one could see it, an the King
was the last to know.

I understand and appreciate what Vince was saying about how some pieces
can be ugly and powerful and others can be beautiful and vacuous, but it
seems most of the beautiful is now considered vacuous and most of the
ugly is considered powerful.

I think that this stems from the art vs. craft dilemma. My professor
teaches that if it's something you can recognise, your veiwer won't give
it a second look. This is true to a great extent. "Oh that is a
picture of a bridge", "What a nice portrait", vs. "Eew! What the hell
is that?", "What could be going through their head?"

They teach us that if you can make it again, as in pottery, it is a
craft - that anyone could do it. Likewise an incredible rendering in
figure drawing or what not is not art - it is merely illustration, craft
again. A beautifully carved wood sculpture of a dolphin made by a very
talented yound man in one of my classes recieved pitiful grades, craft
again. Students going through here who paint likenesses of things
receive comments about how unfinished portions of their work are much
more exciting. It seems that this is part of a current fad to isolate
the design principles in extreme and to explore them for their own
sake. Line for line's sake, color for color's sake, extreme for
extreme's sake... My last semester painting instructor told me 3-4
times that my palette worked better than my paintings (which were
receiving "A" grades)

I decided early on in my college career to work for good grades, so as
to be able to get into the Education Program here which is highly
cometitive; so I have been trying to paint (sculpt, etc.) what I think
will be most rewarded, I moved relatively quickly toward the abstract,
all the time still being pushed further on until now if I put anything
recognisable in my paintings, that instructor frowns and says, "
works except for the image, all I see is the image.". My other prof
will "let me" include images as symbolism, but recognises it as my
immaturity, just as he says Picasso was miles ahead of Dali because the
symbols were less apparent. Symbols need to be subdued or non-existant,
and well-known symbols (cross, swastika, & whatever) are a weak attempt
at riling up the audiences emotions. What about what the artist wants
to express??

I am sick of feeling ridiculed for wanting to make a tea-pot, or draw a
horse. It is not immature, no one else can say exactly what I want to
say, and who says that if everyone can recognise it, it's not art.
Getting a BA is like, "How do you like the Emperor's new clothes", so I
started to wonder ... if you get an MFA is the final criteria to decribe
with incredible faith the Emperor's grand suit in detail and how
wonderful it is. So now you can teach others the value of his clothing,
and ridicule them for not seeing it.

I need this semester away to sort out for myself what is me and what is
them. I am an excellent student, receiving awards for "my" work. In
November, I was awarded third place among professional printmakers and
fellow students who have studied years longer than I. The work was even
unfinished... My inner reaction surprised me! revulsion, disdain for
the art world, frustration and anger for feeling the need to prostitute
myself out to the Emperor to become accepted and rewarded. Anger that I
wasn't good enough and had to copy THEM.

I think there is going to be a great revival and resurgence of Craftas
Art as all these talented people who won't compromise themselves buck
the system and create to their hearts content without caring about being
recognised by the contemporary art scenes current Emperors.

To be a senior, in my own limited experience, means either hating the
education process at the college level, or feeling stroked by it because
it happens to favor your direction and vision, and therefore empowers
you, so much so that you seek to become an Emperor to enlighten those
around you of how beautiful your clothes are and how stupid others are
that they can't see it. I think it's disgusting. IMHO, Sam in Hawaii

Dannon Rhudy on fri 7 mar 97


It is obvious from your post that you are indeed angry and
disgusted. And if in fact your professors are totally committed
to "the emporer's new clothes", you are entitled to be. However,
such ideas in academia wax and wane. I noticed when working on
my MFA that in spite of that particular University's penchant
for exhalting "process" and "political agenda" and
"non-representational" work, the students were, one by one,
beginning to do what they wished in spite of pressure from faculty
to be "correct" in their viewpoint. And, in the end, no matter
what the faculty may push for and encourage and reward, the
students with passion for what they do will make their own work,
the way they want it to be. The ones without passion will not
remain long in the arts. It is too difficult, and generally
not monetarily rewarding...they leave for other fields.

I think it does not hurt for students to explore a variety
of ways to express ideas, any more than it hurts for them to
explore a variety of media, a variety of techniques, a variety
of ANYTHING, in fact. Much of what you do right now comes under
the heading of exploration and information. That hurts nothing,
prepares you to be ABLE to do what you can CONCEIVE of doing.
I believe that to be true both in terms of technique and of idea.

It is always difficult to take an opposing stance, and stick to
it in the face of pressure from peers and/or teachers. But if
you feel strongly about what you are doing (and apparently you
do) then you should stand there, look them in the eye, say what
you think, not be shouted down. More importantly, you should
do the work that interests and sustains you. When you decide
upon graduate work, choose carefully where you go. And no matter
where that may be, you should expect, indeed hope, to be
challenged every step of the way, by both faculty and peers.
Your work and ideas will change and grow not because of those
who agree with and support you. They will change and grow because
of those who push you, who make you look from other viewpoints,
who make you angry and excited and determined. In spite of what
you may think and how you may feel right now, good teachers
LONG for students like you: students with passion and desire,
intelligence and determination. They aren't all that common,
you know.

And, if your teachers expect you to be open-minded and ready
for new experiences and ideas, willing to look at all kinds of
work with a disinterested eye, that's great. Demand exactly
the same from them.

Dannon Rhudy