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crumbling culture- the effects of salt and time (too long rant)

updated sat 5 aug 00


Norman van der Sluys on fri 4 aug 00

Wow, has this got me going!

Several years ago I taught at a community collegeand witnessed the
destruction of a pretty good little art department and ceramics
program.Two key faculty members left within a year of each other. The
first to leave was the department chairperson who was replaced by a
slash and burn specialist. Stayed just long enough to dismantle the
curriculum and then moved on! The position was assumed by a burned out
"educator." who told me that in my painting class I should not "try to
make artists out of these people, just show them how to mix colors and
make a brush stroke - that's all they need."!!! Someone was hired to
teach design, and I had to instruct them in color theory - stuff like
green is the complement of red!

Meanwile, the administration had stumbled across the Quality concept;
the student was to be considered the customer and the customer is always
right. So, if students complain about having to take art history
courses, change the curriculum! So, an honors humanities 2-semester
seminar was metamorphosed into a freshman level 16-week course covering
human creativity in general. ("So, kids, that's how you know you're
attending an opera. I know you'll like Wednesday's class, because we
will be covering ballet, and, if there's time, modern dance.")

Back in the 60's when I went to school, the art program required a
healthy portion of art history courses plus materials and techniques.
Painters were required to grind their own colors, make egg tempera,
prepare canvases and panels, and be familiar with permanency issues. We
also had to learn to draw. Our department evolved from a school with
strong connections to people like Jack Tworkov and Robert Motherwell,
and the students felt a connection to art as a continuing human
endeavor, not just a feel-good recreational activity. (That community
college art department was housed in a building emblazoned with

I really believe that an art education must include the teaching of
materials and techniques, so the students learn how to do it right to
begin with, and art history, so they know where we've been and what
we've done with those materials, and a discussion of artistic ethics.
That doesn't mean that experimentation should be discouraged. Jackson
Pollock could not have produced the works he did with the artist's
materials available to him. But the artist and his audience should be
aware of the risks and consequences. And not all creativity is

Norman van der Sluys

by the shore of Lake Michigan, about to enjoy some peaches and cream!