What Do Artists Know?

What Do Artists Know?

EDITED BY JAMES ELKINS
EVENT CO-ORGANIZED WITH FRANCES WHITEHEAD
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v4qw
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  • Book Info
    What Do Artists Know?
    Book Description:

    Each of the five volumes in the Stone Art Theory Institutes series, and the seminars on which they are based, brings together a range of scholars who are not always directly familiar with one another’s work. The outcome of each of these convergences is an extensive and “unpredictable conversation” on knotty and provocative issues about art. This third volume in the series, What Do Artists Know?, is about the education of artists. The MFA degree is notoriously poorly conceptualized, and now it is giving way to the PhD in art practice. Meanwhile, conversations on freshman courses in studio art continue to be bogged down by conflicting agendas. This book is about the theories that underwrite art education at all levels, the pertinent history of art education, and the most promising current conceptualizations. The contributors are Glenn Adamson, Rina Arya, Louisa Avgita, Jan Baetens, Su Baker, Jeroen Boomgaard, Brad Buckley, William Conger, John Conomos, Anders Dahlgren, Laurie Fendrich, Michael Fotiadis, Christopher Frayling, Charles Green, Vanalyne Green, Tom McGuirk, Robert Nelson, Hákan Nilsson, Peter Plagens, Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen, Howard Singerman, Henk Slager, George Smith, Martin Søberg, Roy Sorensen, Bert Taken, Janneke Wesseling, Frances Whitehead, Gary Willis, and Yeung Yang.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05927-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. SERIES PREFACE
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)
    James Elkins

    Welcome, everyone. This opening discussion is meant to be very informal: we’re just going to talk about some of the questions we hope to raise during the week of seminars. After today’s three-hour panel discussion, there will be twenty-seven hours of closed seminars, and then on Saturday the week will end with another public panel discussion. That one will be five hours long—yes, I know, five hours—but in the past it has been a great way to wrap up the week.

    We have an outstanding Faculty here, and an equally amazing group of fifteen Fellows, from the United...

  5. THE SEMINARS
    • 1. HISTORIES OF STUDIO ART TEACHING
      (pp. 13-24)

      Stephan schmidt-wulffen: Thierry de Duve sees three periods of artistic education. First came the academies, then the Bauhaus, and then something disastrous happened. Today, he says, we are left with nothing. I call the third period, the one that describes the current moment, the “pop culture paradigm.” This schema is apparently a very general one, and the categories are intermingled in reality, but it seems interesting to follow his argumentation, because we can learn from it.

      According to Thierry, the Bauhaus concentrated oncreativity. It is a democratic principle, in comparison to the academy’s insistence on skill. Instead of referring...

    • 2. WHAT PARTS OF THOSE HISTORIES ARE PERTINENT?
      (pp. 25-32)

      Stephan schmidt-wulffen: I think we should develop the discussion of drawing, especially in relation todisegno. Disegnoin the Neoplatonic tradition, which formed the philosophical basis of the old classicist academy, was not only an artistic practice; it was also the expression of an idea of the artist corresponding to a universal principle hidden in things. This is how Vasari spoke aboutdisegnowhen he claimed that to draw means to articulate a judgment in the way nature formulates the idea in things. And Zuccaro made things even clearer when he differentiateddisegno internofromdisegno esterno.¹ Today we are...

    • 3. THE POSSIBILITY OF A BOOK ON STUDIO ART INSTRUCTION WORLDWIDE
      (pp. 33-38)

      Christopher frayling: The key thing in looking at art education outside the EU is to hear difference. The Bologna documents have a language that is quite uniform, and indeed they break up art education into familiar categories such as studio practice, theory, possible social engagement, and technology. I’d never thought about this before we did our homework for this week, but the historians of art education all universalize their experience. I hadn’t realized how Stuart MacDonald, the text I recommended, was really writing about Britain even though he claimed he was writing about world art education.² In the same way,...

    • 4. ARTISTIC KNOWLEDGE, PART 1
      (pp. 39-46)

      Roy sorensen: So aesthetic cognitivism addresses one kind of knowledge. You might say that artists have another kind of knowledge, perhapstacit knowledge, which Frances will be addressing.

      James elkins: I was interested in the list that is mentioned in Berys Gaut’s essay, which divides knowledge—that is, knowledge in general, outside of the question of art—into several kinds. I thought that was a productive way to prepare to ask, What do artists know?—by asking first, What is knowledge? Gaut’s list of kinds of knowledge includespropositional knowledge, practical knowledge, something called “the appreciation of significance,” andphenomenal...

    • 5. ARTISTIC KNOWLEDGE, PART 2
      (pp. 47-58)

      Frances whitehead: I’m going to be talking today abouttacit knowledge. We could call it a process, or a method—this gets into semantics—but if we can’t ever get to the question of what good this knowledge is, how we can use it, how we learn it, how we can teach other people about it, then I’m not sure we’re addressing what is going on in the world. So I am going to map out for you today something that arrived, uninvited, in my practice. I stumbled upon it. It may be useful to you, or it may not....

    • 6. THE FIRST-YEAR PROGRAM
      (pp. 59-76)

      James elkins: An initial problem here is that the first-year program is often considered to be relatively unimportant. There is a lot of talk about it, but that talk usually happens in lunchtime sessions at conferences (those sessions no one attends), and the conversation is often really just anecdotal: “This is what we do at our institution,” and so forth. There’s also a common idea that the first year isn’t important in the bigger scheme of things. In my field, art history, people don’t talk much about the first-year survey of world art, because they think it doesn’t have repercussions...

    • 7. THE BFA DEGREE
      (pp. 77-82)

      James elkins: Perhaps we can begin where we left off. Is the problem of the place of art history in studio instruction solved by providing electives later in the BA or BFA?

      Saul ostrow: We actually do the history backwards where I teach in Cleveland. History classes are electives in the BFA.

      Marta edling: In Swedish institutions, the students have an entire smorgasbord of choices. But the whole ideological knot is that the students choose.

      William marotti: I think about this question from the point of view of the argument inWhy Art Cannot Be Taught.⁴ The claim there is...

    • 8. THE MFA DEGREE
      (pp. 83-102)

      James elkins: It really matters that the MFA has no definition. Even if we only want to say the MFA is a professional degree—so that it doesn’t need a definition other than one to do with professionalization—still, the PhD is conceptually dependent on the MFA, so it will not be possible to build a coherent PhD program without a sense of what the MFA is. To me, it’s just an outrageous fact that the MFA has effectively no definition.

      I would like to approach the MFA from three directions: as a development of the first-year program and the...

    • 9. THE PHD DEGREE
      (pp. 103-122)

      James elkins: Welcome, everyone, to the axis of evil. For most of the art world, the PhD in art practice is irremediably compromised, if not actively evil. It may be worth bearing in mind as we go through that the PhD is a tiny minority interest, and when it comes up in conferences it is often greeted with choruses of boos. But it’s what most of us have wanted to talk about all week long, and I think it’s definitely the case that the PhD presents the most interesting conceptual problems.

      I’d like to suggest we have an abstract discussion:...

  6. ASSESSMENTS
    • THE PLACE TO BE
      (pp. 125-127)
      Jan Baetens

      As all participants in the Seminar agree, some of them quite willingly, others more reluctantly, studio art training has been characterized for the last few decades by presentness. However, this presentness appears less as grace, to make a bad paraphrase of Michael Fried’s famous words, than as a narrow reduction to a here and now that is mainly, at least for critical observers such as Thierry de Duve, an excuse to focus on “attitude,” “practice,” and “deconstruction,”¹ that is, on nothing.

      Yet the expression “here and now” is very deceiving, since the word “and,” which associates the temporal and the...

    • REFLECTIONS
      (pp. 128-130)
      Robert Nelson

      The seminars are an impressive combination of erudite wit, earnest philosophy, and institutional hand-wringing. They perfectly capture anxieties over art education today, especially in relation to research. In their admirable zeal to explore the deficiencies of the contemporary academy, however, the seminars themselves mirror a widespread neglect of the salient ingredients of art and artistic process.

      It is difficult for me to respond to the searching and sometimes dazzling discussions without some embarrassment. My problem is, as Daniel Palmer notes, that I have written a book on the topic (The Jealousy of Ideas), which came out the same week the...

    • ART EDUCATION IN A MEDIATIZED WORLD
      (pp. 131-134)
      Bert Taken and Jeroen Boomgaard

      We live in a media-dominated knowledge society. This describes the situation that has prevailed in the Western world for some three decades. The laptop, the Internet, the mobile phone, the scanner and video camera have become integrated into and an extension of our physical and mental way of life. They dictate the way in which we experience and shape the world. At this juncture we exist as mediatized creatures. One of the consequences of the development and dissemination of new technological resources is that we have never before been confronted by and had such easy access to so many images....

    • A REVIEW
      (pp. 135-138)
      William Conger

      The Fellows examined all sides of the question, What Do Artists Know? Their overall aim was to imagine an underlying theory for an art curriculum of necessary integrated skills and knowledge for artists from the undergraduate foundation level through the MFA and emerging PhD in studio practice.

      As distinguished artists, critics, and theorists, the Fellows are well acquainted with the greatly expanded nature of art practice and artists’ identities in recent decades. They know that a curriculum centered on traditional art-making skills, formalist principles, and art history no longer suffices in an art world being re-formed by theory that melds...

    • THE COMMON DENOMINATOR
      (pp. 139-142)
      Anders Dahlgren

      It seems to me that artistic research is a concept that is as open to interpretation as art itself.¹ When surveying the artistic research discourse, one finds multiple suggestions about what to call it, and endless alternatives on how to define its essentials. As James Elkins points out,² a closer look at the MFA shows a similar lack of consensus. The MFA has been around for quite some while, but artistic research is surely a relatively new field, and therefore this state of uncertainty is understandable. Thomas S. Kuhn’s term “the preparadigmatic period” can be successfully used to explain the...

    • THOUGHTS ON THE SEMINARS
      (pp. 143-145)
      Michael Fotiadis

      I tend to be theoretical in my papers, at least where circumstances allow. In such cases, writing becomes for me a process of discovery: by the end of writing (if an end it is), I have learnt something that I did not know when I started; concepts have rearranged themselves in my mind in ways I did not anticipate, and something that was originally a mere irritation, a conceptual difficulty that I was inclined to push aside, has proven itself to be a symptom of an issue far more significant than the one I set out to explore. Needless to...

    • WHEN ART TURNS ITS BACK ON THE BODY
      (pp. 146-151)
      Tom McGuirk

      One of the more intriguing issues to emerge from the discussions at the Institute concerns the meaning of deskilling, particularly its significance for the constitution of fine art as a discipline within the broader framework of the university. This discussion emanated principally from a consideration of Howard Singerman’s text, more specifically his assertion—taking a lead from Thierry de Duve—that “in contemporary art and art schools, the frame and the field of work have become precisely the métier, the craft skills with which work is made, as well as the site where it is produced.”¹ In other words, where...

    • KANT’S ASSUMPTION WHAT THE ARTIST KNOWS AND THE PHD FOR VISUAL ARTISTS
      (pp. 152-154)
      George Smith

      If we believe Plato, the artist knows and represents nothing but lies. Not only that, but such lies make men cry—make them act, that is, like women. Aristotle replies, in effect, “The artist knows less than the philosopher, that I grant you. But it’s also true that the artist knows more than the historian, because [his] mimetic representations are universal, whereas the historian’s facts are particular.” Always the pragmatist, Aristotle takes Plato’s binary of the ideal/real and sets up knowledge as a working hierarchy: philosophy = high; art = middle; history = low. Hence begins one of the main...

    • WHAT MIGHT ARTISTS LEARN FROM ARCHITECTS?
      (pp. 155-157)
      Martin Søberg

      As was observed during the 2009 Stone Summer Seminars, there seems to be conceptual, epistemological chaos surrounding the new studio-based PhD programs in art, especially concerning the use of the term “knowledge.” Perhaps to help address this chaos, it would be advantageous to look to related artistic fields. My simple question in what follows is, What might artists learn from architects? I will point to some aspects of possible interest for further inquiry. Architects are as confused as artists when it comes to conducting systematic and reflected academic investigations based on specific architectural methods, whether such work is termed practice-based...

    • THE WAR IS OVER
      (pp. 158-161)
      Su Baker

      At a conference some time ago in Melbourne, Australia, where I live and work, we were discussing the current state of art school education (of course), and from the podium I looked out over the crowd onto at least three or four generations of people who were all part of this story: some nudging towards sixty years old or over, to some just into their twenties.

      The discussion was about how to make art schools the places we want them to be. Previously, some art educators drew on the practices of a golden past with fixed points of value and...

    • WHAT’S ART GOT TO DO WITH IT?
      (pp. 162-165)
      Gary Willis

      Funny, at a time when so many young people identify as artists, so many theorists argue there is no point in looking to art. Many schools are dropping the “Art” prefix in preference for “Visual Culture,” “Creative Industry,” “Culture and Communication,” and so on. Mieke Bal puts the argument against art history this way: “to take visual culture as art history is to condemn it [visual culture] to the same future [as art]”; the problem is that the twentieth-century premise is irrelevant to twenty-first-century conditions.¹

      These conditions include the globalization of art and its networks; the democratization of art and...

    • ART EDUCATION IN THE UNIVERSITY ITSELF A PERSPECTIVE FROM GENERAL EDUCATION
      (pp. 166-170)
      Yeung Yang

      Writing this essay, I find myself asking, what do I care about university art education, when all I have done formally within the university setting with art students is to have given two lectures over the past two years?¹ What does this have to do with me as an independent curator with no formal art (studio, theory, history) training and as currently a teacher of general education?

      This sense of speaking from the outside art and, inside an undergraduate university program that in the near future will radically change the first-year experience for all students, art majors included,² compels me...

    • ART AND THE MARKET OF KNOWLEDGE
      (pp. 171-174)
      Louisa Avgita

      The discussion about art education and teaching methods seems to revolve around the main question that the Seminars have posed: “What do artists know?” What seems to be evident is that if we localize and analyze the types of knowledge that make an artist, then we can discuss what we can teach and how we can do it—or even if we can do it at all.

      An immediate response to the former approach would critically argue that the signification of art and the perception of the artist are not the same in all cultural and social environments. Although this...

    • KNOWLEDGE AND VALUE IN ART
      (pp. 175-177)
      Rina Arya

      Two of the main topics of interest in the seminar were about how art is currently taught around the world and what kinds of knowledge artists have. What struck me about this valuable debate is that there are differing standards and values in art education as compared with the education of science. This is largely due to society’s perceptions of what is regarded as useful and necessary. The nub of the debate then can be isolated in a single question: What kinds of knowledge can art give us?, and from this question we can begin to build a bigger picture....

    • WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE OF THINKING ON THE PHD BY ART PRACTICE?
      (pp. 178-180)
      Brad Buckley and John Conomos

      What confronts today’s tertiary art institutions, their faculty, and, not least, art students is a complex and shifting geopolitical situation in which art and education are undergoing unpredictable transformations. Simply put, what role a PhD might play in fine arts education depends where one is. Everywhere one looks there are substantial “push-and-pull” factors—innovation versus tradition, experimentation versus resistance.

      Therefore, one is obliged to radically rethink what a contemporary art school is and whether a PhD has a viable future in such an academic institution. How will a PhD benefit the present and future generations of students who wish to...

    • SPOOK COUNTRY TRAINING FOR CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
      (pp. 181-185)
      Charles Green

      Art school can be memorable. Art schools can also make art history. Without going back too far, think of Nova Scotia and CalArts during the 1970s. Think of the buzz around Los Angeles’s art schools and London’s Goldsmiths during the 1990s. What stood out was their participation in the creation of what we now call contemporary art. Otherwise, thinking about art schools dates as quickly as my memory of the last faculty graduate committee meeting minutes. It’s not the why, how, or what about artists’ training and thinking, but who, where, and when that we remember.

      This is one half...

    • LEARNING EDUCATION
      (pp. 186-188)
      Håkan Nilsson

      What do artists know? In the introduction to the Seminars, James Elkins compare his own take on this question with Frances Whitehead’s. While Elkins understands the question within an educational framework, Whitehead looks upon it in a broader context that also has bearing outside the educational system. One the one hand, knowledge is connected to the education of artists, and on the other, knowledge is something artists possess regardless of education. Here, if I interpret Whitehead right, one might say that it is what an artist knows that actually makes her apply for an artistic education. Within this structure artists...

    • WHAT ARTISTS KNOW
      (pp. 189-192)
      Laurie Fendrich and Peter Plagens

      In response to Professor Frances Whitehead’s list of the cognitive and operational virtues of artists (from the Seminar she conducted on artistic knowledge), we are presenting a more prosaic addendum, a filling in, as it were, of some abstractions.

      Artists do know things that nonartists don’t know, or know things that non-artists do know but in a different way. Moreover, deep down, they know that they should know things that they haven’t bothered to learn. Sometimes they’ve suppressed knowledge, for reasons ranging from feeling they have bigger fish to fry, to career convenience, to conformity with whatever part of the...

    • HOW DO ARTISTS THINK?
      (pp. 193-195)
      Janneke Wesseling

      The question, What do artists know? is stimulating and thought-provoking, as demonstrated by the lively roundtable discussions that followed from it. The question occupied me over the past few months, when I continually felt forced to draw the absurd conclusion that artists know nothing. In the end I realized that that might not be such an absurd conclusion after all.

      To gather insight into what it is that artists do and how they apply their knowledge, and to develop an understanding about how art should be taught, why it is taught, and even whether it should be taught, as James...

    • BEYOND AUTHORITY
      (pp. 196-197)
      Vanalyne Green

      A number of things strike me about the discussions.

      1. Formally, I found the almost random quality of conversation really difficult to hold onto. Even though there are bullet points, the back-and-forth nature of the interactions kept me zigzagging through the text. This was fun at first, but when I wanted to think of a way of responding, it was as if there were points of thought and suggestions but not a container for them.

      2. The drama of interaction via transcripts—ellipses, politeness, emphases—inducted me into the role of voyeur. I always like being a voyeur, but in this case...

    • WHEN SKILL BECOMES ATTITUDE
      (pp. 198-199)
      Glenn Adamson

      I come to this conversation as a specialist in the history and theory of craft. For me, the question of what artists know is inseparable from the question of skill. And the main thing to say about skill is that, almost uniquely among the variables in artistic production, it cannot be had easily.

      Art school is a very brief experience. Even a full-fledged master’s student will have spent only five or six years learning how to make art, and will have spent much of that time traversing many different studio disciplines, and perhaps studying academic subjects too. Just for the...

    • TWENTY THESES ON WHAT ARTISTS KNOW
      (pp. 200-204)
      Henk Slager

      1.1. During the last decade the so-called Bologna Agreement has prompted many discussions and publications dealing with the academicization of art education, which, in my view, has led to an overvaluation of the concept of artistic research.

      1.2. As yet, artistic research is a concept that provokes many critical questions. What form of research emerges in or through visual art? And if one can indeed speak of research through visual art, how does such research relate to the already established scientific-philosophical triad of alpha, beta, and gamma sciences?

      1.3. Does the rhetoric of the concept of research indeed enable novel...

  7. AFTERWORD A RESERVE ARMY OF INTELLECTUALS
    (pp. 205-216)
    Howard Singerman

    Perhaps it is significant how few artists are mentioned over the Seminar’s 270 manuscript pages, as though artists somehow had nothing to do with studio art teaching. And since I plan in the coming pages to read their absence as symptomatic of a problem I think is made quite clear by the Seminar, let me start by acknowledging that artists were missing from my book, too. While there were a number of artists mentioned by named inArt Subjects, they appeared there as educators, administrators, or commentators, figures who, at best, might also be or once have been artists. But...

  8. NOTES ON THE CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 217-226)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 227-228)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)