Modern technologies such as the slide projector, film, video, and television have presented us with deceptions, rather than actual experiences of Art.
The fallacies of Art "Appreciation" presentations with the unavoidable distortions inherent in lecture slide shows have presented us with a situation which perpetuates "Lies" about Artists and their works. These fallacies put too much garbage between us and the Art. (As does television, discussed below.)
Such deceptions subvert an Art image through technologies which translate an Art Work into altered sizes, colours, removing all tactile qualities, i.e., characteristics of media, material, and variations in surface levels, such as the 3-dimensional aspects of impasto (paint), relief, textures, projection of the piece from the wall, the work's relationship to the surface on which it is hung (if a painting), or the space in which it is installed (if a sculpture). To see the REAL THING for the first time, intimately, in Real Time, in a museum is a shock!
The resulting heavy weight of misrepresentation throws the Art Work off balance, leading to a viewer's misinterpretation coupled with an attendant lack of real understanding of the artistic significance of the Work.
As an artist who suffered the requisite art history lectures in a darkened amphitheater with faded, poorly-photographed slides of Art shown vastly out of scale with the real size of the Works, I am an advocate of the only alternative: an encounter with the Real in Real Time.
Thus, the necessity of museum visits. Any art department of a university which does not include these visits as part of the requirements for an art history or studio course is negligent. A student who does not have such opportunities on a regular basis should hold the university accountable for not living up to their responsibility to offer honest curriculum . An analogous situation would be to teach a chemistry class without a lab or chemicals, or physics without models, literature without books, law without studies of court decisions.
Thus begs the question: should every art student abandon the inferior art education in these institutions and gravitate towards art schools in larger communities where there are museums possessing significant collections? Could universities add trips to cultural centers as a required part of the curriculum be included in the price of tuition? It would certainly test the sincerity of a university's commitment to Art Education, the expertise of the professors, and the inner drive of the art student to complete his Bildung. [Bildung: a German word, meaning life-long personal growth through education, suggesting the intention of living to one's full potential.]
Personally, my answer to the question: if the institution of higher education has a great collection, such as Harvard or Princeton, and art schools, which are located in cities where access to the greatest collections are located, Chicago Art Institute, Boston School of Fine Arts, Philadelphia Academy, Tyler School of Art (Philadelphia), Corcoran School of Art (Washington, D.C.), Art Students League, New York Institute of Art, Pratt (New York) for instance, then, that is where students should study art.
The democratization of Art in America has been a failure: after a 50 year period of expansion in state university art programs, much mediocrity characterizes a large percentage of work produced by graduates of programs which have not included encounters with the great works of Art which should have been an integral part of a compleat education.
I will speak for my own education experience. I earned two degrees at one of the largest university art departments in the U.S. It was not until I traveled throughout the country and abroad over a 30 year period visiting museums in Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Paris, London, Milan, Venice, Bern, and not until I lived in New York City for 10 years that I finally obtained the art education (through daily encounters with great art) which I craved as a seriously committed artist. In essence, I had wasted 7 years of my youthful energy in the 1960's rebelling against the limitations of the prevailing pattern in university art education and, for 2 more years, was mis-directed toward teaching, which, though a noble profession, was never my ultimate ambition. Working in a museum for 5 years provided great opportunities for a much wider art education by a Harvard-educated Director, Joseph Jeffers Dodge, who taught me, to give only one example, the joys of 17th Century Art and its attendant history, for which I had not developed an appreciation, for I had not been prepared, thoroughly, while a student, for understanding the importance of this period to the subsequent development of European art. From this point on, I committed to being a full time artist so that I could study art in a more focused manner.
One could argue that art education for the educated masses is a good thing. I agree. But, when that so-called education distorts the very meaning of Art, then, neither society, nor Art, benefits. Europeans, for instance, have an advantage, for, even in the most provincial places, there are examples of great art, architecture, and public art works. It would seem that many ordinary people, there, learn by osmosis as well as education, from constant exposure to art in their environment, resulting in an understanding and appreciation which allows for tolerance. Art, for them, is normal activity. Here, for the general public, it is mostly the playground of those who have enough money and time to spend on it. As for the rest, in America, art is mostly a target of outrage, ridicule, or, a matter disregarded as a serious topic for discussion; either that, or fodder for Corporate prestige. Art, as decoration, without philosophical implications.
One only needs to look around at the American landscape to see dreadfully unsuccessful examples of public art which special (ignorant, but well-meaning) civic committees, and panels of local (self-described) art professionals have judged as the "best" of American art. This is where the "Lie," or deceptive education practice ultimately leads us. Uninformed choices with mediocre results.
Perhaps, this is why, if a foreigner thinks of an iconic American image, it is the Coca-Cola™ bottle or the banal scupture in New York Harbor, The Statue of Liberty (by a French sculptor!). If we were to think of Florence, it would be Michelangelo's David, Paris, The Victory of Samothrace, at The Louvre, Berlin, The Brandenburg Gate, or the Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, Rome, Bernini's Baldacchino, The Vatican, Michelangelo's Pietá, London, The Elgin Marbles, or Leonardo's, Virgin, Child and St. Anne, and so forth.
American media, instead, offers its consumers token, ersatz art experiences: TV documentaries featuring formulaic museum tours interspersed with brief interviews, the art in the background of the interviewee, or the art work scanned within 10 seconds or less. The other favorite genre is the prurient artist biography, focusing on how miserable his life was because of his neurosis, love life, or insanity, plus his poverty. The superficiality of such an approach erodes the impact of Art and its meaning within a cultural context, contributing to the notion of Art as perishable "entertainment." Thus, the blockbuster mentality which drives droves of uncomprehending masses to the "must see" exhibit, so they can brag that they "saw" it. Art as Fashion: art of the "moment."
There are still, in spite of the state of media and other forms of art education, significant exhibits at the major museums. From these opportunities, the best American artists are inspired, which is a tribute to their serious study of Real Art in Real Time. They are qualified to be taken seriously as artists because they truly understand what came before, through encounters with THE REAL THING: Great Works of Art, with the attendant understanding of their meaning in the scheme of a larger world of Art and Life.
©Margaret Koscielny, 2014