Monday, May 01, 2006

Yale (Boulder) UCLA

Yesterday's Sunday New York Times features an article in the Art section called "Tales From the Crit" that says May is the cruelest month of all for art students, and then proceeds to do its elitist East Coast / West Coast thang focusing exclusively on Professors and Grad students at Yale and UCLA , with a few side quotes from some already graduated and very well-established artists whose work can be found in the commercial gallery scene.

It opens with an image they caption with the following line: "In a meta moment, Hein Koh's 'School of Art,' depicting a group crit, is shown during her final crit at Yale," and then the lede is all about the new film, Art School Confidential.

The article correctly points out that "today's leading art schools...have become so instrumental to gallery success" that the pressure at these schools keeps getting more and more intense. You will not be surprised to hear that the article does not address the fact that these elitist art schools are outrageously expensive and are meant to teach students how to successfully commodify themselves for the art market. No, rather, forget how much money it costs and what sort of economic and social background you would need to come from to position yourself for artistic greatness. Let's focus instead on how hardcore getting an MFA at an elitist school really is. I was waiting for the inevitable metaphor relating getting an MFA at Yale to getting an MBA at Harvard, but only got the trendy, Bush-era hyperbole of painter Lisa Yuskavage, who tells the reporter
My experience was a lot like boot camp...only in the military they break you down to build you back up into a team player who serves a leader. At Yale they break you down and leave you to put the pieces back together.
The Few. The Proud. The Bankable.

Unless you got into a West Coast school where things get more mellow and, as Thomas Lawson, a CalArts dean, says, the courses "tend to have more student participation — more of a peer review process." Schools in Cali have to compete for the elite students who still have the will to Make It Happen in commercial gallery culture. Making the case for more MFA students to "go west!" - the Dean concludes: "On the East Coast there is still a lot of faculty grandstanding." Touché.

The Few. The Relaxed. The Bankable.

Although, it must be said that UCLA-based conceptual artist John Baldessari gets close to our own Boulder style when, in the same article, he says, "for me the group crits are really successful if I could walk out of the room and the conversation continued. I see my role as being a good moderator or navigator."

In Boulder, things are different still. The vibe here is what one of my top students calls Sub-Mellow.

"There's mellow," she says, "and then there's sub-mellow."

If we were going to build our own myth out here in the Rockies the way the myths of Yale and UCLA are being further built in the NYTimes article, I think we would have to metafictionalize the Boulder "pit crit" as a bowl, a place where the hot young artists of today double as excellent snowboarders called "killa guys" and where the rich and talentless are called "frenchie crisps." Then there are the scores of A.D.I.D.A.S. ("all day I dream about sex") art-life remixers who use the high altitude as a natural elixir to fantasize about all of the rising young Suzie Qs and Sweet Jons permeating the landscape like 3-D synthetic characters from a Virtual Reality world created especially for second-lifers navigating the immersive J. Crew universe.

But here's the twist (or the "invert") that makes the Boulder-based art-student more than just a myth, or even worse, a cliché. A lot of the work being made out in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies challenges the whole gallery scene, making it seem insignificant. Projects like Opensorcery, Screenfull, CTRL-SPACE.TV, DJRABBI, and HIAFF.

Here in the Heart of Sub-Mellow, we hoard our energy for the big bursts of productivity that are always on the cusp of rocking the art world. We honestly believe that what we make here has the potential to virally infect the art world, even if in some small way that has more historical staying power than the "flavor of the month" commercial gallery scene that the elitist art school factories seem destined to perpetuate. Of course, we believe this because we don't know any better and besides, we all keep drinking the same organic Kool-Aid.

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