September 23, 2009

SSTI: 2



On day two of the Stone Summer Theory Institute conference, Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen gave his presentation on art education in Europe and the “Bologna Accords.” The Bologna process is a endeavor to unify art education curricula in Europe, to gain consensus among all of the European countries on what comprises education in the visual arts.

In his detailed analysis, Stephan pointed out some of the major issues of the Bologna process. For instance, art degrees should be uniform throughout Europe. Currently there is little comparative relationships between colleges; French BA's are three years, other countries’ are four, etc.

Not surprisingly, some European art schools have resisted the process, saying art training should be individualized, without modules, or courses, or even rules. Just complete freedom – no theory – and no professors telling you what to do. The skeptics say: “We need to keep an open space – it is impossible to compare student A to student B!”

To establish a standard educational norm in Europe, qualifications of Bachelors degrees under the Bologna process have been focused on “artistic practice,” “judgment” and “social context.” Stephan then shared his ideas of what these qualifications should be and they are much different:

First, artists must learn to work alone but also in collaboration with a team. Second, they should learn how to work with the public, i.e., be able to change their personal standpoint to meet the public’s expectations. Third, artists must be trained to reflect upon and be able to evaluate both their own artwork as well as the works of others. Lastly, artists would learn how to be “inventive in a systemic way” through both practices and methods.

One of the resources that Stephan has drawn from is Thierry de Duve and his infamous “When Form Has Become Attitude – and Beyond.” De Duve’s scheme develops a “trilogy” that explicates the history of art education something this: First, the “Academic” model of teaching art concentrated on talent, m├ętier (technique) and imitation. Later, the Bauhaus School’s initiative decides art education is about creativity, medium and invention. The implication that these oppositional strategies merely reject the other’s contentions is both chronologically and ideologically clear.

I have a particular fondness for this Duve essay as I have taught it in my advanced theory classes for a few years now. I began introducing it to Corcoran College of Art + Design undergraduates as a way to begin a dialogue about their perceptions and thoughts on “how” they were being taught art. But the best part of the essay as pedagogical tool for me was its revelation that the final methodology of the “triology” Duve proposed, heavily influenced by continental theory of the 1970’s, would also function surreptitiously as a way to introduce some of the ideas associated with postmodernism; those three categories Duve used as evidence of the new plot in art education, i.e., attitude, practice and deconstruction.

To paraphrase Stephan’s remarks from my notes from today: practice denotes an abstraction from the object, from “form” and is a result of dematerialization. Instead of creativity, Duve’s “attitude” is a product of social conditions. It re-thinks the role of the artist.

In the discussion that followed, Jim Elkins expressed his feeling that Duve’s “third” module's categories were polemic, that Duve has admitted this, and that the use of these “magic words” like “creativity” are in need of more explanation. Christopher Frayling supports the inherent possibilities of an “attitude” that can be analytical or a sociological concept. His preferred categories: “Normative, critical and expressive.”

As Stephan concluded, “We [artists] are trained to research ourselves.”


Image: Renzo Piano's Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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