Performing "The Ivory Tower" at #class

The Ivory Tower discussion. Images via live video stream / Hrag Vartanian

(UPDATED: March 19, 2010)

Stop by #class, either in person or via video feed, a sprawling project underway at Winkleman Gallery. Artists William Powhida and Jen Dalton have turned the gallery into a ‘think tank’ for guest artists, critics, academics, dealers, collectors, and anyone else who’s interested to examine the way art is made, seen, and sold in our culture. On March 4, I led a discussion/faculty meeting (see image above) about our experiences in art school–both as students and faculty. Thanks for stopping by, in person and via the live streaming video and the #class feed on Twitter.

Participants included:
Jason Andrew–Norte Maar and Storefront
Greg Bailey–Connecticut College
Mia Brownell–Southern Connecticut State University
Peter Dudek–Hunter College
Rico Gatson–New York University
Ethan Ham–City University of New York
James Holland–Eastern Connecticut State University
Brece Hunnicutt--Non academic, MFA Columbia
Clint Jukkala–Yale University
Kate Kretz--an academic who (gasp) quit teaching
Martin Kruck–New Jersey City University
Kevin McCoy–New York University
Matthew Miller–Non academic, MFA New York Studio School
Tom Micchelli–Cooper Union
John O-Donnell–University of Connecticut
Cathy Nan Quinlan–Non academic
Austin Thomas–Camp Pocket U

Winkleman Gallery, 621 West 27th Street (NEW LOCATION), New York, NY 10001. Winkleman Gallery, 621 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001. Events will take place from approximately Feb 20 – March 20, 2010. For a full list of events, click here.

The discussion was very much like a faculty meeting, but without the traditional dysfunction and warring factions endemic to academia. Clearly the experiential divide between the faculty working at private institutions who have light teaching loads and few administrative duties, and faculty at state schools who have onerous curriculum development, assessment procedures, and heavy teaching loads informed our perceptions. As we sat around the conference table, I realized that within the university setting art faculty are the creative thinkers, the renegades, but performing in a Chelsea gallery, we become the staid intellectuals � proving once again that context is everything.

What’s a faculty meeting without minutes? Here are notes from the discussion, compiled by my excellent colleague James Holland.

� The whole question of whether Bruce High Quality University is a bane to be lamented or simply a sign of the always shifting status of education.

� Whether the shift toward market-centered considerations in the training of art students has in fact dropped precipitously in the past three years, or if the trend of the last decade or so soldiers on un-phased.

� The markedly different concerns or even worldviews of an academic working to ‘satisfy’ the appetites of an essentially bureaucratic and often quizzical set of eyes and ears; versus the grind of seeking gallery representation in a frenzied sort of natural selection.

� Gallerists and collectors going after the “low hanging fruit” of Art School studio visits and whether it amounts to exploitation. I am reminded here of the sport analogy of scouting and wonder whether the star system isn’t at the base of so much drive for success in cultural fields. Warhol made it self-evident; Hirst and Koons are free market superstars. The mortals consort with Olympians in the spectacle of the culture industry and we wonder why they yearn to become gods themselves.

� Art education, especially on the Master’s level, as a pyramid scheme of sorts. I pointed this out without the caveat that many artists, myself included, knowingly enter into the compact. Perhaps for the very reason that was mentioned: to give myself permission and opportunity to spend a few years teasing out the strains of my own artistic language. Knowing that the carrot dangling before us was a mirage, but a mirage that can nonetheless be made real in the crucible of circumstance.

� Teacher, in some ways, as a facilitator of auto-didacticism. Teaching students by letting them teach themselves. Tom Micchelli is right to point out that this can give rise to an ever-narrowing path of discovery, such as the student myopically rehearsing the impacts of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin without being steered into a more broad-based form of inquiry. And yet it’s not that the two sensibilities are mutually exclusive. The point might be that a pedagogical shift is occurring from the bottom up in any case. And so I would argue for a functional marriage. Which gets to the lasting currency of the lecture, and the lecture as an artform in its own right. I would argue that artists have known this, just not the kinds of artists that collectors necessarily canonize. Though the postmodern era has canonized many conceptual artists whose dalliances with the art of lecture/ conversation did not keep them from producing objects for exchange, such as Josef Beuys.

� And the question of whether or not the socio-cultural and even epistemological emphasis on individual success is not ultimately a trap whose impacts we know well, because we are living them. Hence the shift toward greater appreciation of collectivist means in creative pursuits, perhaps partly as a result of the market downturn (as Tom wondered about). This question is of course tied to the previous one, as there seems to be a natural affinity between self-directed learning and collaboration.

These are just some of my meandering recollections. Thanks for providing the experience that produced them.

–James Holland
March 5, 2010

Related articles:
Holland Cotter reviews #class in the NY Times, March 19, 2010.
#class is an ArtForum Critics’ Pick 
The Art of The Crowd at Art in America online
#class Exhibit Challenges New Museum Show at Wall Street Journal online


  1. A photo of the event being livestreamed is here.

  2. The terms artist and aacademic are mutually exclusive. One lives out in life, seperating that which is essential to all of humanity through the filter of ones own existence, after decades of living in nature, with god, and out in the real world, not of only one class or race, and contempt art now is strictly ethnic, naive young white kids with no clue of our common clture, of ALL humanities.

    Academics store things, and present them as knowledge. They do NOT make knowledge, this is where things fell apart over 50 years ago. Critics and academics taught art, that which cannot be taught. And so made it literary, where true creative art that lasts is poetic and musical of line, color and strucutre, the melody harmony and rhythm of its sister, music.

    True creative art, that which lasts, defines humanity, explores nature, and searches for god, intertwining all as the one they are. Of mind, body and soul. Visualizing our common human experience, and bonding us together, not splintering, as the academic/museo/gallery complex has done for profit. And so contempt art was created, to service the careers of the pharisees of art.

    Art is found wandering the wilderness. Prophets do not live in Ivory towers.

    art collegia delenda est
    Save the Watts Towers, tear down teh Ivories

  3. I don't know about the collectivist idea. Some artists prefer to work alone. It would have been interesting to have had some self-taught artists there to speak- were there any?

    Reading an old '77 interview with the poet Gary Snyder, in which he claims that 'the cave tradition of painting, which runs from 35,000 to 10,000 years ago, is the world's longest single art tradition….in that perspective, civilization is like a tiny thing that occurs very late.'

    He suggests that most of the arts we have now are the legacy of the stable Neolithic period. The world of myth and art is ancient; language and civilization is new.
    So where does that leave the tradition of art school? Possibly an experiment that isn't very successful in producing truly personalized works of art.

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