A couple of weeks ago I was asked by CalArts if I would agree to participate in a survey about my experiences there when I was a student. I did, and it was an eye-opener. The questions that were being asked had almost nothing to do with the “education” I received when I was there forty-five years ago.
The first question was how I would rate my experience; I put “excellent.” For every qualifying question in this category I had to put “poor.”
How could this be? How could I have an excellent education when all the things the survey felt must be necessary for an art education did not actually apply to how CalArts was structured? There were no classes that taught techniques, no classes focusing on the business of art, no financial counselors. Words like “networking,” “branding,” “gallery contracts,” “price-points,” were never uttered.
But for this survey, this was the nature of their questions. They literally referred to art making as a job.
I can only stress that none of this applied to art when I entered the field. What faces young artists today in no way resembles the stress, the obstacles, the tough decisions, and ultimately, I believe, the goals we set for ourselves or those that were determined by the art world back then. I can’t emphasize enough just how unstructured the world of art was—which gave the impression of many possibilities, many open doors. Now, like in other fields, there are career paths.
So the question is, do you teach art the way you were taught, or do you acknowledge that the nature of art making has changed, the pressures and expectations on young artists are different, so you adjust your methodology to address their reality?
No, no, no, no, no, NO!
Art education should not be a degree program. It should be dropped from colleges and universities—or at the very least, the tuition should be scaled in such a way that students are not burdened with debt in a field that cannot in any way guarantee an income commensurate with the ability to pay it down.
It should provide a student with space, time, techniques, and critical standards, in a safe and competitive environment, so that they can handle and profit from being constantly challenged, broken down, debased, and ridiculed. Make damn sure that within this structure of frustration, confusion, and humiliation, they are nurtured by your profound sense of purpose, wisdom, experience, and your unshakeable belief in the meaningfulness of art.
Art should be embraced as a journey. Result-oriented, not product-based. Understood as a process and a dialogue with history, culture, and time.
For what it’s worth.
ERIC FISCHL is an American painter and sculptor.