Learning to steal?
I wrote an opinion piece in the Art of England (issue 77, January 2011) on the issue of artistic plagiarism called “On Learning to Steal”. I start by musing on the usefulness of students learning art by copying works in art galleries. You know the story, littered around the floor are art students busily copying, sketching some work or other. As I note in the article, they seem more like a piece of performance art to a failing art education system, than serious learning. I make the point that this only encourages further theft: “bad artists copy, good artists steal”. They are learning how to steal.
But more worrying, of course, is artistic plagiarism, and I draw attention to a recent high-profile example in Australia. I come down hard and negatively toward artists who maintain an atelier where their job is signing finished works of art (I call them signaturists). I observe that these artists themselves sense this is a con, otherwise, why would one well-known artist preface recent work by saying the work was done personally.
Plagiarism in all its forms is not to be trifled with. In the visual arts, copying is rife, not helped by the ease of cut-and-paste off the internet.
Nevertheless, we must be vigilant of artists who fail, as one artist put it, to adequately reference their sources.
Should art have footnotes?
Want to know more?
An overview of artistic plagiarism by Denis Dutton
An art school: I wonder what goes on in there?
I wrote an opinion piece on failing art schools in the UK in Issue 75, November 2010, of Art of England magazine.
Are students in art schools actually getting an education worth paying for. Considering the stresses in higher education funding, and the appalling career opportunities for many art school graduates (upwards of 90% never work at their core art competencies after graduation), that some art schools appear to be failing, not just their students, but also in the quality of the work they do, is a clear waste of money.
One of my suggestions is that some university art schools be downgraded to non-degree colleges, with a sharper vocational focus. The other is to widen their appeal to support the learning needs of older folk, to attract later-blooming artists, of which there are many. The problem for the universities is that at some level art-making is essentially vocational; university art studies really are less on the practice of art-making as on the scholastic study of art (an often confused and obscure activity with its own obfuscating terminology, but that is another matter). If artists are to enjoy the benefits of academic positions, they should be contributing to the advancement of knowledge at some level.
No doubt these failing institutions will argue that they offer value, by way of research, but research-led institutions are fine but not if the students are trying to build practical careers in which case you have a serious mis-match. Research in art in my view is important, but is not advanced by students spending the bulk of their time in studios. We need people who understand and can research art as it contributes to civilisation, and how art is made as a function of brains at play. As I wrote in this opinion piece, if students want to paint, they can keep a studio at home. This would eliminate, perhaps to much acclaim, the graduate art shows of frequently pointless academic art.
While not a heathen with respect to universities, I have a doctorate and have been a senior lecturer, there are some things better done for the learner in more accessible and less puffed-up learning centres. The current educational system doesn’t incentivise them.
Now dig in.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In an opinion piece, “Dirt” in Art of England, July 2011, I explored the problem, issue, challenge of artists who do not actually make their own work, but hire others to do the work.
I am concerned that the authority of the artist is becoming simply the act of the creation of the thought, and not the execution of the work itself, a bit like having your word processor start your sentences.
A book by Michael Petry, The Art of Not Making, approvingly examines the artists who don’t actually make anything.
The creative process isn’t just about having a good idea, indeed having a good idea isn’t good enough, any more than a writer with a good idea can hawk the idea around for a few thousand dollars. (Ah, but they do apparently sell tag lines in Hollywood, which may explain why many of the films are so bad!) With art, there is the need, I suggest, for the authority of manufacture, if that is the right word, something that says “I made this”, full of agency and intent.
The downside fear is this. Imagine you only need to put some whatever into a computer software programme and out comes something. Think of 3D printers, and whether they can actually produce art. Then again, maybe someone will eventually invent a word processor that starts sentences.
Keep in mind that only human faces can smile, and only brains and minds can create.
Arts groups prepare for funding cuts
No doubt many in the arts community are concerned at rising levels of public sector austerity. For many their very existence depends on public funding of one sort or another.
Few, though, will of necessity understand the underlying logic why there are public funding programmes for the arts in the first place, apart from vague notions that the arts are valuable. But funding the arts gets mixed up in funding culture and that involves public values and what is, and what isn’t, of culture importance.
I have a short piece in the UK magazine, Art of England (Issue 72 August 2010), “How to swing the arts funding axe: a user guide”, which draws on my own experience in policy to present what are essentially four options facing the arts/culture community. Choosing amongst the options would lead to an approach to the use of public funding and have an impact of one sort or another on the shape of culture institutions and the behaviour of artists themselves.
If you are concerned about the ways the arts are funded, but don’t want to read a thick book, this short article may illuminate the issues. Email me with your preferred choice.
Publicly funded art: a chilling experience?
Had you had the opportunity to read Art of England Back Chat item I wrote and read the headline of the Financial Times for Saturday, 10 July 2010, [read the article here] you would have learned what is store for the arts in the UK — entrepreneurialism, philanthropy and the dismantling of the welfare state that is arts funding.
Of course this will require a change of behaviour of artists as well as the institutions that comprise the art and culture world. Special interests will by their very nature plead for special treatment and perhaps some of these arguments will have merit. But in the main, the lazy hazy days of the public gravy train are near an end and cultural forces will have to be a little bit extra tuned toward their cultural audiences and away from the solipsism and self-indulgence that seems to pass for much art.
There is no lack of philanthropy for idiosyncratic acquisition of dodgy art, and there is no end to the institutionalisation of art in national galleries (along with a reluctance to prune the holdings — just see the fuss when the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, NY wanted to do this).
But culture is dynamic not static and warehousing art in public galleries is little different from checking the chest freezer to see what could be thawed out for dinner.