Fine Art Mastery Is Irrelevant As An End Goal For The Average High School Student

Ok, so I do not want this to come off as argumentative, and if it does it has more to do with my own pain around the subjects you are raising and less to do with you personally. (I don’t actually even know you Rob, so it can’t be personal). I know where you’re coming from when and I have respect for your perspective.

Fundamentally, however, I have always rejected this western-civ-dominated view of art. I can appreciate the language & rhetoric created by generations of fine art scholars, though I honestly find it boring and irrelevant.

As a child I would go to museums and always wonder, “Why is this painting of a guy in a fancy coat called art and the tree outside my window isn’t?” (The reason why they are different has more to do with the role of “meaningfulness” and its relationship to art, but I will wait to get into that in another post). This feeling of fine arts dysphoria followed me all through adulthood. In 2002, the choice between going into a BFA vs. going into a B.S. in Graphic Design was no contest. I went with technology. My earliest resonance with art was with comic books and the emerging tech scene had more mysteries to me than the stuffy world of fine arts. In my teens I connected to the southern California graffiti/street art scene heavily. In the fine arts world these things are deemed “low art”.

This is why I reject the definition of art hierarchy as imposed on by the world of fine arts. Furthermore I reject the terminology in my own teaching. Generally speaking, the world of fine arts is fundamentally dictated by the people who have money and power. As I have just spent the last eight years working in a Title 1 school district on the border of Mexico, to an 80% hispanic population, I find little about the fine arts world that is relevant to a general population ninth grade arts student body.

What am I supposed to tell them? “One day you can become a starving artist like Van Gogh!”

No – I wouldn’t tell them that, because, generally speaking, the fine arts world is secluded only to the rich and white.

I do actually use the elements and principles of art to discuss visual art, as well as concepts relating to visual arts. But only when they go in tandem with what we are trying to achieve within the work that the students are doing.

In general I find that the language around art is only helpful if it is used to progress the conversation around practicing life with creativity. Generally speaking, if my teaching is not facilitating joy, awe, and wonder in relation to the word “art” than I am not doing my job as an educator. At the high school level, for the majority of students, the art class they took with me will probably be the last time they do art for the rest of their lives.Art education and art language shouldn’t be a hierarchal system designed to keep people from practicing art, it should be a language designed to heighten our enjoyment of life.

I subscribe the Peter London school of thinking about art. I also believe that art is everything, and comes the moment we first perform an abstraction of a concept during our living existence. It is the wonder of interpretation. It isn’t Michelangelo’s “David” (or, rather, it isn’t JUST “David”).

If I seem a little huff and puff about this language it is because I have been on the other end of the fine arts world my entire life. I like, and practice, comic making and street/public art. I have degrees in technology and in education. I have never been put through a fine arts degree practicum, and honestly, from what I have seen – I wouldn’t want to be. I have been judged by other art educators for the entirety of the near-decade I have been teaching because I wasn’t a “real artist” (this was said to me).

I was raised by an elementary art educator who has been practicing for 33 years. She was a teacher who believed that even I could be an artist, and I always was, and always will be – no matter what a degree says about me. My mother’s art education philosophy is more of what we need in the world. One of acceptance, joy, and enthusiasm.

We need to let down the gates of this language that dictates what is and isn’t so that we can let people into our world of lifelong practice in the arts. We need to let the people in.

Hopefully I helped clarify some of the language I was using with this response. Heck, I may have introduced you to a couple of new concepts as well. If you’d ever like to discuss emerging art forms & curriculum approaches, feel free to reach out.