Glasstire has lots of fun opportunities to
vomit voice your opinions about art. It’s set up to be interactive. However, for a number of reasons, it’s not often that I am moved to add to the chatter. A recent poll, however, caught my eye. As regular readers are familiar, Glasstire frequently posits a hypothetical to which readers may respond (simplistically) by voting. The current poll question is, “Should artists pursue a PhD in studio art?” By today (October 8), the respondents exceeded the 70 mark, which in sheer quantitative terms makes it a solidly reliable poll for art opinions in Texas. The current results are an astounding 86% against with an “It’s all bullshit,” emphatic, flag-bearing, leading the charge quote by Christina Rees. In years past I may have leaped to some simplistic dismissal to this particular question, but now…
If the answer is indeed in the question, then let’s analyze the question. Let’s break it down into parts – phrases, definition of terms, etc.
The first thing to consider is the first part: “Should artists pursue…?” This assumes there is something to pursue, something pursuable – a Phd in “studio art” in this case. Well, where would one pursue such a thing if someone could pursue such a thing? No school in Texas offers one (by school I mean institutions of higher learning otherwise known, in the parlance of our time, as colleges, universities). For those with only in-state tuition budgets, that’s not an option. So what about elsewhere? After careful, thorough research (more than 5 pages of Google), there seems to be very few art departments in universities or art school colleges that offer a PhD in “studio arts.” To back up my assessment, here’s the first result in my exhaustive search – an article posted on the authoritative, deliberate and sagacious Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-grant/mfa-degrees_b_868903.html
So who offers a PhD in “Studio art?” Apparently, as of February of last year (2010) only one of the so called top 70 art schools offers a PhD. Who?
UCSD (University of California, San Diego) http://visarts.ucsd.edu/node/view/530
I did not research the most “artistic” colleges, which may be found here: http://blog.calarts.edu/2011/08/30/newsweekdaily-beast-ranks-calarts-as-nations-most-artistic-college/
(The only Texas school on either list was UT but I have no idea how they made any list remotely related to art except that because they’re in the top 10 in every sport all the way down to badminton, the rankers (pun intended) who make these rankings must have figured they deserve thusly to be included. They don’t. My guess is that UH has secured its place among the bottom 100. But I couldn’t find that list. No wonder. You’ll notice that I didn’t even mention Rice. But I digress.*)
My first question is, how can one even ask this question? After all, it seems that pursuing a Phd in “studio art” is not very pursuable which posits it in the realm of the near hypothetical.
Next, let’s consider the term “studio art.” What is this? I assume that it’s different from non- studio art, of which I am familiar. And (and this is an educated guess) non-studio art is the larger of the two sets by a long shot. And as a practice, that is, something to do with one’s life, “studio art” is certainly different from art history, which is another of those many employable practices, like curating, built on the backs of those who actually do the do. It seems every school offers a PhD in art history which apparently qualifies one to be an expert in art. How is it that the study of the thing is more scholarly than the thing? That’s what it implies, doesn’t it? I find that similar to receiving a PhD in heart surgery without ever having performed one. Something’s fishy here to say the least.
The question behind this question is should//how/can it be possible that artists, compared to other people in other so-called disciplines, deserve/qualify for such a thing, this title? After all, engineering, biology and even business (for god’s sake) routinely offer PhD’s. Artists just express themselves (for god’s sake), don’t they? This can’t possibly be quantifiable enough to award a PhD. Can it? Should it?
Let’s step back a moment, clear the air, and try, at least, to look at this objectively. Humans as a species, are social animals (except for women in Saudi Arabia and the reason for that is that they’re not allowed to do anything so no one really knows anything about them, except they’re there. And we know this because our drones are flying overhead and they’ve been seen – but not heard). Anyway, humans love to organize themselves into groups, sets, tribes, countries, elk’s clubs, women’s softball teams and universities. Structurally, human organizations tend to have hierarchical arrangements based on various characteristics, some deserved, perhaps, some not. Regardless, recognition of higher status is important, like the people who are closer to God and you know they are because they wear a funny white collar that signifies that they are. There are many examples of these signs, both simple and complex. They are social signs of status and accomplishment. This is what a PhD is. And once you’re a doctor, you can never be an undoctor (unless your last name is Kervorkian). It’s just like the title of Grandmaster in chess. Once you’ve achieved it, you have it for life. And even if some wood pushing putz at notsuoH whips you playing black, you’re still a Grandmaster. Or it’s like a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, which, except for five of the nine, is pretty supreme. Apparently.
Thus, the award of a PhD, in contemporary human society (Plato was never Dr. Plato) is important as a status symbol and thus important to our culture.
As for the importance of art in human culture, the most succinct summation on this that I have ever heard comes from Milton Glaser (for god’s sakes) [ http://miltonglaser.com/ ]. On this subject, his words are the clearest, most accurate, most true that I have heard. Here are his words.
“There’s this stupid overlap between the two that no one understands. And the lack of distinction between art and design and art and non-art is so puzzling to people. And everybody wants to be an artist because, in terms of status, there’s almost nothing better you can be in almost any culture; basically, [this is] because art is terribly important as a survival mechanism for any culture. As a result, the people in primitive cultures who can create art as such are those who are highly respected. And that basically occurs in sophisticated cultures as well. But the only purpose of art is that it is the most powerful instrument for survival—art is so persistent in all our cultures because it is a means of the culture to survive. And the reason for that, I believe, is that art, at its fullest capacity, makes us attentive.
But if you look at a work of art, you can re-engage reality once again, and you see the distinction between what you thought things were and what they actually are. Because of that, it is a mechanism for the species to survive. And because of that, it is terribly important in human consciousness. I also believe, curiously, that beauty, which is very often something we confuse with art, is merely a mechanism to move us towards attentiveness. You realize we all have a genetic capacity and need to experience beauty, but beauty is not the ultimate justification for art. It is merely the device by which we are led to attentiveness.”
[Trouble yourself to listen to him yourself. Here’s the link. Hear it and don’t weep. http://bigthink.com/ideas/16180 ]
So finally, the real question, (assuming that art is the most important aspect of human culture, which it is) is not “Should artists pursue a doctorate in studio art?” but rather, “How can it be that anyone else but artists are recognized as doctors of philosophy?
* Footnote: (Okay, I mean, I’m going to like, way digress here, you know? Wildly. Have you ever noticed that when a, say, right tackle from the Green Bay Packers self introduces himself before the game [c’mon, admit it, you have] and if he happens to have gone to Ohio State he says, self-introducingly, “Brad Dipshit, THE Ohio State University,” making a way bigger than necessary deal to emphatically overly emphasize the THE to let you know that it’s not just Ohio State or Ohio State University but THE Ohio State University? As if the THE makes it more important or something. As if THE Missisippi State or THE Texas Christian or all THE other universities are inferior because they don’t actually have a THE in front of their official name. To all those who went to Ohio State who insist on calling it THE Ohio State University, I say shut THE fuck up.)