The Corner


Another Politicized Higher Ed Rip-Off: Art Schools

(Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The great painters of the past had students, but didn’t feel any urge to waste time in harangues about the evils of the day and the importance of making art serve the ends of social justice. But that was before educators decided that it’s more important to get students to feel the right emotions than to teach useful knowledge and skills.

It probably won’t surprise any Corner reader that many university art schools have become centers of social-justice education. In today’s Martin Center article, Michael Pearce shows that many art schools are losing students (if they haven’t already closed) because they have allowed politicization to run rampant.

Pearce writes:

The language used to describe student thesis shows reveals the political focus of art on campus. In art-speak buzz, the Maine College of Art claims that its graduates ‘hybridize a range of conceptual themes and material approaches as they relate to visual culture, the political landscape and to contemporary art practice.’ Applicants to the Tufts MFA program are told, ‘You’ll explore the broader implications of your practice through aesthetic, social, political, economic, and scientific considerations.’ Their graduating class of 2019 titled their thesis show’ No Time for Laundry’ because they were too busy with, ‘School, art, and political engagement.’

Is that worth going into debt for, especially since only a small fraction (about 10 percent) of art majors find jobs in their field?

Fortunately, there is an alternative to university art programs — atelier training. That is to say, small and independent art schools that don’t bother with politics.  They are, Pearce argues, driving change in the way students study art. It’s change back to the old days.

Pearce concludes:

Instead of providing political indoctrination dressed up as art training, successful art programs teach students studio art practices that prepare them for a career in art practice. Students who have trained in drawing, design, and industry-standard computer programs are clearly better equipped for employment in the burgeoning video game, film, and animation business than those who have undergone avant-garde de-skilling.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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