Phi Beta Cons

Art and Woman at Yale

Michael Lewis the art prof on the mess at Yale:

Ms. Shvarts may have, as she asserts, intended her project to raise questions about society and the body. But she inadvertently raises an entirely different set of questions: How exactly is Yale teaching its undergraduates to make art? Is her project a bizarre aberration or is it within the range of typical student work, unusually startling perhaps but otherwise a fully characteristic example of the program and its students? …

Immaturity, self-importance and a certain confused earnestness will always loom large in student art work. But they will usually grow out of it. What of the schools that teach them? Undergraduate programs in art aspire to the status of professional programs that award MFA degrees, and there is often a sense that they too should encourage the making of sophisticated and challenging art, and as soon as possible. Yale, like most good programs, requires its students to achieve a certain facility in drawing, although nowhere near what it demanded in the 1930s, when aspiring artists spent roughly six hours a day in the studio painting and life drawing, and an additional three on Saturday.

Given the choice of this arduous training or the chance to proceed immediately to the making of art free of all traditional constraints, one can understand why all but a few students would take the latter. But it is not a choice that an undergraduate should be given. In this respect — and perhaps only in this respect — Ms. Shvarts is the victim in this story.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.