In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Another Technical Note
  2. La Ligne Maginot
  3. Actress Notes
  4. Technical Day
  5. Peripheral Explanation
  6. More Immigration Links
  7. Another Graphic Detournement
  8. Peripheral Artists (5): Mikhail Vrubel
  9. Illegal Update

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Elsewhere | Main | Personal Experience »

March 05, 2005

Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger 3

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Another visit with Donald Pittenger. This time Donald recalls what an education in the arts was like in the '50s, and shares some reflections and ideas about how the '50s approach came about, and where the lunacy might have come from.

Part one of Donald's memoir can be read here. Part two is here.


Art Education in the 1950s
by Donald Pittenger

I wasn't taught much about art as an Art major back in the 1950s.

Let me clarify. I was taught next to nothing about techniques and technology in drawing and painting (both oil and watercolor) classes. I'll speculate about why this was so in a bit, but first let me describe my experiences.

Oh, and let me mention that I'm not going to subject you to a whiney-victim screed regarding the vile, oppressive "system" and how it ruined my life. Truth is, I was never good enough to support myself as a commercial artist, so I entered graduate school in another field when I left the Army. And better art training probably would not have made me "good enough" anyhow. My "stuff" wasn't quite "right".

To begin, the reason I got into Art School in the first place was because I was a "good drawer" in elementary school, and in junior high, and maybe even in high school. In high school, for a reason I have completely forgotten, I was my school's representative at the all-city art class at the Seattle Art Museum. Each of the eight high schools in the Seattle school district sent one or two students for a one-day-per-week (I think it was) session at the museum. We were taught by Guy Anderson who, in the mid-1950s, was considered one of the big four "Northwest School" artists.

Northwest modernism: Guy Anderson

(For what it's worth, the most famous were Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, the fourth was Kenneth Callahan, who has generally ranked behind Graves and Tobey, but was and is better-known than Anderson.)

More Northwest modernism: Morris Graves

I can't remember what, if anything, Anderson taught us. Nor can I remember what, if anything, I was taught in art classes in junior high and high school; I remember drawing and painting a lot of pictures, but that was about it. Since I don't remember the teaching, I'll move along to college, which I do recall better.

More Northwest modernism: Mark Tobey

I wanted to be an automobile stylist, so I entered the University of Washington in the fall of 1957 as an Industrial Design major. (Yes, even at the time, I knew that the Art Center School in Los Angeles (itís now in Pasadena) was the place to go for transportation design. But it was too expensive and I thought it best to graduate from a university, "just in case." Plus, I probably would not have succeeded in transportation design anyway. In any sort of graphic art, I'm "pretty good", but not top-notch.)

I switched from Industrial Design to Commercial Design (the school's name for commercial art) my sophomore year because ID required taking Physics and I didn't have the math skills to cope with Resolution of Forces, the year's opening topic. Actually, sophomore year was a transition year in that I continued taking first-year Architectural Design, a sophomore-level course required by the ID curriculum.

In any event, no matter what branch of art was your major, the first year or two at the School of Art had you taking pretty much the same prerequisite classes. One example was a basic design course. We had to buy a large pair of scissors (that I still have), colored paper, glue, and so forth. We snipped away at the paper and pasted up Mondrian-like compositions.

art exercise.jpg
An exercise in art 'n' creativity

Because I was an ID major, I took a year of Architectural Appreciation. And there was an introductory drawing class. Sophomore year included a year of Art History. As a Commercial Design major, I later took a number of required oil and watercolor "studio" classes in addition to commercial art classes. Overall, about half my university course credits were in art or architecture and the rest were in normal college subjects.

Being an Art major was fun. True, you had to spend a lot of time in the Art building because you had to put in three hours of studio time per week for each credit-hour; that is, an academic five-hour class meant five 50-minute hours in class per week while a five-hour studio course required 15 hours of one's presence. But back in those days (and probably even today) the Art School swarmed with sorority girls and it had a nice little coffee shop where we took coffee-and-cigarette breaks from our long studio sessions (yes, there was Demon Nick -- this was the Fifties, after all). The only time we made short work of our coffee breaks was when we had a really gorgeous nude model in our life-painting class; sadly, she didn't show up very often during the weeks she was our supposed subject.

As an aside, let me explain that one of the character defects I had in those days was the implicit assumption that my instructors would instruct me in what I would need to become an artist, and that I didn't need to learn things on the side. Naive, yes; foolish, certainly; but that was the way I was. I recently took up painting again and most of my book-buying and internet off-loading deals with techniques and examples. Better late than never, I suppose.

So just what did they teach us? Maybe one or twice per term, the instructor would have us move our stools in a semi-circle around him to listen to a brief lecture that, more often than not, consisted of a quick run-through on color theory; so at least I knew that red and green were complementary. I think there also was something about light and shade and background tone and a smidgen regarding how they interacted, but this was pretty superficial. And yes, at least one studio had a human skeleton hanging in the corner, but I don't recall it ever being the topic of a lecture.

Our work was regularly critiqued, and this led to occasional discussions about composition. For example, about how even a dab of contrasting color on one part of a painting could affect the "balance" of the composition in a positive or negative way.

Otherwise, we were simply told to "look" or "observe" or "study" whatever it was that we were drawing or painting that day. At the time, I found this frustrating, and now I see it as making us undertake major-league wheel-reinvention. (Let me add that, eventually, an artist should try to see things for himself. But I think a student ought to first be given a good dose of accumulated artistic wisdom. Given such a yardstick he can, if he is good, eventually look for extensions or contradictions to revealed theory.)

The things we weren't taught are legion. Just one example: Even though I had taken a number of oil painting classes, it wasn't until my senior year that I had ever heard of glazing as a technique. And I only stumbled across that because the Art School initiated a "visit the profs' homes" program for junior and senior class students. One such visit was to the home of the Art School chairman, Boyer Gonzales (who never failed to note that he had been a "student of Kuniyoshi"). At the time, Gonzales was doing small abstract oils using glazes, and he was kind enough to briefly describe what that was all about.

Art history in a nutshell: From Lascaux...

Art History was a lecture class, so it imparted meatier material. Gervais (Jerry) Reed was a youngish ex-Yalie who did a pretty good job taking us, over the year, from Lascaux to Picasso. As we got closer to the prevailing (in 1958-59) paradigm of Abstract Expressionism as the end-state of painting, the history more and more became a "how we got here" sort of thing. (Okay, I'm not sure how else one might have structured such a survey course in those days. There have been several clear periods of progression in Western art, one of them being the discovery of perspective, both linear and atmospheric, as the Middle Ages transitioned into the Renaissance, so the approach Reed used could not be dismissed out-of-hand.)

... to Turner ...

We were taught of the precursors of abstraction (mainly Turner) in the early 19th Century and then about the Impressionists who wrested art from the evil, conservative academicians of whom we learned nothing further.

... to Manet ...

I'm pretty sure that the Pre-Rafaelites either were never mentioned or were passed over so quickly that I never noticed. I know Klimt was never mentioned because I didn't learn of him until I read Schorske's book about Fin de Siecle Vienna when it was published in the 1970s. In other words, nearly everything outside of the progression Manet-Picasso-Pollock (I'm simplifying here) was ignored aside from some side-glances at Futurism, Surrealism, and their ilk.

... to Picasso ...

So now you have an idea as to what was going on at the University of Washington's School of Art in the late 1950s. Yes, other colleges and art schools no doubt did things differently in those days, but I have no personal experience to cite. And yes, some instructors in specialty fields provided better training. Nevertheless, what I just described was the case for the core Fine Arts courses at Washington.

... to Pollock.

Why was this so? I have no categorical answer, but I can offer reasonable speculation based on the zeitgeist.

The zeitgeist was: Creativity is all that really matters. (Art History class had the theme that art was an exercise of innovation and progress, and that the greatest artists were those who were the most creative, the most innovative.) Creativity is a precious and fragile thing. It is so fragile that instructing young artists about techniques and styles from the past or, heaven forbid! having them copy or emulate other artists will almost surely destroy their unique, perhaps in-born, creative spark. So let them explore on their own with only the slightest amount of gentle criticism and guidance.

I am sure this hands-off pedagogy was departmental policy. It almost certainly was policy because each of my half-dozen or so drawing and painting instructors taught using this single approach. No exceptions.

This concept of training did not appear by magic. Here is my hypothesis of its origin: Young people often rebel against the previous generation, and this behavior might be heightened if the rebellious ones are intelligent, creative, artistic folk. The Art School faculty in place in 1957 was trained roughly between 1920 and 1950. Their training was probably classical, in most cases.

I strongly suspect that faculty members felt that the training they had received was not suited to an era of new, dominating styles appearing every five or ten years and where a Jackson Pollock gained fame by dripping paint from a paint can or house-painting brush rather than by being a master of glazing. In fact, they might well have been bitter about having been sold a bill of goods that wasted years that might have been better spent studying paint supplies in hardware stores. Naturally, the bad old ways of art instruction had to be ruthlessly excised and replaced by the sort of training the faculty wished it had had back in 1935.

So of course I graduated from Washington feeling bitter about my training, such little of it as there was, and how I too had been short-changed. (In my most cynical moments, I hold that big-time, New York gallery style art is not really art but instead is a set of objects whose "worth" is the outcome of successful public relations. If my goal had been to become a successful fine-artist, my time at Washington would have been better spent at the School of Communications rather than in the School of Art.)

Have things changed over the last 45 years? Maybe. I took a break writing this essay to make a short stroll through the old Art building to see what was on display on the hallway walls. I found the usual not-so-good pencil or charcoal sketches from beginning drawing classes that weren't much different from what we did in my day. And there were ink paintings with lots of black areas, doubtless a class assignment in chiarocuro or something similar; at least the instructor have having the students try to paint things in a certain manner.

Even more heartening was a display of nudes done (probably) in oil. The flesh colors were all similar, though each student used them in his own way. (The model's pose seemed very awkward: I hope they paid her a bonus.) This indicated that the teacher had given instruction on mixing basic flesh hues as well as colors needed for highlights, transition zones, and shaded areas. I found this impressive, because I'm struggling with the problem of representing human flesh in oils right now. This is not to say things are perfect nowadays at Washington, because I didn't see very much and I did not visit a studio full of busy students and their teacher. But things seemed to have moved in the right direction, at least a little ways.

Finally, I must point out that training at the University of Washington's School of Art was not uniformly crippling. By definition, superior artists, writers, politicians, businessmen or whatever, will rise above any sub-standard circumstances of their early lives. Let me cite two examples: Dale Chihuly and Chuck Close. Both Chihuly and Close were enrolled in the School of Art about the time I was a junior or senior. I do not remember them and I seriously doubt they recall me. I haven't taken the time to check this out, but my impression from a few scraps I've read is that both had transferred to Washington, so they might have experienced different basic training. Nevertheless, they must have been exposed to the same ethos that I was and eventually prospered artistically.


Many thanks once again to Donald Pittenger. It seems to me that the art world -- and the art-education world -- still bear the imprint of the 1950s. I wonder what it was about the '50s -- and I wonder if Donald has any hunches about that Larger Question.

By the way, if you have a fast connection, you might enjoy exploring the online gallery of the Art Center College of Design. Art Center combines training of a trade-centric, painstaking sort with a lot of freedom, and perhaps because of that I often find leafing through the work the students make more enjoyable than keeping up with current gallery art. It's often a wonderful combo of the practical and the goofy. And there's a bonus. These are kids who are soon going to be visual pros -- so some of the styles and tastes you see in their work now are styles and tastes that are going to be turning up in the mass media in the near future.



posted by Michael at March 5, 2005


I found this impressive, because I'm struggling with the problem of representing human flesh in oils right now.

I remember how, when I worked as a journalist, a colleague came back from an interview with Co Westerik, and complained that Dutch artist talked about nothing but his difficulties about getting the skin tone right.

Aftyer the article was published Westerik was greeted everywhere with the words: "How's it with the flesh today, Co?" for years.

[one of the most disturbing Westerik pictures here]

Posted by: ijsbrand on March 7, 2005 11:54 AM

Donald -- Part of what occurs to me as I look your postings over is, "Wow, did that dream (that point of view, the picture of what art is and how it works, etc) ever seize people and move them deeply." I can semi-understand the excitement, but I semi-can't too. I guess maybe people felt like they finally had the Key to It All? That, after centuries, they'd finally arrived at What's It's All Finally All About? But I say that and then think, "Gosh, I don't really know, or don't really undestand, why this particular vision hit so many people so hard." Was it the dream itself? Was it the timing? And it still seems to grip many people, don't you find? I think of it as a kind of intellectual crack. But wait, I think I'm stealing that image from Nikos ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 7, 2005 04:11 PM

Thanks for a wonderful set of memories and thoughts. You've got me wondering if you have any ideas about how art history might be taught? Could there bea way of doing it that doesn't make it all seem to lead inevitably to the present?

Posted by: Maryse T. on March 7, 2005 04:13 PM

Not to seem like a 'primarily political person', (Michael Blowhard's bugaboo) but I suspect that unwittingly, at third- or fourth- or fifteenth-hand, the faculty you were being taught by had absorbed ideas about Modernism that had been largely hatched by Marxist cultural historians. (The emphasis on Manet is a major tip off.) The American art establishment had been drenched in such notions during the Great Depression and while serving time in the Federal arts projects of the era--the same era that produced the oldest of your instructors in the 1950s. It was the Marxist conflation of Modernist art with all that was 'progressive' politically, socially and, well, sexually that generated the emotional high Michael refers to.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a book in the UCLA library that dealt with how the Renaissance had been presented publicly by art historians over the period from around 1890 to 1960. The historical analysis made it obvious to what a degree art history is the stepchild of the social and political milieu it is produced in (and for.) Some of the advanced theoretical thinking of the 1890s was fascinating, BTW, and would have made for a radically different view of art history had it 'won out' in the subsequent decades. It made me think of writing a similar history of the art history of Modernism, one that would identify who exactly cooked up the ideas presented in most art history texts about Modern Art.

Gee, all I need is a research grant to support me for a decade or so while I cook it up!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 8, 2005 01:20 AM

Donald, your view from the trenches of the salad days of modernism has been really interesting. Perhaps I am naive, but I always feel like the little child in the 'Emperor has no Clothes' fable. I have eyes, and that van der Rohe Pavilion is simply unpleasant to look at. I have ears, and Berio's Concerto for Two Pianos is unpleasant to listen to.

I know lack of pleasantness, tonality, a narrative, whatever, is the point. The desire for such things has simply been forced on me by the power structures of society. I am supposed to feel challanged. Have my presuppositions revised. But the simple knowledge of theory doesn't make any of this art any more edifying to experience. And while there's no telling what really lies in a man's heart, I have the suspicion that those who claim to 'enjoy' these Modernist masterpieces are really the ones suffering from false consciousness.

I would very much like to read your proposed intellectual history of modernism, Friedrich. Who are those responsible? Van der Roe, Schoenberg, and de Kooning didn't grow in a vaccuum. What avenues of influence (PR strategies)did those responsible use to promulgate their influence? I do recall Tom Wolfe mentioning two prominent critics whose names I can't recall in The Painted Word...

Posted by: Awbnid on March 8, 2005 05:13 PM

IJSBRAND -- I hope I escape the same fate.

MICHAEL -- I'm having a little trouble with your comment because it doesn't make clear what the "dream" is and whose it is. My guess is that you are thinking of Modernism. If so, this is becoming a matter for historians to wring out. Like Friederich, I have a keen interest in history, and I might take a deeper look into this sometime if I thought there was a chance of reaching a fairly broad arts public after having done so. One problem is that most of the main participants in the Manet-Picasso-Pollock progression of roughly 1860-1960 are dead and we largely have to rely on testimony of surviving friends or contemporary published and unpublished writings in order to find out what key players were actually thinking at the time events happened.

The personality quirk I have that makes it hard for me to deal with art in a "romantic" (19th Century sense), emotionally-charged way is, as mentioned in my first posting, my tendency to treat art in a technical manner -- as a technical challenge, if you will. My emotional reaction to my own "art" therefore is pleasure when something comes off well and disgust when I fail. Mostly, this is with reference to an internal goal or standard. But it might sometimes be an external reference if I wanted to create a painting in the personal mode of Bernie Fuchs, Norman Rockwell, Paul Gauguin or whoever; or maybe it might be to paint in a Style such as Expressionism or Cubism. I suspect most artists also operate at the techical level. However, I have read of artists who do have passion regarding whatever it is they are trying to accomplish; they have some kind of mission they are caught up in such as, say, furthering the cause of Futurism. How much of this feeling of mission was real and how much was public relations, I'm not sure -- that's where a fair amount of biographical research must take place. To the extent that some artists are participating in a crusade -- be it aesthetic or political -- then Friederich's comment comes into play and I'll deal with that below.

MARYSE T. -- The class I took in 1958-59 was not bad. I learned a lot, though much was left out. I have no idea what is taught today, though I think the instructor would be serving his students best if Victorian and academic art (as well as illustration) were covered in at least a semi-positive vein. These last three areas can be validated by the increasing attention thay have gained in terms of exhibitions, books, and auction prices for painting over the last 30 years or so. However, my fear is that some art history might have come under the sway of deconstructionism (power-race-"gender"). Can someone help us out regarding current academic practice in the art history classroom?

FRIEDERICH -- Please give us a hint as to what that 1890 interpretation was that lost out to the modernists.

What you say about a Marxist element is probably true in part. Certainly, the business about "true" artists being in opposition to "the establishment" has been around since the early days of Impressionism and it is still used to justify the aesthetically questionable stuff found in the big-city gallery scene. This is a small-m Marxism based on a "class" system related to art producers, the art market and a power structure in the form of gate-keepers (the academy in the old days, big-city art critics and gallery owners today). To the extent that an artist buys into this ideology, he participates in a mission or a crusade, as I note above in my remarks on Michael's comment.

I think this does not go all the way in explaining what I encountered on a day-to-day basis in art history and studio classes. Where it existed, it was implicit; some on the left would argue that this was not long after Senator McCarthy's days of influence and fear kept the Marxism from bubbling up explicity -- I have no opinion at the moment.

The notion of fighting an establishment can come into play in the idea of rejecting the kind of art instruction my teachers themselves had (us versus the art school establishment circa 1935). The primacy of creativity might also be linked in the sense of establishment-fighting, though it also can be cast in a Libertarian, Ayn Rand "Fountainhead" light -- a relatively non-class struggle (individual vs. class as opposed to class vs. class).

Given all this and given the WPA-based art market of the 30s, I still think that my hypothesis that, from a practical standpoint, artists of the 50s felt they suffered from the training they got in the 30s has validity. We are talking about matters of technique rather than politics. I think both ideology and practical considerations affected my instructors and other artists. What might be difficult is to place a weight or percentage on each (as well as on strictly personal factors such as temperament, mental health, use of stimulants and so forth).

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 8, 2005 08:28 PM

Mr. Pittenger:

The theory I referred to was the work of some German guy (name escapes my aging memory.) He was the latest word in art theory around 1900 or so. He examined the entire visual structure of paintings: that is, the composition, the use of color, the distribution of light and shade, the sensation of depth or flatness, etc. He then analyzed the resulting artistic gestalt (for lack of a better word) to see what it told him about the overall coherence or lack thereof of the image in question--and then contemplated what that coherence or lack thereof communicated about the social and psychological environment of the artist and the society in which he worked.

Kinda made me want to go out and read what the guy had written. It seemed both more humanistic and more sensitive a reading of paintings than most such theories, and especially than the polemical thrusts of most Modernist criticisms. As I recall, this art theorist wasn't carrying a torch for any particular art movement, he used his method on cave paintings, on Oriental art, on the Baroque and on the Impressionists and post-Impressionists.

Now if I could just remember his name!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 9, 2005 06:30 PM

Freidrich, please concentrate - I want to read a book by that guy, too!

It is fascinating, Donald, how different are the art trends in US and SU (or former SU). At least in my, very limited and unprofessional, understanding.
May be the commonsense notion is true, after all, that opressive conditions produce spectacular results.
Since Marxsist theoritizing in Soviet Union was mandatory in art instruction (as in every other education), and in much more all-penetrating, state-enforced, non-arguable form, starting in the 20's of the last century, the whole rebellion thing went into non-theoretical routes. Schools put utmost emphasis on technical skills, in tact with social realism doctrine, of course, but that helped to keep craft instruction on a relatively high level.
Btw, it is one of the reasons I never went to the art college in SU. I simply lacked technical qualifications. You couldn't just compose your portfolio during 3 months prior to application (as I did for FIT entrance); you had to undergo 6-10 years of art instruction, usually of fine arts middle and high school, to demonstrate necessary level. For example, to apply for architectural college, one of the entrance exams consisted of drawing of "plasters", i.e., copies of classical sculpture, in measured time and in given technique. I don't know if it's done in architectural schools in US.

So, in my case, "primacy of creativity" was very beneficial. It opened the doors of the art college for me, if much later in life than should be. And as I've discovered, technique could be taught, if you have a drive to learn it - and if you have the ideas to express with learned technique. I suspect I'd still fail at the entrance exam to any of Russian schools of Architecture, though. But I'm not so delusional as to call myself an artist, I'm just presenting my ideas in comprehensive visual form.

But the real artists, real artists from Russian fine arts schools, some of their work is just breathtaking - including technical mastery. Check out this exlibris site, f.ex - half of the artists are Russian.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 10, 2005 11:51 AM

Tatyana -- It is interesting to trace Soviet art from the October 1917 revolution to the emergence of Socialist Realism a decade or so later under Stalin. Certainly for architecture and graphic art such as posters, the first post-revolution years yielded a good deal of main-line Modernism. I'm less sure about painting because I'm not familiar with that aspect of Soviet art of that period.

But what's important is your point regarding training of artists during the Stalin era and thereafter at least up to the time you decided not to gain admission to art school. I know nothing about the details, but I too can cite some examples of how the after-effects of this are visible in today's painting scene. I don't get to New York much, but I find myself in Carmel, California (an ultra-artsy place) about once a month. The business district is infested with art galleries. The art they feature tends to be traditional-representational as opposed to abstract and other Modernist and PoMo styles (I suspect the share of representational painting in New York is less than Carmel's). And some of that art is by Russian-trained artists. Some names of Russians exhibited in Carmel I pulled off the internet include Valeri Artamonov, Vladimir Nasonov, Aleksander Titovets, Viktor Shviako, Demitrij Achkasov (a Ukrainian) and Stanislav Nikireyev.

Perhaps even more intersting is the case of Mian Situ, born in China in 1953, now living in California. His work amazes me because his representational skill is of the highest order. The magazine Art of the West currently (March-April 2005 issue -- web site is on magazine racks at Borders here in the Seattle area has one of his paintings on the cover as well as several more as part of the cover story: take a look. The point I'm coming to is that he got some of his training from a teacher who, in turn, had received Soviet training.

I wonder if Russian art school training is starting to be corrupted by bad Modernist ideas and practices.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 10, 2005 08:26 PM

Painting of early 20th cent. Russian avantgarde: here are some more prominent names As you can see, even most revolutionary artists demonstrate confidence and familiarity with the medium that of real craftsmen and were, as a rule, trained in classical tradition (check out Piotr Konchalovsky, f.ex .
Mian Situ works you've linked to remind me very much of favorite representational methods of Social Realism (which is misleadingly general term, encompassing everything painted from 1930's to 80's; let's just say - official art) - see some of it in this London gallery.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 11, 2005 10:08 AM

This firsthand account of art education in the 1950s is right on target. Young persons interested in art may "go to art school" unsure of what they are supposed to taught but clueless as to what sort of ideological agenda may be driving their professors' mis-education.

1950-1965 was about the last period anything even connected to real art education existed in the schools, and was curiously the very period that MFA degrees were first granted in studio art. By the 1960s, as most everyone knows, every notion related to the lengthy, sometimes decade-long study of drawing, composition, the art of the past, as well as every technical issue of every sort that had been old hat for centuries, was swept aside for an avant-gardist notion of "freedom" and "creativity".

The results of the disintegration of art education are plain for all to see. These changes were an odd blend of Marxist dawn-of-a-new-world (such as Trotsky's "garbage bin of history", turned in the art school cliche "garbage bin of art history") and over the top, starry eyed romanticism of the worst sort. Artists aren't trained, they spring full blown from the womb, like blossoming flowers! As Mr. Pettinger notes of this brand of blushing Victorian bride romanticism, accepted with a straight face without question by the most "advanced" and "innovative" academicians for decades, "Creativity is all that really matters. (Art History class had the theme that art was an exercise of innovation and progress, and that the greatest artists were those who were the most creative, the most innovative.) Creativity is a precious and fragile thing. It is so fragile that instructing young artists about techniques and styles from the past or, heaven forbid! having them copy or emulate other artists will almost surely destroy their unique, perhaps in-born, creative spark."

In the last 20 years, education in this area has deteriorated much further into nothing but classrooms of hot air and pomo Marxist jargon. "Drawing" and all the rest of artists' traditional formal education are not only disdained but openly ridiculed. As the mountains of badly illustrated, dumb, romantic theory known as Conceptual art for the past 40 years demonstrate, nothing good has come of this.

In the end, all of this bad art pursued by the art schools' hive mind will merely disintegrate right off of whatever support their paint/collage/glued on broken plates are attached to, and all their installations will be mistaken for the very junk of which they were composed. At least Mr. Pettinger and others in the 1950s were able to get a partial real education.

Posted by: Raphael on March 13, 2005 05:06 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?