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June 10, 2003

Guest Posting -- John Leavitt on art students

Friedrich --

John Leavitt, a student at the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, dropped us an email that included some nifty observations about life at art school. I asked if we could run an excerpt, and he's given us his OK.

As a current art student at a not-so-bad state-arts trade school, I can say with arrogant confidence that the bulk of fine art students are out of their frigging minds. Drug-addled and insular, a whole system of classes and teachers support and indulge their whims and fancies without any grounding in technical or economic reality. You'd think they'd teach about the gallery system, how to land a show, or how to make slides for presentation.

I'm a refugee from the Fine Arts dept. myself, who settled in the much more stable and levelheaded Illustration dept. The courses there at least give the students a grounding in reality (draftsmanship, painting, how to copy a photograph or paint features), in addition to teaching how to get a job. They don't teach concepts or composition though, so the result is many a technically wonderful but dead senior show -- an award-winning photorealistic painting of a brick wall sums it up nicely.

In my experience, the Fine Art students are incoherent, insular, and ignorant even about modern art. The illustration students are, as a whole, more realistic about their careers, more technically skilled, and less attitude-driven. I do lament a kind of "Illustration-guy" template I see walking down the street, or in every autobiographical indie comic. A flannel-wearing, lanky, insecure guy with thick glasses and an interest in Japanese prints and 1900 recordings. But I digress.

Graphic designers, on the other hand, have always seemed more snot-nosed than illustrators, and hostile toward anything done by hand. Of course, that could just be my own prejudices talking. But I don't like the modern computer-ready aesthetic and think that graphic design is just a subcategory of illustration, unworthy of its own field. The endless minutiae of graphic design theory seems to support this -- no place to go but into the fractal esoteric.

And, as a type, the graphic designer seems like a wormy bald man with big earphones and a Gnostic attitude. An extension of the digitizing trend to turn all gross matter into pure light? An offshoot of the puritan-minimalist movement, white walls to shut out sensuality?

There you have it, the 3 types of artists I meet in art school.

Our thanks to John Leavitt.



posted by Michael at June 10, 2003


Just FYI, that was a fun post. Most enjoyable.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on June 11, 2003 3:18 PM

Thank you Yahmdallah. What I hope I got across (in between mindless babbles) is that the Fine Arts and the Illustrators seem to working at extream ends of the pole. Case in point, I just saw the Cooper Union Senior Show and the FIT Senior Show. The Cooper Show featured hugely ambitious failures and large-scale gabblygook (The exception being a student named Devin...something. His small black and white gouche paintings of farm life where haunting and melencholic, showing a masterful control over black and white and narrative ability.) WHile the FIT show was nothing but small, modest paintings of cats and photographs. There was little middle ground between the ambition and skill.

Posted by: JLeavitt on June 12, 2003 10:23 AM

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