With obligatory courses in drawing, anatomy, and history, it might seem that all is well, that the traditions hold. But these terms are used only to ridicule tradition, by making them mean anything they are not. It is deliberate, and quite clever. For example, the brochure of one prestigious art school reads:
The course... encourages you to test the boundaries of drawing practice... You will be asked to explore drawing as an end in itself as well as a means for exploring other modes of art practice such as sculpture, installation, performance and film ... the course offers a distinct approach to drawing fine art practice.
"Test the boundaries of drawing" means to do anything but drawing. Exploring drawing "as a means for exploring other modes of art practice such as sculpture, installation, performance and film" really means dissolving drawing into everything else, and calling everything else drawing, until drawing has been redefined, and defined out of existence — till it can mean pins and strings and bus-rides. A "distinct approach to drawing" indeed, but sadly, it is "distinct" in many art schools today.
My head of painting did writing, albeit on canvas, and the head of sculpture did performances which he sometimes filmed. I remember a fellow student once "testing the boundaries" of painting, and no doubt using it to "explore other modes of art practice", by hanging a torn blank canvas on the wall through which protruded a pink plastic vibrating penis. I found it impossible not to laugh as we were gathered to contemplate this "piece" and the head of the school pronounced that it had a certain pathos. But, comedy aside, note that paint was nowhere involved, although this was the painting term. The violated canvas was judged a sufficient reference to the accoutrements of painting, and irreverent enough to be passed as "painting" — and four full weeks' painting at that.
All my anger wells when I read that devious phrase: "You will be asked to explore..." You won't be asked; you will be compelled. This is no secret. On my foundation course, when I was being prepared to enter a degree course, the teachers explicitly warned me not to say at interview that I wanted to be a painter. I must say that I am ready to be led away in "new media". These days, if you apply to an art school and declare that all your thoughts are directed towards art, all your travels are made in pilgrimage to art, and suggest that all you ever want to do is paint well so as to make even the slightest contribution to a tradition, you will not gain admission. I didn't say all that; I lied, as I was coached to do. But then I found that if you actually go ahead and draw and paint in an art school, things will become difficult. Art schools have always fostered cliques with agendas and, as a result, have been known for bullying. (I have met painters of older generations, still resentful decades on, who felt they were persecuted in their own day at art school simply for preferring to paint from imagination rather than observation — of course, were they at art school today, their old foes would be their firmest allies, united against the rule of those who refuse altogether anything to do with painting.) I was always assigned awkward spaces to paint in, away from natural light (significantly, painting was mostly confined to the basement). And my spaces were often encroached upon, sometimes even at the suggestion of teachers, because pictures are small and flat — and trivial, by implication — compared to installations and the space needed to stage a performance. One encroachment on the corner allocated for my painting resulted in a bottle of oil smashed in my bag, ruining materials and many of my drawings. I began to argue with the school's authorities whether it wouldn't be better for everyone if I painted at home instead.
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