On the Quilt Art list the topic of art education comes up pretty regularly. This time it was in connection with an article on Huffington Post about Art Schools that seem to be ignoring traditional art and methods and discouraging traditional representational forms of art. The article included lots of complaints from current and former students who felt disrespected and poorly served by an education they had spent thousands of dollars for. This, of course, brought out the self-taught artists on the list who would have you believe that a formal education in art is not just unnecessary, but in many cases actually stifling and a fraud. I always find this discussion frustrating because first, I learned so much in my college program, and because it feels like part of a very discouraging societal trend of devaluing education in general. I wrote to the list:
"I hear so many stories of art school experiences that did not include any kind of traditional training, dogmatic teachers pushing an agenda and cruel and dismissive treatment of students that I have to believe it happens. But hard to imagine. My experience was different. I was an art major at a state university in the late '60s and still greatly value the education that I got there and the teachers that I had.
My first two years were solidly grounded in life drawing, art history, color theory, all the practical stuff about stretching canvases, learning about materials, basic design principles, etc. etc. then we moved into studies of modern and contemporary artists, movements and philosophies. Great discussions and debates about art and meaning and culture and ethics.
My two favorite teachers were very passionate about art, and definitely had their own private preferences, but they never disparaged anyone's interest in a particular style or movement. At the same time, they mercilessly pushed us to broaden our scope, to learn more, to open our minds to the strange, the uncomfortable, the hard to understand and to go beyond mere prettiness in our understanding of art and to never stop exploring and experimenting. I am grateful for all that. I might have found it on my own, I likely wouldn't have. I do know that it gave me a degree of confidence just in knowing how to proceed, what tools are out there, the knowledge and vocabulary to talk to myself, and enough discipline in drawing and composition not to have to struggle with those fundamentals. And it truly broadened my appreciation for art that is outside my experience of the world. I used to wish I had gone to a "real" art school. I'm beginning to think I was lucky to land where I did."
I do know that there are self-educated geniuses, and I know that a university is not the only route to an education, but I also know it is a pretty good route for most of us. I was lucky to find such a valuable education in a humble state university, I guess, though I really am skeptical about those art school horror stories and have to wonder sometimes whether some students are so resistant to new ideas that they view them as a threat to their comfort with mediocrity and ignorance. And I'm not just talking about art students.
No conclusions. No judgement. I'm just pondering this anti-education trend and wondering why, after all these years, I find myself defending my own education.