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Selling out and the "MFA Crisis"

>From the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Thursday, March 2, 2000

A glance at the February issue of New Art Examiner: "Selling out" as a way
to escape the M.F.A. factory

Universities are granting more M.F.A. degrees in studio art than ever
before, but they have fewer and fewer job openings for which those artists
are prepared. Mark Van Proyen, a professor of art history, painting, and
digital media at the San Francisco Art Institute, offers a sure-to-be
controversial remedy to this "crisis in credibility."

He suggests that art educators put aside antiquated notions about "ethical
labor" and instead train students in the digital skills that will get them
well-paid work. Computer expertise, and the financial stability it can
bring, will add to an artist's repertoire, not cancel out his or her
creativity, the author argues.

"Just as the artists of the late Renaissance were comfortable with making
altarpieces as well as painting soft, marketable porn for the palazzos, so
too would artists in my proposed schema be encouraged to 'go both ways,'"
Mr. Van Proyen writes.

Calling for such a "massive recalibration of educational priorities" won't
be popular, he acknowledges. But he contends that it's time for the art
world to reject the "avant-gardist model" that still holds that artists
must be divorced from commercial culture.

And he finds fault with other proposed solutions to the job crisis. Efforts
to train the "artist as citizen" for work with disadvantaged communities
may be counterproductive. "Such Pollyanna pseudo-social-work initiatives
may only put a patronizing Band-Aid of symbolic self-empowerment on real
(and worsening) social problems," Mr. Van Proyen writes.

His article continues the magazine's steady interest in art and higher
education. Last year, another writer described the M.F.A. as a "pyramid
scheme," a thesis Mr. Van Proyen endorses in his article.

Also featured in the new issue is an article about teaching fine art at a
two-year college; and a look at the increasing theoretical and political
sophistication of fiber-art programs.

The magazine is available at newsstands. The article is slated to appear
soon on the magazine's Web site, http://www.newartexaminer.org

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