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Re: What to Expect from Art

I had to read through this thread on the letpress listserv, and was
tempted to reply to Amy's message. I wrote out a reply and saved it as a
draft so that I could calmly re-read it and decide if I was being too
harsh. At the time I thought silence might be better since she obvious
has problems with the system and that's her right. However, since she
decided to inflict her opinions upon another fine group of people, she
obviously is proud of her stance and so here is my response.

I love how your obviously wretched experience somehow qualifies you to
make sweeping generalizations about the art world. I have seen fellow
art students go into MFA programs demanding that the program feed,
clothe and all but burp them. It is all about them. Then, when the
program doesn't do what they want, it is the program's fault not the

Others go into the program for a specific purpose and refuse to
challenge themselves. These close-minded individuals see no need for
useless distractions such as growth and learning. They leave the program
in the same state they started. Unfortunately, some of these become
ineffective teachers about which Amy laments.

As a practicing photographer (commercial and fine art) for 18 years
before entering an MFA program, I can attest to the fact that I learned
more about photography in two years than in the previous 18. I didn't
become a better technical photographer, I became a better artist--more
critical, more aware and more open to styles and ideas that were not my

Amy proposed that artists take in younger artists as
assistants/apprentices. O.K., but she also said that the schools have
turned out mediocre artists. If I was a young artist, I wouldn't want to
assist a mediocre artist. Besides, even if there are some great artists
out there to take in assistants, there aren't many . If that is the
case, only a select few would be able to assist.

This leads me to my final point, if Amy considers the art world to be a
"tight little circle where many of the artists are seeing the same
shows...", then how would limiting the amount of new artists, who work
in the style of another, established artist, often times taking on the
style of the master, increase our variety of art? We have seen this in
the French Academy. Sure there was some nice stuff, but they were
extremely intolerant of others who did not paint in their style.

John Tonai
Assistant Professor of Art (and a good one at that) and Photographer

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