Art schools have considerable allure -- the teachers, the studios, the promise of a bohemian life. But the true siren call of art instruction is the course list, those compendia of exotic classes that promise to convey esoteric skills and mysterious knowledge. The contemporary art world is full of secrets, and art schools just might have the key. Here, then, are a few choice classes you could be taking, if you happened to be going to art school this spring.
"The Conceptual Figure," Yale University School of Art
From Yale’s storied "Painting/Printmaking" department comes this class, designed to recuperate classic art for the postmodern age. Taught by artist Kurt Kauper, celebrated for edgy oil paintings -- Deitch Projects was showing his double portrait of Barack and Michelle Obama at Art Basel Miami Beach this year -- "The Conceptual Figure" considers figure painting since the 1990s within a heavily theoretical framework.
The reading list ranges from modernist mandarins Theodor Adorno and Clement Greenberg, to the October bruisers -- Buchloh, Foster, Krauss -- and Nietzsche’s late-period mumblings in Thus Spake Zarathustra (in the online reading list, titles and authors are all run together, making for some fortuitous titles: The Return of the Real Sigmund Freud; The Uncanny Clement Greenberg; Avant Garde and Kitsch Rosalind Krauss -- now those sound like interesting reads!).
Be on the lookout for some rigorous Ivy League pedagogy: "The course makes no effort to establish a cohesive and all-encompassing time-line, or circumscribe possible interpretations of work."
"Beyond the Mexican Mural: Beginning Muralism and Community Development," University of California, Los Angeles
This long-running class, co-listed with UCLA’s "Chicana and Chicano Studies," comes out of the practice of feminist art pioneer Judy Baca, known for her Great Wall of Los Angeles. Baca is co-founder of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), where this class is based, rather than at UCLA proper -- the course is something of an eccentric beast, and became a permanent fixture of the curriculum after a hunger strike by students in 1994, called to demand more meaningful ethnic studies content.
SPARC’s website talks about "Beyond Mexican Mural" as a vehicle to transcend "subject/object studies" for art students; essentially, it gives students immersive exposure to art-making in the community mural tradition. To get a taste of what this experience actually looks like, check out a clip hosted on the SPARC website of sixth graders performing a dance for the UCLA students, part of the course’s research for a 25-foot-long, hip-hop-themed mural at their school.
"Never Be Nervous Again," California Institute of Arts
CalArts boasts many fantastically interesting courses in spring 2010 -- it’s by far the most entertaining course list out there. Offerings include a seminar on Adrian Piper; a workshop on "Mac for Artists;" something called "Unholy Alliances," which promises to take students to the "furthest expanses of art making one can imagine"; and "Femme Is a Four-Letter Word," a "pro-sex seminar for visual artists."
However, the most life-defining class has got to be "Never Be Nervous Again," a "public speaking course for artists" that promises to make its hopeful pupils comfortable with such typical, and possibly career-making, situations as the "artist’s lecture, artist’s conversation, job interview, academic presentation, cocktail party, trial, debate, etc." All this is done through the lens of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who quipped that "[i]t is in the actual practice of speaking that I learn to understand."
"Issues in Visual Critical Studies," School of the Art Institute of Chicago
James Elkins is one of several high-powered academics who teach at SAIC. He has just edited a book, in fact, with the tantalizing title Artists with PhDs, which argues that MFAs are outdated and that art schools should be offering, well, you’ve read the title. No surprise, then, that Elkins’ undergraduate foundation course for the SAIC’s "Visual and Critical Studies" department "plunges first-year students into visual theory using texts and ideas that universities often leave until graduate school." From "basic" issues such as "Form," "Color" and "Time" to more "advanced" subjects, such as "Religion," "Ideology," and "Visual Theory" itself, this course has it all. Be forewarned, however: It is described as "vocabulary-intensive."
"Beyond Job Boards: Build Your Career with Social Networking + Other Free Web 2.0 Methods," Rhode Island School of Design
RISD’s "Business of Art + Design" division has many professional development courses along these lines -- "Introduction to Strategic Electronic Marketing," "The Art of the Pitch," "The Brand of YOU" -- but this spring 2010 "lunchtime webinar" taught by "master cybersleuth" Glenn Gutmacher trumps them all, by essentially arguing that they are irrelevant. Facebook is where it’s at! Among other things, Gutmacher promises to teach his students how to "craft online searches that reveal extremely targeted results" and, most tantalizingly, how to "obtain hiring decision-makers' contact info to run effective e-mail/phone campaigns." Welcome to the world of the art student, 2.0.