Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm going to interpose what I hope will be a bit of dark humor, to soften up the audience for an un-funny future post which is tentatively titled My Art School Screed: Make Art, Pay Forever. What follows here are entries from Harvard University's Department of Visual and Environmental Studies online course catalog from 2009. That's what they call the Art Department at Harvard- "VES"; a not so tacit admission that art making does not belong in the university. They are only a sampling of the humorous class descriptions to be found there (or also, I imagine, in the most recent catalog- I haven't looked at this year's offerings.) I have inserted brief observations of an ironical sort after most of the descriptions, as I couldn't turn off the commentary in my head as I read these the first time- they are followed by my initials, DL. I also leave in the course numbers and administrative numerology just to make it possible for anyone to cross-check that these indeed are real. We may take these examples, I think, as bellwethers for any American high culture university art department, and expect to find similar follies across the country.

*Visual and Environmental Studies 38. Baggage: Studio Course - (New Course)

Catalog Number: 43153 Enrollment: Limited to 12.

Andrew B. Witkin

Half course (spring term). M., 9–12. and additional times to be arranged.

Engaging personal and public notions of authorship, veracity, legibility, history and value, this class focuses on exploration and performance in collecting. Students will examine possibilities and patterns to understand choice, advice, intuition and peculiarity with the goal of better communication. Sources include information distribution models, history, exhibitions in and out of art contexts and a focus on comfort. This will aid students in investigations into personal and collaborative projects employing a variety of media, methods and modes.

Note: No previous studio experience necessary. Students from other disciplines are highly encouraged to take the course

Note the (could it possibly be unintentionally?) ironic phrase “with the goal of better communication.” DL

*Visual and Environmental Studies 53a. Fundamentals of Animation: Studio Course

Catalog Number: 1360 Enrollment: Limited to 10.

Sarah Jane Lapp

Half course (spring term). Tu., 1–5, and weekly film screenings F., 1–3; .

Strategies for creating an alternative cosmos - imagined, utopic, glorious.

Great! which drugs will we be taking? DL

[*Visual and Environmental Studies 58r. Image, Sound, Culture: Studio Course]

Catalog Number: 6680 Enrollment: Limited to 10.

Lucien G. Castaing-Taylor

Half course (spring term). F., 9–12, F., 2–5.

Students use video, sound, and/or hypermedia to produce short works about embodied experience, culture, and nature, and are introduced to current issues in aesthetics and ethnography.

Note: Expected to be given in 2010–11. No previous studio experience necessary.

Hypermedia? And yet another coup for limited scope- the students are strictly limited to explorations within culture OR nature. DL

*Visual and Environmental Studies 37. Lay of the Land: Studio Course

Catalog Number: 3090 Enrollment: Limited to 12.

Stephen Prina

Half course (spring term). Tu., Th., 1–4.

The pursuit of and response to the horizontal in art will be the focus of this studio class. To cite a few examples, abstract expressionist painting, cartography, earthworks, landscape photography, 19th century German Romantic landscape painting, and Rayograms will provide models of the horizontal that will be points of departure for studio projects, the forms of which will be determined by what the investigation provides. Students will shift medium from project to project.

Note: No previous studio experience necessary.

Follow on: Course on the use of Yellow in the wardrobe of Beethoven’s hypothetical cross-dressing lover. DL

*Visual and Environmental Studies 36. Making as Thinking: Sculpture - (New Course)

Catalog Number: 23095 Enrollment: Limited to 12.

Helen Mirra

Half course (fall term). Tu., Th., 1–4.

A studio course in which to experiment with simultaneous making and thinking, with simple yet unbounded materials and methods.

Note: No studio experience necessary.

“The hills are alive with the sound of music…”; and by the way, I wonder if Harvard students are up to the task of both making and thinking at the same time- I anticipate frustration. DL

*Visual and Environmental Studies 32. Reconstruction: Studio Course

Catalog Number: 1790 Enrollment: Limited to 12.

Helen Mirra

Half course (spring term). Tu., Th., 1–4.

A studio course, for making things out of other things, attending to the realms of demolition, waste, surplus, and detritus.

Note: No previous studio experience necessary.

No previous studio experience required?! What are these people thinking- HOW COULD YOU EVEN CONTEMPLATE TAKING THIS WITHOUT A PH.D! DL

*Visual and Environmental Studies 29. Painting Day and Night - (New Course)

Catalog Number: 44403 Enrollment: Limited to 12.

Drew Beattie

Half course (fall term). Tu., 1–6.

A studio course emphasizing the fundamentals of oil painting. Students will capture the illusion of form, space and light through the handling of paint and color. Subjects will include still life arrangements, the interior of the studio and views out its windows. Images from the observation of daylight will be followed by those belonging to night.

Note: No studio experience necessary.

Wait- you’re going to teach us how to paint something? How did you get in the building- SOMEONE CALL SECURITY! DL

*Visual and Environmental Studies 22. Subtle Skills: Studio Course - (New Course)

Catalog Number: 88474 Enrollment: Limited to 12.

Instructor to be determined

Half course (fall term). Tu., Th., 9–12.

In this beginning-level studio course, students get acquainted with a variety of painting and drawing media. Students paint and draw during and outside class, working to find their own painterly practice. The course aims to put skill into perspective while unassumingly practicing and studying some of the tools used for image making. Critiques, readings, and exhibition visits are integral to the course.

Note: No previous studio experience necessary.

Could this be another interloper aiming to undermine our vision of the university in which students pay money to us in exchange for being confused? Oh, no, wait; phew! The course promises to put skill into perspective, which has at least three possible and completely unrelated meanings so that’s O.K. then. DL

*Visual and Environmental Studies 80. Loitering: Studio Course

Catalog Number: 9394 Enrollment: Limited to 12.

Stephen Prina

Half course (fall term). Tu., Th., 1–4.

You will hang out in the vicinity of culture and make things in response to it. This class is not thematic or linked to any particular discipline.

Note: No previous studio experience necessary.

This is more like it! DL

1 comment:

  1. Just to throw my 2 cents in. I'm a classical musician, and have come to believe that the teaching of arts practitioners should be done quite separately from the the teaching of arts theoreticians or historians. The contributions of each area are very valuable, and feedback amongst them all can benefit each, but I think there are people currently teaching in each of these areas who are still deeply confused about the extent and importance of their separateness. Painting, music performance, sculpture etc, are fundamentally crafts, they are skills that can't be conjured out of thin air, not if you want them to be flexible, responsive crafts, and certainly not if you want to come anywhere near virtuosity. And their development is not about taking courses on loitering (what the *?$% was that?!) but about the quite unglamorous and slow accumulation of technical skill, and the eventual appreciation of the tremendous, ecstasy-inducing freedom this gives you.

    At present - and this opinion may change - I really don't think the teaching of music performance, of painting, of creative writing, etc, should be done in universities at all (actually I'm very skeptical that creative writing should be taught at all, mentored perhaps, but not as taught as it is, but that's another topic). On my most curmudgeonly days, I feel these skills should all be nurtured in something resembling an apprenticeship system. A totally impractical suggestion (maybe).