We who educate aspiring artists, whether we’re public or private, liberal arts or research university, or a professional school, tend not to give sufficient attention to what ensures proficiency in our students, or what prepares our graduates to act upon an indifferent world.
We tend to give little attention to preparing students as entrepreneurs who have a sense of business or an understanding of how to make the world work for them.
We are inclined to give minimal, if any, attention to basic skills (writing, presenting, managing, arguing, collaborating, etc.) necessary for transforming an excellent education in art into a successful life-long profession in that art.
Yes, we do an excellent job of giving students the skills, knowledge, and understandings that relate to art-making, but that’s it!
Put more self-accusingly, we have generally opened the door at commencement, bid the graduates goodbye, closed the door, locked it, dusted off our hands and said with a sigh, “We’ve done our part; now it’s up to you.”
I am here to say we can do better; we must!
Before I came to Memphis College of Art (I assumed the presidency in May 2011) the faculty had already decided that they could do a much better job of intentionally educating their students about the professional practice of artists (be they designers, painters, sculptors, printmakers, illustrators, photographers, etc.). The faculty restructured the curriculum in order to assure that our graduating students would be more successful. I applaud this effort and intent, but I believe we can do better.
A next and critically important step is for us to scan the profession of each subdiscipline in the visual arts, in order to ascertain the primary and defining attributes held in common by active and successfully practicing artists.
We need to scan all of the professional avenues available to our students. Scanning for this information will help us understand the behaviors, skills, and proficiencies that characterize a variety of professions within the visual arts. This will in turn inform our curriculum, allowing us to infuse at every level, activities, and experiences that will ensure post-graduation success.
My dream is that we will say to graduates, “Go forth and act upon the world; make it work for you. Retain your ability to transform your dream into your reality.”
Considering myself a idealistic realist, I would say that we can truly help shape the future and fulfill the dreams of each of our aspiring students.
For me, it is abundantly clear that if we can better understand the professions to which our students aspire and gravitate, we will be enabled to provide a new model for visual arts education, which can perhaps inform curriculum in all the arts.