There’s been so much written about the value of higher education and most of it, especially when it is positive, I agree with. Lately, however, I have begun to question my own thinking, admitting to myself that I may be so biased and gullible that I will buy into anything that is said about higher education if it positively reflects upon my domain.
For years I have agreed with the argument that a broad, liberal education combined with arts training is the right balance, i.e., the best balance for graduating someone in the arts. I also accepted hook, line, and sinker the notion that to be fully prepared, to have the full enchilada, so to speak, would require a student to major in a more professional degree such as the BFA. Notice how I said, the “more professional,” with emphasis upon the “more.”
Why did I, and, for that matter, most, if not all of my world of colleagues buy into this notion of how to shape a curriculum intended to prepare an artist? For others, it may be different but for me the answer is embarrassingly clear: the argument made sense because I was always in a comprehensive university and, therefore, what made sense was justifying the value of the institution in which I worked. So now, suddenly after forty years in public comprehensive and research universities, I find myself in a private professional art school. Almost overnight I found myself rethinking the values of an institution that is not comprehensive, that subscribes to the idea that full immersion is what counts, and believes that the success of each student and therefore the success of the institution rests upon the intensity and passion that can only come from discipline, focus, and total immersion into the discipline. Oh, there are liberal arts requirements, and most faculty value the contributions they make, but there is no question what the art school is doing and what it expects at the end of four years.
I started this rambling with the intent of persuading you that the private professional art school is where it is at; the very act of writing this, however, makes it clear to me that there are a variety of paths and there are a variety of institutions offering journeys unique to those faculty and curricula (community college, conservatory and/or art school, public or private comprehensive or liberal arts institution, etc.). In the end, however, it’s really a matter of fit and, of course, I trust you recognize the subtext is that we justify our own setting, we validate what we know, we hold the others in suspicion, or even worse.