1.18.2008

there will be blood

I've been meaning to write about how I spent my last two weeks of winter break, ideally writing about jury duty, an early urge to spring clean, and watching lots of t.v. (including political stuff) and movies in separate posts. But my final semester of grad school started on Wednesday this week so I feel like it's time to quickly catch up and move on.

In all honestly, I felt really anxious about the semester starting. It's strange to be finished with my thesis project, only just starting to sense the wave of post-thesis depression/panic approaching, but still sort of a student. I'll be teaching my class, TAing for a screenprinting class, and taking my final art history class, in addition to a couple of side gigs. But since classes started on Wednesday, not only have I been too busy to dwell for long on any sort of impending existential crisis, the anxiety I've felt over the past couple of weeks almost instantly evaporated once I was back in the school environment. The class I'm TAing for is right up my alley as far as projects and assignments go, and I'm feeling pretty good about the revisions I've made to my own syllabus, on the class blog in case you're interested in the free, online version, although it's likely to change again before my first class on the 23rd. I just found out there's a mail art show in New York toward the end of the semester. Field trip!

Anyway, I'm also really looking forward to my art history class, about history, memory, and archives in contemporary art, these being the things I've been interested in lately in my own work. The class consists almost equally of MFA students and MA students in art history, with an additional undergrad or two. I don't think I've ever written about it, but I've sensed a lot of tension over the years between art practice and art history, on both the individual and departmental levels, since my days as an undergrad (especially at an institution that always ranked in the top 3 or so for its art history department...but was not nearly as renowned for its practice component). This will be my fourth art history class so far as a grad student and it's no different at this stage. I've heard the most blatant, negative comments about BFA and MFA student from both art history students and instructors. And it looks like this, my last art history class perhaps forever, will be no different. The MFAs dominated the first, brief discussion, but toward the end of the night, the instructor said a few words about our final projects and how she was considering giving MFA students a project + shorter paper option (as opposed to one long research paper). One of the MA students immediately asked whether or not that option would be extended to non-MFA students, to which the instructor replied, "Well, do you make art?" The student shrugged and suggested that she might for this assignment. The instructor essentially moved on, but I could hear the student continue, laughing with her friends over the idea of, say, making a facebook photo album.

On the one hand, it is an art history class, so I can see why an art history student might question the artists in the group getting special treatment of any kind. But her question really got me fired up. Maybe I'm just a tad too defensive about the topic, but I thought her remarks were rude and disrespectful, not only to the instructor for questioning her teaching style, essentially, but also, obviously, to the artists in the group, for implying that creating artwork for any part of an assignment is infinitely easier than writing one, long paper. You might be surprised, but artists occasionally have something smart to say. Art practice, or studio art, or whatever they call it at any particular institution, is not exactly special ed, but in fact loaded with art history and critical theory requirements. At most, art history students are occasionally required to take one studio course, and that's only at the undergraduate level. I hate to break it to you, Mona Lisa Smile, but it's a symbiotic relationship, whether you like it or not.

Anyway, my nerves are calmed by watching a particular scene from one of my all-time favorite films, Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming, which I've likely quoted before (it's so versatile, really). I couldn't find a clip from the scene "Max and Miami", so to catch you up a bit on the dialog that follows, Miami, who's still a student, (I love the way the "eurotrash" guy calls her mi ami)


and Max, who graduated the previous spring but continues to lurk around campus ("you do nothing"), are hanging out in the college bar.


Max starts to characterize the college types around them ("Look at these fucking people...") and Miami chimes in:


"...and these girls. 'We're both art history majors and we're real cute. But to be perfectly honest with you, anything past impressionism kinda leaves us cold.'"

Now, no offense to any art history majors who might read this post, and I can only speak from my own experiences, but I've found this characterization to be so true. It doesn't speak directly to the kind of snobbery I've sensed, but the fact is, as the dialog suggests, I can probably count on one hand the number of art history majors who even know what contemporary art encompasses. Modernism, my friends, is way over.

Anyway, it should be an interesting semester.

2 comments:

Jef said...

Funny you've been pondering K&S - I've been trying to talk Mer into "Le Femme Monkita" as a legitimate dog name. Thus far, she's not buying it.

RBG said...

Neal had to refresh my memory, but yes, I recall now - one of the responses to "movies with monkey in the title." And that would be the logical nickname, after all: monkey. So I can see where Mer is coming from, although I'm not adverse to using other animal names for pet names. I once knew a cat named Piglet, for example, and that worked out pretty well!