okay, but what is it about?

"One is a painter because one wants so-called freedom; one doesn't want to go to the office every morning."

That's artist Marcel Duchamp, of course, quoted in Artists in Offices, a book - by Judith Adler - that I finally finished reading a couple of weeks ago, a book I stumbled upon through a web search after using the hashtag #artistsinoffices to socially mediate some of my daily experiences at my last day job. I purchased the book on May 24, 2017, a couple of weeks after I decided to quit my job, about a week before I gave notice, and about three months before my last day. It's a dry read in places so it took forcing myself to read only that during a couple of recent cross-country flights. Adler is a sociologist who used CalArts as the site for a major study of arts education at the time (1970s), applying the sociology of work to art. What results is a pretty comprehensive look at the establishment of CalArts during a time of transition in how artists were trained...
"With the end of the private apprenticeship system of the workshop, it became necessary to attend schools not only for instruction, but also for access to those tools of the craft which were more costly than brushes and tubes of paint" (3).  
...and employed.
"As art teaching in the public and private schools developed into one of the few sources of steady income in the arts, certificates and degrees were sought as passports to this market" (3).
This extends, I'd imagine, to most art schools at the time and, more surprisingly, still. What I'm particularly interested in in thinking about formal art training is how these programs handle what I refer to as "professional practices". In other words, what do art programs suggest students do with an art degree now that those teaching gigs have become more scarce as the market has become more saturated with MFA degrees? Because I'll be honest, 11 years out, I'm still trying to figure out what to do with mine. Hence the podcast. How the heck do you find time (and space, and money) to make art when you have a full-time day job, a lengthy commute, other expenses, and other social and family obligations, etc.? If you went to art school, what were your motivations in doing so and how has that panned out? I didn't go into this podcast project with the intention of digging into formal training quite as much as I did, but it comes up in every interview, whether the interviewee went to art school or not. Indeed, most of the artists I talk to have dealt with the issues addressed in Adler's book from at least one, if not two or all three of these possible perspectives: student, faculty, staff.

What's striking about the book is how relevant it still is, and not just in terms of higher education, but also in terms of many of the common threads that come up over the course of the podcast, like the importance, for just one example, of personal connections. Similar to my conversations with working artists, Adler acknowledges, on page 77:
"Opportunities in the arts are often structured by informal association - friends showing their paintings together, creating theater companies, or founding quartets. Since professional reputation may depend less upon where than with whom artists play or show their work, friendship ties are useful not only in securing new positions but also in minimizing the possible career risks of taking them."
Assuming your creative portfolio includes strong work, of course, the benefit of personal connections in getting shows, residencies, teaching gigs, you name it, is undeniable. But ultimately, what I enjoyed about the book are the "whimsical ironies" of an environment that essentially contained, as Adler writes, "two distinct work cultures", and the various inconsistencies that emerge from the utopian premise of an institution that trains artists to do...what exactly?
"The substitution of the term 'community' for 'school' eased one of the major embarrassments of professional art education: its inability to assure duly certified graduates of employment in their field. Graduates of professional schools are, in a sense, products of their instructors' work, their market value implicitly providing one measure of the value of the work of educating them. Teachers in the arts must find ways to defend themselves against the demoralizing charge that - as it was phrased by one nonteaching member of the Institute's staff - 'it is hardly any service to society to churn out more unemployed people!'"
In the final pages of the book, Adler touches on the personal impetus for her study, not unlike the personal impetus for my podcast. I've yet to read an introduction to or synopsis of this book that addresses the fact that Adler, before embarking on this study, was faculty at CalArts, hired to teach in the School of Critical Studies.
"When financial cutbacks encouraged administrators to draw new clear distinction between 'artists' and dispensable 'nonartist' employees, my marginal status in this artists' community became even more pronounced, and it was at this point that I finally began this study in earnest. Fieldwork both required and legitimized a social distance that was in any case forced upon me, just as it required and helped me to transcend the feelings of mourning and anger which this enforced distance created."
For me, it's taken two years and ten interviews, plus a whole lot of reading on the topic of work more generally, to come to terms with my own feelings of resentment around the fact that, outside of my own studio practice, I'm not doing what I went to grad school to do. But the fact that I'm not teaching art at the college level is not necessarily a reflection of failure or lack of pedagogical finesse on my part (at least, let's hope, not entirely). Rather, in my opinion, it's more a reflection of the limitations of a course of professionalization which continues to wrestle with its practical application. The process for me is ongoing and I'm pretty transparent about my emotional investment in all this. As Adler writes, "my very preoccupation with trying to cleanse myself of resentment marks my observation as emotionally unfree." And there you have it: my objective, like the sociologist's, is to remain objective, which is awfully hard to do in this field. In the very least, then, I aim for and hope from others interested in these ideas increased transparency around how, as an artist, you get your work done, both within and outside of the office or wherever your day job sends you.

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