Looking for Art in the Academy

A couple of news stories this week have illustrated an impoverished understanding of art on college campuses. First is the University of Maine at Farmington project wherein a student placed American flags on the floor.

The second, later revealed to be a hoax, featured a Yale student who claimed to have artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” and then taken abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages over a nine-month period. Her exhibition was to include video recordings of these forced abortions and, believe it or not, samples of the student’s blood collected during this process.

There are some striking parallels in these two stories. Yes, they’re both offensive. One insults the United States of America and all who love her. The other pretends to treat human life as a disposable means to one’s own end.

Both also claimed to be efforts at understanding the effect of art on society. The Maine student placed the flags in a maze-like pattern to study whether people walked on or around them. The goal of the Yale project was to “spark conversation” about “the relationship between art and the human body”.

But it seems that these projects, even if they were appropriate to conduct at all, would be more properly considered sociology than art.

But even then, it’s questionable how much they can really contribute to our understanding of art’s effects on society. That’s because they left out a key element: art.

Flags on the floor are not art. Blood samples from abortions are not art. Art is original; it is creative. It is an expression of vision. Art can be beautiful or ugly. It can be good or bad. But it must be a representation of an original vision of its creator that can be perceived by others through the senses. Otherwise, it’s not art.

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1 thought on “Looking for Art in the Academy

  1. I’ve been a professional artist for 30 years and I totally agree. Universities have certainly changed since I was there. I think there is a vast difference between the artist and the exhibitionist. Unfortunately, more and more, the later seems to be claiming the title ‘artist’ today.

    There’s always been a bit of, ‘done in the name of art’, but what worries me is the level of denigrating displays (like what you speak) that’s occurring. It truly seems that any moral or societal responsibility is disappearing from the next generation of artist. God help us if that’s the direction we’re going.

    Vikki North

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