Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Value of Dedicating Your Life to Educating the Next Generation of Artists...

A great day of wonderful sessions and interesting conversations at the Southeastern College Art Conference. I still need to run through my presentation once or twice before I get a good night's sleep to wake up for my 8 am lecture and panel discussion. I will get there at least half an hour early to test my computer on the projector after seeing all the technical difficulties today.

One of the sessions today was "National Recognition: An Elusive Concept for the Artist Educator". Most of the session was about getting your administration to recognize the various ways that you might be making contributions to your discipline when you come up for tenure.

In the sciences, for example, getting a paper accepted into an important journal is significant, because it means that you are recognized by your peers as someone who is doing important work, advancing the discipline. Success for the artist/educator is getting a museum show, which

1.) involves validation by a whole network of people who are NOT your peers (people doing what you do, who understand the complexities of your process) and

2.) is a measure of public stature, not "advancing knowledge in your discipline".

When the discussion/questions began, I said,

"for years now, when I send out a resume to a gallery or museum, I leave out my institutional affiliation. I have discussed this with my colleagues, and many of us have experienced a bias against academics in the art world, which was confirmed by people who had left academia. This is not the case in Europe, where being a professor helps to validate your work. It could be the current state of youth obsession in the art market, or simply a regional thing, but I find that there is an attitude, echoed by the keynote address Dave Hickey gave at the SECAC conference at VCU a few years back, that "REAL artists are in the trenches, living the tough life," and we have cushy (ha!), high paying (ha! ha!) jobs so we don't NEED to show as much. Has anyone else found this to be true?"

The panel looked at me like they have never heard such a thing, but then another woman in the audience spoke up and said that she conducted a test, where she sent out a number of identical packets, one with her cover letter on university letterhead, and one with a private address in a different city, and she got 3 or 4 bites on the private address, and none on the university stationary.

When I quit my tenured teaching position last year, and was terrified about making the decision, some of my friends who have "been in the trenches for years" started to tell me stories. One said that NYC gallery owners used to tell jokes about the wave of university professors from across the country who flooded Manhattan during the summer when school was out. Another told me that my work was going to blossom, that everyone he had ever seen who had left academia experienced that.

I haven't been out long enough to notice the difference. I have a lot more things on my plate now because there is more time to devote to making new work and getting it out there, but it is hard to gauge if attitudes towards me have changed. I do know that when I was teaching full time at the university, I felt like I could make exactly the kind of work that I wanted, with no regard for whether I made enough to make a "series", whether people would be interested in buying it, etc. because I had my source of income, and felt no pressure to make any income from my work. I was a good teacher, but always remembered that my art career was a priority. Working at a research institution where I only taught two classes a semester helped. One guy on the panel was teaching 4 classes a semester! ... and being held to the same criteria for tenure and promotion as someone at a research university.

Off to practice...


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