With Everything But the Monkey’s Head 4

by Martin Gantman

Think about it!  “”Bauer countered with her own question. ‘Why not? Why wouldn’t artists want to pursue research and have the opportunity to expand their investigations in an academic setting?” (from Notes on the Panel “The Reluctant Doctorate: PhD Programs for Artists?” CAA  2011). Think about it.

My friend, Gina, works in a gallery that specializes in exhibiting outsider art. Her own painting is about as far as painting can be from outsider, yet she loves the stuff.

Personally I haven’t yet found a way to turn the tide on outdoor advertising. I think that our perpetual immersion in this commercial environment provides not only a constant pressure toward spending, but is also an automatic indoctrination into capitalist culture, allowing little space for any alternative. That’s my personal rant. But I also know that outdoor advertising is part of a larger system. The way I see it, so is the art PhD.

Yes, I really like my Y3s. Still like my iPhone, though I rue much of what it hath wrought. Could I do without them? Don’t tell anyone, I once lived three years in Santa Cruz with only Birkenstocks. Which reminds me, I walked up to some people from Santa Cruz who were sitting in a panel at CAA about research in art. I told them that I was an alum from UCSC and was co-chairing a panel about Investigatory Art at that very same CAA Conference. They said, “Oh.”

So you have people creating an art PhD, and you have people studying to get an art PhD. And then you have people promoting the art PhD. This last part is the slightly sticky one for me, for, as we all know, promotion is most often carried out on the side of self-interest. And I get concerned that, just like the iPhone, people who are self-interested also try to define, or to misuse, or to restrict, or to otherwise dictate the system. In this case the system happens to go by the classification/description art, and, just like those advertisers who use the “eminence” of the capitalist system to dignify their practice, we certainly don’t need more folk in the art world spending resources attempting to put “art” in a place where it just possibility doesn’t comfortably fit, or where many may not want it to fit. At the very least this movement towards the art PhD is just another rung in the telescoping extension ladder of professionalism in the arts, a way to fit into a system that expansively commercializes art education and art product.

First, let’s be clear. This is primarily an artist-philosopher degree or a philosopher-artist degree. I don’t see it being described as simply an art degree. This degree is obtained through the language of words, not the language of medium.

For example, I know a dancer who went through a program to obtain a doctorate in dance. She thought that she should be able to obtain this degree by becoming superlative through dance, by expressing new thoughts and creations through movement. Of course the committee felt they had no way of judging the adequacy of this practice in terms of awarding it a doctorate. What if, as another example, Jackson Pollack was in grad school working on his PhD in 1946 to 48, and said, “This work is my dissertation.”? In other words, are we saying that a certain artist establishment is determining that advanced artistic recognition must be determined by a language that is not inherently artistic; or that artists must become something other to be recognized: that is, is it necessary for artists to speak linguistically as well as in their artistic language in order to be taken seriously? Do we split the field so that there are so-called academic artists and professional artists? Or do we rename it all so that art product itself becomes known by another name?

Though it may be beginning to sound like it, I want to make clear that I am in no way opposed to research in the arts, or having a branch of the arts that takes a philosophical approach to understanding or investigating culture and other things. However, it appears to me that this entire discussion is beginning to turn on just one thing, capitalistic and egocentric endeavors aside for the moment, and that thing is linguistics. What is the language that we are talking about: the language of art, the language about art, the language of dance, or about dance, etc?

The concern that many people obviously have is that a class is being set up within the arts, and that class has to do with linguistics. It has nothing directly to do with artistic brilliance or performance. But it has very much to do with rewarding a certain kind of participation in the arts that is not being made available to artists who may not be participating in this particular way, but may be participating, with equal intellect, in a very different way.

I think it is important that as this process of extending the academic credentials of artists is being developed, we include programs of doctorates in actual studio arts. Not doctorates in studio arts that require immense linguistic dissertations in languages not the first language of artists, but the language in which that artist actually works. In order to accomplish this, we also have to develop an academy of teachers who are able to determine and jury in that language under which a true studio doctorate must be accomplished. What would be the creative, perceptual, and skill levels that must be attained to qualify on the same level as a linguistic dissertation? In this way, then, I think we can raise equally the accomplishment of all artists who wish to continue in the academy, and to avoid the class differences that will certainly occur if the status quo continues.

For myself, at another time, I might have seen myself sitting, wiling away the thousands of hours with the thoughts and the words in pursuit of some perhaps very gratifying grail. I’m not certain that some of my painter, or sculptor, or performance friends, who are amazing artists of change, as the phrase goes, might feel the same if not given a similar opportunity.