Stopping into the studio of Sandeep Mukherjee, an Indian student with an elegantly shaved head, I found him at work on an interesting drawing based on photographs. '' I don't want my name in your article,'' he said, explaining that he recently had a one-man show at the Steffany Martz Gallery, in Manhattan, and ''it would hurt my reputation if people knew I was a student.'' Someone else pointed out that you can't damage your reputation if you don't have one.
Delia Brown, who paints pictures of herself dressed in campy ancien regime costumes, giggled, and said on behalf of everyone, '' We each nurture the delusion that we'll be the one artist to make it.'' Are academies good or are academies bad?
Young artists today have something in common with doctors and lawyers: they need to be academically certified.
'' When, I wondered, did cutting-edge art become a lesson you learn at school?
'' But it's universities that support artists.'' It was a shining afternoon, and the air was fragrant with the scent of eucalyptus trees. That figure does not include students of commercial art and design, who will receive another 500 M. There's no official tally of students enrolled in M. Does this mean that we're in the midst of a cultural flowering, a bright new renaissance? '' The art is either feminist or deconstructionist, and basically it looks like homework, because what is homework but learning how to follow the teacher's rules?
Burden is a heavyset man with a fringe of brown bangs, and he was dressed haphazardly in an orange button-down shirt and beige shorts. '' In truth, it has been three decades since contemporary art acquired the look of the seminar room.Back in the 1970's, Burden was a legendary wild man, a conceptual artist who bled for his work -- he spent five days jammed into a small metal locker, rolled on broken glass and crucified himself on the roof of a Volkswagen, with nails driven through his palms. Now he's 53, a tenured professor of art, with an annual salary of 2,000 and a package of benefits provided by the state of California. The proverbial romantic artist, struggling alone in a studio and trying to make sense of lived experience, has given way to an alternate model: the university artist, who treats art as a homework assignment. In fact many critics feel that art schools are directly responsible for a decline in the quality of art.'' People think collectors support artists,'' he tells me. This spring, some 2,000 aspiring Rembrandts received Master of Fine Arts degrees, an estimate based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, in Washington. degrees, nor students of creative writing, filmmaking, acting, music and dance. programs, but in 1996, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the U. Department of Education, more master's degrees were conferred in the visual and performing arts -- a total of 10,280 degrees -- than in English (8,000), biology (6,000) or math (4,000). '' When I go to the New York galleries, all I see is art-school art,'' says Barbara Rose, the art historian.Conceptualism and minimalism raised brainy questions about art and visual perception, while students today favor art about nonart issues.Blame Derrida and his fellow French theorists, whose invasion of academia fostered a fashion for deconstructing language in the 70's, patriarchy in the 80's and gender in the 90's.One can trace the situation to Marcel Duchamp, the modern-art maverick who penciled a mustache on the '' Mona Lisa'' and invented the tradition of art-as-idea.But it makes more sense to trace the rise of American art academies to, of all things, an act of Congress: the passage of the G. Bill in 1944, which sent a wave of World War II veterans off to school, art school included. American artists who might once have studied at quaintly bohemian, craft-intensive schools like the Art Students League (as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko did) or Black Mountain College (as Robert Rauschenberg did) or the Hans Hofmann School of Art in Greenwich Village began enrolling at universities instead.'' Do you know anyone who has three or four years to spend on a work of art these days? have already exhibited their work in New York or Los Angeles, and it is not unusual to find dealers trolling the school's halls in search of the next 20-something sensation.'' These dealers are like 16th-century Dutch traders,'' says Paul Schimmel, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. '' The way to get a good art school,'' he tells me with gentle irony, ''is to hire interesting faculty. She made her name with '' Post-Partum Document,'' a chronicle of motherhood that included her son's stained diapers displayed in Plexiglas boxes -- a symbol of his passage into a ''phallocentric'' culture. The sculptor Nancy Rubins, who is married to Chris Burden and is known for her baroque assemblages of airplane parts and other choice detritus, wishes more emphasis were placed on art history. You have to last through time.'' Wise words, but one wonders how much they count in an age when art students are fixated on exhibiting their work the moment they get out of school, or sooner.'' asks Peter Plagens, the art critic for Newsweek and a painter himself. '' They're ubiquitous.'' He is currently organizing an exhibition called '' The Art School and the Avant-Garde in the 1990's,'' the first museum show to track the influence that schools have had on contemporary art. Then they attract good students and the students teach themselves.'' Getting in isn't easy. A.'s graduate art department more competitive than such East Coast rivals as the Yale University School of Art (which accepted 1 out of every 15 applicants) or the Rhode Island School of Design (1 out of 8 got in). '' Theory can make you a better artist,'' she told me one afternoon in her office, where she was cheerfully finalizing the details of a symposium called '' Image Trauma.'' As I left, she handed me a stack of essays by Jacques Lacan and other favorites, not missing the chance to snag a potential convert. Paul Mc Carthy, an art star specializing in gross-out installations with humping, grunting figures, pondered the question over lunch at the U. '' My problem is that I have students who know the latest French theory, but they've never heard of Brancusi,'' she said. One evening, I drove out to the Warner Building, the ramshackle warehouse in Culver City where grad students spend their three years at school working independently in their studios and meeting their professors for ''crits,'' or critiques.'' The schools have taught a generation of artists how to make art without laboring in their studios. You just assemble found objects into an installation, say the word 'gender' and you're done.'' Like the creative writing programs that became ensconced in universities in the 70's and spawned a generation of ''workshop'' novelists, the fine-art schools have fostered their own conceptually driven style. This year, only 1 out of every 32 applicants was accepted, which makes U. By contrast, Harvard Business School accepts 1 out of every 10 applicants.'' We've never had so many applications,'' says Mary Kelly, a well-known feminist artist who is chairwoman of the art department at U. '' What students don't understand is that having an M. I figured my night at the Warner Building would be an occasion for long, impassioned conversations about developments in recent art.Its invasion of the art world has been abetted by the commercial galleries, where an obsession with novelty and art-as-investment makes every recent graduate a potentially hot property. It didn't quite turn out that way, though I did hear about a Viennese dealer who had made the rounds that afternoon. '' I sold them all.'' In the hallway, I tried to engage a mustachioed student, but to little avail.