Marc Joseph

"Kiss My Ass!"

& other
revolutionary
relations in art
education

by fia backstrÖm

How about this classic relationship between the student and the teacher? A most intricate dance of power and disavowal set in contradictory motions. From the perspective of the teacher:

  • Offering valuable statements, while making sure that no one takes them for truth
  • Taking on the role of authority, while harboring a secret wish to be overthrown
  • Secretly encouraging disobedience, while always veiling that desire in covert comments

In this confusing array of resistance and consensus, who am I to distinguish between a valid and a non-serving revolt? In the art of negotiating between student and teacher, these are the issues to be continually revisited. The relationships at stake stretch further than the classroom encounter, self-reflexively to our possible positions as prosumers and content providers, as participants in the system.

Students are asking for permission in this new suspicious, professional, kiss ass manner. This inverted transference; a refusal to overthrow, resistance as in yes please and much more, so kiss my ass or you'll be thrown out of class. The Sex Pistols generation is long gone; now it is facebook networking and fitting in, every revolt a stylish, well-behaved opportunity too pleasing to stage.

Breaking the law of simply a loser?

Teaching how to conceive art-what an oxymoron! Since the romantic era artists have rarely been sanctioned for good behavior, nor for obedience to authority, and if rewards were granted it was rather for brilliant noncompliance. Within the art-educational institution of grades, grants and nepotistic favors, this basis for evaluation clearly stirs a conundrum. If the rules are there to be broken, and are considered counter to our understanding of what art could be, how can one operate critically towards a system, which one is paying large sums to be part of, and which is to grade one's performance? Inversely, how can one take on the guise of authority for this very system, while planting a fertile ground for one's own dismissal? As we all know, a revolution cannot be given away. power has to be seized.

Sister Corita Kent gained international fame for her engaging screen-prints during the 1960s and 1970s. She ran the Art Department at the Immaculate Heart College until 1968, where she expanded screen-printing activities into blooming happenings. Her ten legendary golden rules for education cover ideas like setting up an environment of trust and creativity and promoting a flow of inspiration and joy, while underlining work ethics with the importance of hard work. Her last rule-number 10-most appropriately asserts that we ought to break all prior rules, including our own in an unknown abstract manner, to be reinvented each time it is to be done. By avoiding prefabricated revolutionary recipes, an ongoing, breathing engagement for an activist position can be fostered.

Contrary to ideas of the competitive individualistic artist of closed authorship, Corita's central emphasis was a mutual exchange of knowledge between students and teacher, where she illuminatingly positions generosity as the pivotal energy. This approach levels the hierarchical educational structures, and knowledge becomes a subjective flow between the shared experience of the teacher's vaster one, and the student's access to a more current and contemporary experience. It is not in the level of sophistication of the material or text, but it is in the format of the presentation (of which the teacher is in charge) that determines what can be digested, reinterpreted, or even misunderstood. The confusion of a student's perception and conception ought to be a primary incitement in this meeting of perpetual wagering.

Close to the learning process of exchange is the process of psychoanalytic therapy; the disease being the core issue around which the student's work evolves, commonly called IT, and the symptoms being the work presented. In vain would the therapist/teacher diagnose and advise a cure for the disease, instead the symptoms are used to provoke and lure the disease to show itself. Through the symptoms the patient-student in the educational state projects into the future, using transference, and the questions have to be asked over and over and over as the only tool, with the hope to get a hold and set it bouncing around the room. In the end, who is guiding whom? The teacher, like grandma, slightly outdated and out of touch with the new. The student-patient cannot be served, but can take initiative and lead the way. No group in society was ever given freedom. it has had to be stolen. Students have to demand a valuable experience. Worse than biting the apple would be to accept limits from within in the pursuit of knowledge.

Are you productive little friend?

This is the title of a painting by Swedish artist Peter Tillberg from 1976, a gloomy schoolroom with rows of obedient conformist young students. Though our classrooms may look less gloomy, in both cases the ideological framework of the educational decisions are taken for granted; questions on efficiency are left unraised. With soaring educational costs, demands on expectations of productivity and the prospect of profitability of a student are realistic and viable. In the context of art education, these societal demands raise questions such as:

  • How to measure a student's progression (grading)?
  • How to measure the productivity and value of a student's contributions?
  • How to measure education where particular knowledge may surface years after graduation?
  • How will their achievements be viable and continue into the future?

Often students who find their way early on to an IT, in the form of a well-defined statement, will close out early. What looks like academic success turns into a circus schtick. We expect students to write their artist statements, with flat explanations in one liner slogans for simple consensual work. How can one encourage lies and tricksters; a fictional account; dancing like Muhammad Ali, to continual defiance. The sadness of the artist realizing what she is doing just to loose the unexpected turns in the work, who instead of searching for a suitable format, ought to consider any articulation as a potential exclamation.

Corita's sixth rule states: Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail. There's only make. Everything was to be considered an experiment, and the students were dissuaded from analyzing and creating simultaneously, as these were considered to interfere. The split between creating and analysis drives towards the much bigger mistake within art education of dividing crafts and conceptual work as two distinct species, rendering criticality part of a decorative tradition. The borders ought to be kept fluid; asking questions can be creating in James Lee Byars's sense, where questions were turned into an art form. From the making we know they are two sides of one.

Training for productive failure is a challenge to parody! How can tolerance of failure be prepared for, or how can one encourage students to profit from the accident? In this world of total exploitation, we plan to be safe for any occurrence, even the uncontrollable ones. Where is the space for the loser, the less successful and the blatantly flawed? In Reggio Emilia, a northern Italian city with a kindergarten pedagogy developed by the same name, the work of the children is not geared towards productivity, but along the pace of the individual child. Questions are asked with no immediate response expected in this form of anti-teaching.

A goal-oriented world of smooth individuals is contradictory to what art can be and to what we are. Going backwards and forwards simultaneously with periods of unpredictable trying, taking risks, and opening up to chance, like an improvisational jazz musician in tune with his surrounding environment, teaching in reverse, of continual failing and succeeding, of moving on in a non-streamlined process.

The new old : new spatiality : new community

Looking for new ways of engaging, with a shifted authorship for the new individual. Past the top to bottom spatial metaphors of the master narratives of the 20th century (Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche) our lives networked, bookmarked and hyperlinked through Facebook, MySpace and Flickr, like double agents, in all places at once. The spatial image of a bourgeois two-story house is outdated. The belief in the inherent goodness of collaboration in the name of community, democracy, and flat organizations, consensually veiling differences of opinion and liability in a state of dependence. This symbiotic grey zone functions like a hidden soft kind of totalitarianism. Today's content producer is far from yesterday's photojournalist; being beyond collaboration, a business artist married to the entertainment industry and the culture of happiness. To think space and the individual around new terms, one who is taking pleasure in exchange and doing action, leading us beyond utopia towards a future un-authored, generous environment, in which we have a say.

How bad is it?

In the new economy with an anything-goes attitude, the ideological values supporting what art can be need to be excavated, and set against a stage of general suspicion. How can one talk about a body of work without implementing industrial standards? How can one ask for pieces without asking for products? How can one negate craft without implying a slave economy of the ones who are producing it for you? Where does one draw an epistemological line between so-called immaterial art, speculative bonds and off-shore constructions? Bad work as bad taste as in aesthetic evaluation for the home decorators to decide, next collection exchangeable for even hotter procedures? How can an education sustain itself over time, when seasonal fashions direct the values to be taught? What are they training for-turning hamburgers at McDonalds? or are they being encouraged in the production, shuffling and trafficking of images, both equally productive for our society? Rather than producing pre-fabricated values and presentations, the question of why making an image at all needs to be explored, keeping in mind: Image coming soon!

Today again no apples!