For the last year or more I’ve been thinking about doing a BA in Fine Art in 2012, but I’m hesitating. Why? Well, time is a big issue. Can I really do this and meet book deadlines? I’ve managed to do a weekly life drawing class for most of the year and still meet a book deadline, so surely I can dedicate a day a week to a BA.
But time isn’t my only doubt. I have other, vague ones around whether this is the right move for me, and yesterday I decided to see if writing about them here would help.
Doubt 1: Will the art taught at Uni be the art I want to do?
A now famous award winning Aussie artist who I used to know once said something along the lines of this: when he was at uni doing an art degree he didn’t let on he could draw, because the only kind of art respected there was steaks nailed to a wall. That was probably more than 20 years ago, so maybe things have changed. Still, it worries me. It’s not that I don’t see any merit in steaks nailed to walls as art, but it’s not the only kind of art there is and I’d like to be learning about and trying more than that.
What do I want to learn? Well, a little about art – the more academic subjects like the history, psychology and philosophy behind art. To try my hand at sculpture which, aside from pottery, I haven’t done much of. To learn techniques like printmaking, which I think of as the craftmanship side of craft and art.
Do I need to do a BA do learn all this? Could I just do courses, classes and research in my own time?
Doubt 2: Am I too old to be an artist?
The other night I watched a recent episode of Artscape containing a panel discussing a ‘new national cultural policy’. The panelists touched on a couple of interesting issues as part of the discussion, that are sources of doubt for me.
Firstly, that there’s support for young, new artists, not much after that. I got to wondering how this is skewing the art that’s being produced. If it takes time and practise to get really good at something – the idea that it takes 10,000 hours/1 million words – but an artist’s support disappears by then, along with them perhaps having a family to support, then are those artists having to give up art? Maybe this is why we get steaks-nailed-to-wall art. It doesn’t take much skill, and who has time to get skilled? Besides, these day ideas are more important than skill. If you’ve got to make your name young before you get too old and the funding dries up, you do something attention-getting. But later? Nailing a steak to a wall at 40 is going to be the art version of getting your first tattoo or dying your hair purple at 40 – more naff than cool, and will make your friends suspect you’re having a mid-life crisis.
It’s not the lack of financial support for older artists that worries me, personally. If all that’s being supported is steaks-nailed-to-wall art, then mostly steaks-nailed-to-wall is being made. And that means it’s what’s selling and getting attention. If the best steaks-nailed-to-wall art is what gets attention rather than the best art, it gives everyone the impression that this is all that modern art is about. Where does that leave an artist who doesn’t want to nail steaks to a wall?
Doubt 3: Am I too boring white and middle-class to be an artist?
Earlier this year I bought tried some art magazines to see if they’d get me more keen to do art and/or a BA, and wound up more depressed than inspired. One article pointed out how the art world isn’t interested in Australian art unless it’s Aboriginal or the artist is an immigrant. It’s fantastic to hear those two kind of art are flourishing, but it made me see that an artist has to do more than produce good art. They need a story: a background that outsiders will find exotic, or a gimmick. As a boring middle-class white chick, there’s nothing exotic about me and I groan at the thought of coming up with a gimmick.
Doubt 4: Why go to the trouble of all that study and work when what you’re doing isn’t anything special, because everyone’s doing art everyday all the time anyway?
Earlier this year Paul and I saw the Endless Present exhibition at the NGV. I came way feeling I’d been educated rather than inspired or had enjoyed some great art. I knew nothing about conceptual art, but I recognised it because it’s all over the internet. I remember when bloggers all over the world were posting pics of the sky on Sundays. That’s conceptual art. So is photographing what you wear every day.
On Sunday Paul and I went to an exhibition at MGA called Brummels: Australia’s First Gallery of Photography which contained some conceptual art. It got me thinking about how anyone can do this. And also how ideas about art have changed. What was ugly is now beautiful. Decayed things are appreciated for their faded beauty. A not particularly well taken picture of something is art, several pictures of that thing taken over time is even more arty. Then there’s this view of ugly decayed beauty that’s laced with sentimentality. Like those awful, fake Polaroid photos that are so fashionable now.
Anyone can do this sort of art. Which is why I don’t want to.
Then again, there’s this wonderful mathematical definition of modern art and I can see that this is where photography is a different kettle of fish to art. In an era when anybody could have taken that photo and anybody does, while anybody could have nailed that steak to a wall, not everyone does. The trick is to be the first to do it. Which takes me back to art being about ideas not skill.
I think I just depressed myself all over again.
But this ramble was supposed to helped me decide if I want to do a BA. Maybe I’m really asking myself what sort of art I want to do.
I want to make art that I enjoy making, but which also appeals to others (even if to avoid filling the house with unwanted paintings). I want to make art that isn’t a fad or gimmicky. I want the art to involve some skill, but not something so insanely complex and time consuming that the sheer complexity and time required is a gimmick.
Perhaps that is why I want to do a BA. Maybe, just maybe, by doing it I’ll stumble upon the sort of art I want to do. (But it’s not going to happen if all we’re taught is steaks-on-the-wall art.)