Sunday, July 5, 2009

Craig Robins, Art+Research and the problem of technique

Alfredo Triff

An interesting piece of news that's kind of old appears today in El Nuevo Herald. Central to Robins' Art+Research is the issue of teaching style.
What's the problem? Robins has in mind a kind of amorphous, concept-driven approach. Bret Sokol's article for New York Magazine throws some light on the nature of the stir up over the Robins/University of Miami-sponsored art project:

"I like Steven very much, but I think he's dead wrong," says Robert Storr, dean of Yale's School of Art. The idea that somebody who has read all the critical literature on art can suddenly have an idea and make it is just nuts." In fact, Storr thinks knowledge of technique is central to an artist’s effectiveness. "Yes, you should teach ideas. But you shouldn't teach theory and then send people off to subcontract the work to somebody else." (...) The thing is, the University of Miami already has a conventional M.F.A. program, and many of its professors wonder why Robins doesn't just support them. "To have $2 million given to this rich man's fantasy camp is more than annoying; it's a complete kick in the teeth to the art department," says UM painting professor Darby Bannard. "We are hurting so bad over here for basic facilities. I spent two years just trying to get the floor in the wood shop fixed—it was so rotted out you could put your foot through it." Bannard's own pedagogical style eschews theoretical discussions. "It's very simple," he cracks. "I teach people to paint. Inspiration is fine, but if you don’t have the skills, it’s not going to go anywhere."

Jumping out the page is, why not u$? (meaning, not me?) Obviously, Robins is not interested in replicating your traditional MFA program (there are schools in Miami that already cover that niche). What Robins wants is a different environment: Art+Research will provide its eight-to-twelve resident artists with studio space, housing, and stipends. A sort of open laboratory for creativity, supervised by artists of international weight; a mix of experimentation, public relations and prestige1. The claim above that Art+Research doesn't care for technique is premature. Conceptual art is not -and cannot be- divorced from technique.2 Let's admit that even Merda d'artista requires know-how. I say, stop the whining and let's wait and see.


1Prestige in this case means being known and good at what you do (and have people willing to pay for it). 2 If technique refers to the right way of presenting the artwork, then it's obvious that one has to master whatever technique is required in order to execute the idea. So, the difference between Vermeer's technique for The Astronomer and Manzoni's technique for Merda d'artista boils down to solving how to rightfully present both.


Feminista said...

I'm not a fan of conceptual art although I understand its historic importance. But let's talk about a more traditional technique. What if an artist decides she wants to paint? What then?

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha. Funny that's all.

miamibourbaki said...

Feminista: I guess if an artist decides to paint he will find a way to do it. He can teach himself, or have someone to paint the piece exactly to his specs. It happens all the time. They are a very resourceful lot.

Anonymous said...

You should leave the cubist post open for comments.