'' 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.In their studios, they diligently fabricate cutting-edge art: videos, performances and room-size ''installations'' intended as an exercise in cultural critique. is frequently described as the power art school of the late 90's; visiting the campus is like attending an opening of the Whitney Biennial. '' You can't teach someone to be a Michelangelo,'' he said, ''but you can't teach someone to be an Einstein either.
'' 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.
One afternoon, eager to see what the hype was about, I drove out to Art Center College of Design.
Set in the hills of Pasadena, with a view of the Rose Bowl, it occupies a sleek, black-glass building that looks like an industrial laboratory. program in art, one that has nothing to do with cars.
While art schools have flourished since the 16th century, it was only in the 1960's that they became lodged in universities -- and critical theory was elevated above craftsmanship.
Whereas once students attended life classes and learned skills by drawing from a model ('' We will begin by drawing, we will go on drawing and then we will continue to draw,'' Ingres famously instructed his charges), today they sit in paint-free classrooms devising strategies for subverting the patriarchal order.
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.While modern art began as an assault on the academy, post-modern art might be described as a return to the academy.Instead of the old academy of rules, now we have the Academy of Cool, schools that treat avant-garde rebellion as a learned occupation.By the 60's, Yale had emerged as the leading American art academy; its alums included Chuck Close, Brice Marden, Richard Serra, Jennifer Bartlett and Robert Mangold, making it seem as if every hip artist in New York was obligated to have an Ivy League degree.By the early 70's, craftsmanship had become passe and, as the critic Arthur Danto has observed, '' Art had turned into philosophy.'' Yet not all philosophies are the same.'' 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.In design circles, the college is known as ''the car school,'' deservedly so. It was only 20-odd years ago that the school decided to start an M. The faculty now includes a striking number of well-known artists -- like Mike Kelley, the 44-year-old superstar known for his assemblages of sad-eyed teddy bears, the painter Stephen Prina and the video artist Diana Thater. A., perhaps because it feels less like a place to network than to theorize your way to nirvana. And we're not going back to learn from plaster casts.It's renowned for its transportation department, and many of its graduates hold jobs dreaming up new vehicles for G. The program's chairman is Richard Hertz, who holds a Ph. in philosophy, and who gave me a copy of his novel when we met. It's like life.'' Art Center is often described as the polar opposite of U. Classes are held around the clock; to listen in is to know that the students have read dense pages of Julia Kristeva and view their sexuality as ''a social construct.'' When, exactly, did art-worldlings get so verbal? '' You can't not have theory,'' he said heatedly. We're not going back to white-boy versions of art history.'' It was around 7 in the evening, and we were sitting in a dimly lighted hall in the Del Mar Building.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?