As art students, we’re told this by professors, other students, working graduates and ourselves. The sentiment is clear; financial woes should not be valued as much as creative satisfaction; society values the wrong things; etc. And I daresay most of us agree with these ideals, albeit while coughing up fifty grand a year to attend an institution that nods along with us. This dissonance is a bit odd, but arguably not a real issue. Right? Sure, we can complain about the problems of capitalism all we want during our undergraduate years, but we all know that once we’re out in the real world we have to come to terms with rent, utilities, student loans, etc… so why worry about it during school?
Well, in a few senses, we do have to deal with it at school — specifically in the realm of production costs. The subject matter of art might not be concerned with money, but installations, paintings, publications, etc. cost money. Being able to experiment with materials, mediums and scale is something very dependent on the ability to acquire said materials. If someone on a shoestring budget wants to exhibit installation or technologically advanced work, they’re going to have a much harder time than someone with an ample bank account. Sure, they could go into debt, or cut down on other non-essentials, or do more labor by themselves—and we’ll praise their grit, while others can afford to outsource larger work for twice the budget. We’re all enamored by the shiny, expensive projects people make, seemingly because it indicates some sort of personal investment. And as we’re told, the work we do post-school is directly correlated to the portfolio we produce in school—so what’s the solution for someone who wants to produce architectural-scale pieces but lacks the resources? People aren’t willing to take huge risks (something we also claim to be supportive of) if half their monthly budget would go into one experiment.
Are there ways to help people with this? Sure. Are there realistic ways? Harder question. Giving students a minimum budget for projects? Maybe this would promote experimentation or material risk. Should classes focus more on prototypes and/or proposals, emphasizing ideas over production? Maybe, but if we want to be truly competitive in a post-grad environment, that’s not the best choice either. An argument I’ve actually heard a lot is that people don’t have to spend money to be here at all; they could drop out and produce their own work instead of spending thousands to be here. This seems to me like a non-solution, only answering the question of: “Can this work be produced cheaper elsewhere?” but not questions of environment or the benefits of accreditation (which is worth a few pennies). Sure, you could work at home, for a much smaller financial investment—but would it be received and discussed by a creative community? Probably not.
Whether a solution exists at all, I don’t think it hurts to ignore the economic sphere, despite what the implication is during school. I wouldn’t arguing for business classes devoted to getting graduates high-paying jobs; I’m arguing for a critical discussion about the role of money and wealth in art education, and an understanding of the institutions that we are entangled in and can take advantage of.
Leave a comment