First Things First...
This lesson traces the history of artistic training in modern Western Europe and the United States through several case studies, including the Royal French and British Academies (founded in 1648 and 1768, respectively), the Bauhaus (1919–33), California Institute of the Arts (1961–present), and contemporary art projects that seek to create alternatives to traditional art educational institutions. By analyzing the evolution of artistic training, the lesson explores the shifting role of the artist in society and questions access and privilege within artistic training systems.
Many of the students in art history surveys enter the course with a notion of art as mythic work produced by geniuses. This lesson helps to deconstruct this idea by highlighting the structures and systems of the art world. The focus on educational systems, in particular, connects to students’ own experience, encouraging them to consider how they are impacted by access to schools and structures within schools.
The majority of the lesson is organized around the three paradigms of art education outlined by Thierry de Duve in “When Form Has Become Attitude — And Beyond:” the “talent-métier-imitation” paradigm upheld by royal academies, the Bauhaus emphasis on “creativity-medium-invention,” and the “attitude-practice-deconstruction” model that emerged at North American art schools in the late-1960s. The essay provides a useful framework that can also be called into question, especially de Duve’s mournful conclusion about the “sterile” third paradigm. Students may find the writing in this essay challenging, so be prepared to allow time to carefully discuss his central points. This lesson concludes by moving beyond the three paradigms to draw on recent research by the collective BFAMFAPhD, whose “Artists Report Back” highlights the precarious economics of art education and art labor.
- How has art education changed over the course of the modern period, and what factors govern that change?
- How has access to art education changed throughout the modern period?
- How have these shifts altered the role of the artist in society?
In an hour and fifteen minutes, this content area can be investigated through many objects and projects, including:
- Johann Zoffany, The Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1772
- National Academy of Art Life Drawing Class, c. 1905
- Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787
- Pietro Antonio Martini, The Salon of 1785, 1785
- Walter Gropius, Bauhaus Dessau, 1925–6
- Walter Gropius, “Diagram for the structure of teaching at the Bauhaus,” 1922
- Eugen Batz, Exercise for color-theory course taught by Wassily Kandinsky, 1929–30
- Josef Albers and students in a group critique at the Bauhaus Dessau, 1928–9
- Félix Duban, Palais des Études, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, c. 1830
- Marcel Breuer, “Wassily” Chair, manufactured by Standard Möbel, Germany, 1925–6
- Gunta Stölzl, Slit Tapestry Red/Green, 1927–8
- Herbert Bayer, Bauhaus, 1925
- Postcard of CalArts, c. 1975
- Womanhouse, Linen Closet, 1972
- Womanhouse, Nurturant Kitchen, 1972
- Ironing Piece, c. 1972
- John Baldessari and his Post-Studio Students, c. 1971
- John Baldessari, Assignments (Optional), 1970
- John Baldessari, Throwing Four Balls in the Air to Get a Square, 1972–3
- BFAMFAPhD, Artists Report Back, 2014
As one of the aims of this class is to get students to connect their own educational experiences with the larger paradigms discussed, the topic can be introduced by drawing upon their experience. Consider asking: how many of you have taken some sort of art class? How was the class taught? Were you taught to imitate another artist or to copy something that you see as exactly as possible? Were you taught to explore different artistic materials, or to use found objects? This class will touch on many of these methods, as we look at the history of art from the rise of the academy in the mid-seventeenth century to that of contemporary art schools.
Zoffany’s The Academicians of the Royal Academy provides an introduction to the Académie royale in France and The Royal Academy of Art in Britain, established in 1648 and 1768, respectively. These schools served to professionalize the status of artists, distinguishing them from craftsman’s guilds, previously the predominant mode of education and organization for artists. Academies were not only centers for instruction, but also dictated artistic patronage through annual or semi-annual salons, which, until the mid-nineteenth century, served as the major venues for exhibiting new work. The academic model quickly spread to other countries and still exists in some schools today.
After briefly discussing the formation of the two schools, I ask students to analyze the members of the British Royal Academy as depicted by Zoffany: what conclusions can you draw about who can be part of the academy? Why might the women only be seen in portraits on the wall? Women’s membership to the Royal Academy was capped, and history painter Angelica Kauffmann and flower painter Mary Moser are seen only in portraits because it was not considered proper for women to participate in life-drawing sessions. Zoffany’s painting also highlights the centrality of life drawing to academic art, and the significance of classical models: What is the significance of the props that surround the men?
The photograph of the National Academy of Art Life-Drawing Class offers another glimpse into learning at the academy. As in many academic classes, all of the students are drawing from the same figure, each trying to depict the model as accurately as possible. Students also took this approach to drawing from classical or classically inspired statues, which the academy upheld as exemplars of the human form. This photograph presents an opportunity to foster discussion about de Duve’s analysis: how does de Duve describe this educational paradigm? How does he define talent, métier, and imitation? And, after students have teased out de Duve’s analysis: what sort of artwork might this type of educational system produce?
An exemplary painting from this era of art education, David’s The Death of Socrates demonstrates the academic emphases on classicism and life-drawing. Also an influential teacher, David’s work epitomizes a Neoclassical academic style that would remain in fashion into the first half of the nineteenth century. This painting depicts Socrates surrounded by grieving disciples after the Athenian government accused him of heretic teaching. Rather than renounce his beliefs in accordance with the government’s wishes, Socrates chose to drink poison. Students can analyze the style of this work, discussing its crisp draftsmanship, naturalistic figures, and classical aesthetic and subject matter.
In Martini’s The Salon of 1785, David’s The Oath of the Horatii (1784) is recognizable, hanging on the back wall. This cartoon is useful to get students to tease out how a floor-to-ceiling display of work reinforced hierarchies within academic painting. Reading from top to bottom, a close look reveals that history paintings are given a place of prominence, then portraits, genre paintings of everyday scenes, landscapes, animal paintings, and still lives. This hierarchy reminds us of the rigidity of rules in the academy. It is worth noting that this system was maintained throughout much of the nineteenth century, albeit with increasing dissent from avant-garde artists.
At the End of Class...
Comparisons: To review or further elaborate on the paradigms discussed during this lesson, students could write about or discuss the following comparisons:
- Eugen Batz’s Exercise for color-theory course taught by Wassily Kandinsky and John Baldessari’s Throwing Four Balls in the Air to Get a Square: how do they highlight different modes of art-making and teaching at the Bauhaus and CalArts?.
- The photograph of the Life-Drawing class at the National Academy of Art and Nurturant Kitchen: how does each reveal contrasts in the role of women within these two paradigms?
- The postcard of CalArts and the image of Trade School’s website: juxtapose the institutional architecture of the two schools and ask, how does the comparison emphasize the free, non-geographically bound exchange made possible in the latter option?
Reflection: Students could describe their own ideal schools, taking tenets from the above examples and/or developing their own educational approaches and solutions.
Research Project: For a longer investigation into the teaching of art, students could research the pedagogy of central teachers within these three paradigms. Possible teachers of interest include: Charles Le Brun at the Royal French Academy, Joshua Reynolds at the British Royal Academy, Johannes Itten at the Bauhaus, Wassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus, Anni or Josef Albers at the Bauhaus and/or Black Mountain College, Walter Gropius at the Bauhaus or Yale, Allan Kaprow at CalArts, Michael Asher at CalArts, or Roy Ascott at the Ontario College of Art. Students could write papers about these teachers or enact one of their methods in the classroom.