president’s message, continued
Before long I was urging my liberal arts school colleagues to send their students to art class if they wanted them to do better in physics or philosophy. What I had discovered for myself was nothing more than the truism that education philosophers and clinical researchers had been insisting on for years: that art making was crucial to cognitive development precisely insofar as it engaged the body, mind, and spirit in a singular form of creative human expression.
And very soon I also realized that my art theory students were making exciting changes in the studio. Even older studio faculty who had had no training and little interest in theory began to remark and appreciate the effect theory classes were having on the school as a whole. Theory became a requirement for all majors. Meanwhile, I got busy developing an MFA program that would recognize the importance of theory and philosophy in the graduate training of a studio artist. The new MFA was weighted roughly fifty-fifty between theory and practice. Degree candidates had to defend a written thesis from within the context of their studio thesis. The results were to me astonishing, partly because I was able to see first hand the level of art making that could be achieved through rigorous training in theory and practice, and also because I was amazed by the brilliance of the writing.
Clear and pressing was the need for a PhD program that would take these discoveries into account. In designing this program I wanted to put the lessons of my art school experience to advantage. I had learned that studio education is based on mentorship as opposed to the lecture model of liberal arts education. I had also learned that art school is very much about being on the spot. Especially at the graduate level, students got to meet and work with those who were pushing history into the future. To eye the very cusp of historical production was a huge benefit to art students who would soon be asked to take the same responsibility.
In this light, I have collaborated with art practitioners and scholars from around the world to design a PhD program for artists—and by artists I mean those who approach their work as a creative practice, as curators, architects, creative scholars, or art practitioners in the more traditional sense. I believe we have created the first PhD program of its kind in the United States. It combines rigorous philosophical study with on-site intensives. The latter might be described as critical interventions that bring the artist-philosopher into immediate contact with the life-world of contemporary art, whether it be participants in the Venice Biennale or the critics, curators, gallery directors and artists who populate the New York art scene.
Mention of the artist-philosopher brings me to one final point. The poverty of philosophy remains a failure to act. And yet a philosophy of action seems the only hope remaining in the face of our present conditions of existence. Such a philosophy will materialize, I believe, when the philosopher has learned to engage body, mind, and spirit in the concrete representation of a philosophical abstraction. Who will this philosopher be, if not the artist-philosopher?
Who will this philosopher be, if not the artist-philosopher?
Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts