Whitehot Magazine

May 2011: Contemporary Art Education and Alex Bag

Alex Bag, Untitled Fall '95, video still, 1995

 Contemporary Art Education and Alex Bag by Carly Stains

I went to art school because I wanted to continue the bliss of high school art classes. I began each morning painting whatever I felt like, better than my peers, drenched in sunlight coming through the skylights of the art studio. Nothing makes me happier than high ceilings. Art history classes with my goofy teacher were my refuge from calculus. I thought I would like to continue this lifestyle. My intention was never to become a working artist. But I decided a BFA would be an appropriate degree for whatever path I chose.

Alex Bag’s video, Untitled Fall ’95 (1995), is a parody of the life of an art student. I think of it as the best summary of art school in New York. All though I have not completed all four years of my schooling, I can see the direction it is moving in. I have completed stages one and two. The first being summarized by my excitement to be in New York, to be on my own, to feel hip. Like Bag, “I am just so stoked to be like, around people who like, understand me, and like, um like me.” I got my septum pierced in my second semester at NYU.

But I soon figured out what Art School is all about. Each semester unfolded in accordance with Alex Bag’s monologues. My second year began with excitement that gave way to frustration. I resented the core curriculum classes, which I felt had nothing to do with me, the artist. Eventually I found myself appreciating the inspiration from other disciplines. Anything learned can help create a context in artwork. I could apply almost anything to what I was doing in the studio. Alex Bag’s character had the same feelings. She also shares my feelings for the personal aspect of sharing work; the problem of having to explain your work and then getting grilled by twenty people. Art is personal, and it is hard not to take criticism personally.

Alex Bag, Untitled Fall '95, video still, 1995

There is one line from the video that draws haunting parallels to my own experience: “You know all these boys have been like, welding together these giant creations, and wheeling them into class, and like, no one asks them ‘um, excuse me, how big is your dick?’’’ How bizarre that fifteen years after this video was made, boys are still being praised for the same enormous structures.

Now I just wait for my disdain for my classmates to settle in and for my exasperation with the structured critiques and assignments. I might move to Brooklyn, playing into the role I that I find offensive yet desirable: the Art School Kid.

One of the problems with art school is the grading system. I know what type of work each professor makes, prefers, and likes to see from me. There is often a professor who is just “grooving on any, like, speck of dust like, because it reminds him of his own work.” So I work to appease my professor. And this works out well for my GPA, but I feel hindered by my reluctance to experiment with anything that might bring it down.

Another thing is, you do not have to attend art school to be an Art School Kid. Going to art school is simply a way to quickly master the attitude. I’m currently reading David Sedaris’s book, Me Talk Pretty One Day. In it he recounts his stint as a performance artist and meth addict. He makes fun of the way he used the terminology of the art world; how the words “manifesto” and “piece” turned him on, how he made terrible art with the mindset that if the audience did not understand his conceptual brilliance, it was their stupidity that was the problem.

Sometimes I feel like the most interesting work could come from someone who was isolated from all influence. Other times I think this would make for very dull concepts. Art school is not necessary for success. Many famous artists are self-taught. This is not to say that an art education is not valuable. It is certainly valuable, just not a necessity. However, there is a business aspect of art, which art school prepares for. One great aspect of art school is the constant critiques and the accessibility to different materials, mediums, and the advice of professors. But the most important thing it can give you is a huge list of contacts. To be successful, an artist needs to be able to network and talk about their work in a way that sells it. The artist’s persona is important to the critics and the buyers. However, having a rigid idea of what an artist should be can stunt progress. And when working to please a professor or your classmates, you may compromise yourself.

Alex Bag, Untitled Fall '95, video still, 1995


Carly Stain's freshman Fundamentals of Painting class celebrates their work at NYU's Open Studios event

In the sculpture studio, Stains is confronted by a latex ass she had made for a performance piece




 Carly Stains is a second year Art School Kid at NYU.


Ana Finel Honigman presents: NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development students

Whitehot Magazine's Berlin Editor, Ana Finel Honigman, is pleased present a series of reviews and interviews by studio art students of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The students are spending a semester abroad in Berlin and contributing to Ana Finel Honigman’s contemporary art course “Intro to Reality: Art World Institutions in Context.” The articles are written as part of Ms. Finel Honigman’s class and selected for publication based on their excellence.

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