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A generation of art students read Baudrillard, thrilled to his notion that the world of real things has been replaced by ''simulacra'' (or mere images) and made art recycled from earlier art to prove the point. That could be the motto of just about any graduate art program in America, which doesn't mean that the schools are interchangeable.
His '' Shooting Piece'' required a friend to fire a bullet into his left arm from a distance of 15 feet. A Master of Fine Arts degree has become an essential credential.
Perhaps that's why, when we recently met at the University of California at Los Angeles, I found it hard to imagine him patiently sitting through faculty meetings. You wait long enough and even the most outrageous rebels end up grading papers and sharing career tips with students. A skinny art student paused to tell him that she had just been interviewed by a local news program about campus crime. Or so one might think, judging from the success of graduate art departments, where applications are at a record high. boom has not been accompanied by a growth in the amount of first-rate art being created in this country.
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.
For much of this century, the question elicited the same vehement answer.
Academies, the argument went, were anathema to creativity.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?Back in the 1970's, Burden was a legendary wild man, a conceptual artist who bled for his work -- he spent five days jammed into a small metal locker, rolled on broken glass and crucified himself on the roof of a Volkswagen, with nails driven through his palms. Now he's 53, a tenured professor of art, with an annual salary of 2,000 and a package of benefits provided by the state of California. The proverbial romantic artist, struggling alone in a studio and trying to make sense of lived experience, has given way to an alternate model: the university artist, who treats art as a homework assignment. In fact many critics feel that art schools are directly responsible for a decline in the quality of art.'' People think collectors support artists,'' he tells me. This spring, some 2,000 aspiring Rembrandts received Master of Fine Arts degrees, an estimate based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, in Washington. degrees, nor students of creative writing, filmmaking, acting, music and dance. programs, but in 1996, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the U. Department of Education, more master's degrees were conferred in the visual and performing arts -- a total of 10,280 degrees -- than in English (8,000), biology (6,000) or math (4,000). '' When I go to the New York galleries, all I see is art-school art,'' says Barbara Rose, the art historian.To call an artist ''academic'' was to insult his work, implying that it was unimaginative, rote, banal.Virtually all the great modernists, from Cezanne on down, felt undisguised contempt for the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, the mighty Paris institution where students began by copying plaster casts, progressed to the life class to study the (male) nude and, with few exceptions, emerged as proficient, B-minus painters of scenes culled from history or mythology.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.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.