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Go Tell It
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la’s new nomadic
art schools
words holly myers
the story of art in los angeles is inseparable from the story of its art of pedagogy affect the work of those who, by choice or necessity, are
schools, which typically goes something like this: the pioneers laid their funnelled back into teaching? Does the experience these artists gain
foundations between the wars – Otis College of Art and Design in 1918, from these programmes, whether as students or teachers, actually lead
Chouinard Art Institute in 1921, Art Center in 1930, UCLA’s College to more interesting work? And how many artists, for that matter, do we
of Applied Arts in 1939 – dwarfed by the behemoth of Hollywood, so actually need?
far from even the shadow of New York as to scarcely register on its Take, by contrast, this scene: a geodesic dome in the hilly
radar and catering primarily to a population of students who hadn’t neighbourhood of Mt Washington one Thursday evening last
the means, the talent or the ambition to go East. Over the course of November, where 12 people – several artists, a graphic designer, an
a generation or two, however, as California’s postwar confidence rose, apparel designer, two writers, a new-media professor visiting from Illinois,
a critical mass of luminaries emerged (Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, John two graduate students and a young high-school teacher, ranging in age
Baldessari and so on). In 1961 Walt Disney transformed Chouinard into from late twenties to early forties – sit on pillows in a circle, drinking tea
CalArts, which – in one of the most peculiar of LA’s many high/low and discussing the fate of humanity. To what degree, they ponder, is
entanglements – proceeded to mine the avant-garde enclaves of New environmentalism a form of misanthropy? Are we mistaken in applying
York and Europe for faculty and visiting artists, setting into motion a questions of morality to a fundamentally amoral realm of nature? How
powerful, self-perpetuating machine. Ever more prestigious faculty, at does one grapple with the violence of the food chain? What’s to be
CalArts and elsewhere, drew ever more talented students, who in turn done about population growth? The dialogue is intelligent, informed,
became faculty, tipping this pool of talent from the art schools to the respectful and engaged; the vibe is one of a comfortable retreat.
city’s other colleges and junior colleges, and then to outlying regions, What does this have to do with art school? It represents the
producing estimable programmes in unlikely places like Long Beach, most recent incarnation of the Sundown Schoolhouse, one of a handful
Pomona and Irvine – thus attracting more students, spawning galleries of pedagogically oriented grassroots endeavours to emerge in the
like souvenir shops along a newly established tourist route and spurring vicinity of the LA artworld in recent years, endeavours which draw upon
a flurry of contemporary programming in museums. the city’s wealth of educational resources – namely the proliferation of
It is a heady state of affairs, one that reflects trends felt around individuals in the habit of teaching and the abundance of those with
the world – the rise of the MFA, the boom of the market – but which a fondness for learning (not mutually exclusive populations, by any
feels particularly acute here, in a city with a short historical memory and, means) – to pose a welcome antidote to the hype of the MFA: a vision
until recently, little cultural infrastructure to speak of. It is a shift that of education both more expansive and more accessible. These loose
raises significant and sometimes troubling questions, however. What and in some cases amorphous institutions – the Schoolhouse and the
are the economic ramifications of large numbers of people coming into Mountain School of Arts are the most visible – work on a small scale,
a financially unstable field tens of thousands of dollars in debt? What without a lot of fanfare, and with little to no concern for the boundaries
are the artistic consequences? How many risks can one take in one’s between disciplines. Though they differ considerably in structure and
work while carrying that sort of a burden? Do creative practices actually approach, they share a commitment to broadening the foundation of
excel in a climate of academic specialisation? How do the conditions the artistic and intellectual life.
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LA SCHOOLS.indd 70 5/2/08 15:39:28
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