Minding the Creative Gap

Translated from the French phrase l’art pour l’art, “art for art’s sake” was a dominant concept during my formative years as an art student. Coined by French philosopher Victor Cousin, art for art’s sake is a belief that art’s existence and intrinsic values does not connect to any utilitarian reasons. More importantly, it’s mere existence is what makes it a worthwhile pursuit for anyone who wants to use it for personal reflection and self-expression.

As we trend towards the intersection between art and technology (yes, Steve Jobs was on to something there), I’m wondering whether this term is still relevant these days. Upon careful examination of Steven Tepper’s points (in his article entitled Is An MFA The New MBA?), I believe that the current state of arts education at the high school level needs incremental changes to reflect the ever-expanding facets of creativity.

I think it’s still pretty early to even ask whether an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) can be the new MBA, but it is a good question to start with. Two years after I graduated from art school (along with my B.Ed), I began to wonder if it was worth my blood, sweat and tears to pursue graduate studies. At a time when digital media were still in its infancy, I wanted an MFA as a means to enhance my understanding of painting, printmaking, and mixed media.

Putting that desire on hold, I began my career as an art educator. Changes over the past 16 years continue to reflect my interests in the synergy between art, technology, design and yes, even social media. In hindsight, I was glad to put my desire of completing an MFA on hold (given the new things I’ve experienced).

I have a lot of respect for those that pursue graduates studies in the arts. As Tepper indicated, many graduates go through a difficult and often tumultuous career paths. He argues that the typical challenges with being an MFA graduate adds an extra layer of intangibles through experience (flexibility, grit, perseverance, lack of fear of failing, etc.). Although they’re becoming more useful in contemporary workplace practices, I’m troubled by the fact that these traits mostly develop afterward (due to the lack of secure / viable career options in the areas of traditional arts).


The Silos Must Be Torn Down

As a seasoned art educator, I continue to see structured silos that are slow to adapt to the rapid changes of art (I’m referring mostly to visual arts as that is my area of concentration). In high school art programs, some have included aspects of contemporary art, critical thinking, design, and multi-media (with emergent technologies). However, most programs have yet to inch away from the hegemonic ideology of art for art’s sake. Would the acknowledgment and study of other facets of creativity (such as the inclusion of technology and other contemporary practices) really hurt the artistic spirit? Will it fan the flames of the artist “selling out“?

Although most art courses in high school tend to be smaller, many educators have argued that there is simply not enough time within the curriculum to cover everything (or even experience most traditional media). If the spectrum of artistic creation continues to grow however, shouldn’t the classroom focus expand as well? Could others be omitted and newer ones added? Could the silo be torn down to make room for other examples of creativity?

Arts-trained employees won’t leave their creativity at the doorstep when they join our firms or organizations. – Steven Tepper

Expansion Is The Key

Over the past few years, I have seen a remarkable growth in new courses in post-secondary studies in schools such as OCADU, York or Emily Carr (being immediate examples of this). Although many under and post-graduate courses are quicker to address changes in the creative landscape, most high school art programs lag behind. This is where the gap occurs (and the resulting shortage of much-needed traits in current industry that the article identifies).

If new programs of study continue to emerge at the post-secondary level and workplace (not everyone opts for further studies), how will a student with creative talents explore their options past high school? Sure, there are extremely talented students that will lead themselves directly to college / university art programs (and MFAs) but what about the rest (most of whom may never, ever pick up another paintbrush unless the garage door needs a fresh coat)?

In Ontario, the Ministry of Education supplies curriculum and thought leaders with interesting and subject-specific codes that could address this issue. My own design course code (AWE) came from this very document. Many of these codes could include areas of arts management, business principles, the art market, app / software development, coding, UI / UX design, virtual / augmented reality, and other inter-disciplinary practices (there’s even a code for that – IDC). Why are so few schools offer such programs? Is it lack of time and resources? Lack of understanding? Perhaps outright indifference by purists?


The Fountain Of Reality

Moving forward, I think that arts educators need to take a Duchampian approach to the current model. It is pretty clear that the world needs creativity to adapt to aspects of life outside of the art world. Should we continue our current pace, it is possible that creativity may never expand beyond the narrow definition set forth by most art education systems. If there is another way to address this creativity gap, I would be very happy to hear from you.

Photos courtesy of Marco Leo, Jimmie Sides III, and Felix Clay