by Barbara Black
Back in 1963, a Fluxus artist called Robert Filliou decided that art was
one million years old, and declared Jan. 17 arts birthday. The quirky
idea has been picked up as an opportunity to reflect on what the venerable
practice of art means to us.
About 60 students and faculty of Concordias art school held a gallery
in a hat at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery on Jan. 17, with
a birthday cake for afters. The idea was to put a question on a slip of
paper into the hat something inspired by Concordias catch-phrase
Real Education for the Real World and moderator François
Morelli would pull them out one by one, read them, and get a discussion
The talk centred on the dichotomy between the ideal world and gritty reality
in at least three ways. One was whether a practising artist can make a
living in the real world. Another was whether the Faculty of Fine Arts
should emphasize pure art at the expense of art with a commercial tinge.
A third was how important grades should be to the Concordia art student.
One artist said that only about 4 per cent of artists can be considered
financially successful, and many of the students looked glum.
Professor Leopold Plotek admitted that the prospect of doing what you
love for little or no money is naturally a source of anxiety for young
people, but he added that the stereotype of the starving artist is wrong.
In Canada, artists dont starve; poor people, disadvantaged
people, starve. In other words, an artist can usually find a way
to make a decent living; in his case, its teaching at a university.
In fact, said Professor Lynn Hughes, doing something else for a paycheque
can be stimulating, and make you more efficient. A degree in art neednt
lead directly to a career in art. She had met a recent graduate in painting
and art history who is working in communications for a leading computer
company, and loves it. A student added that art itself is hybridizing
into new forms, creating new ways to make a living.
In any case, Plotek said, artists who want to create are unstoppable,
regardless of whether it pays. You cant stop people from doing
this kind of craziness.
The dichotomy of high vs. low art was raised by a student who was a bit
irked that his own style of drawing was seen as something close to cartooning.
Art is part of culture, he said, and its widespread. The design
of my shoes is part of culture. If Concordia doesnt give full
due to popular art, who will, he asked? Dont restrict it to
the elite. Another student said that the way she is taught is so
conceptual that she finds it hard to explain it to her parents.
How important should grades be to a fine arts student? The students were
divided. One said that after graduation, its his portfolio that
employers or gallery owners and art dealers will want to see, not his
GPA. Another student said that some graduate schools Goldsmiths
Art College in London was mentioned look at your marks first.
Studio work most important
The faculty members tended to support some sort of academic evaluation,
although Plotek said that a students studio work counts for 99
per cent when it comes to admission to graduate school. Hughes pointed
out that grades have the effect of identifying the students who are serious
and disciplined, and an art scholar is expected to measure up academically.
Katya Kessin, who teaches at Concordia, said that the Faculty of Fine
Arts has changed since she graduated in the mid-1980s. Now, students are
offered all sorts of choice. There is more emphasis on informing
students what it means to be an artist, and the various roles they can
Finally, the artists asked themselves, How do we change the real world?
Ask what we have in common, offered Robert Holland Murray, a senior part-time
faculty member. A young woman said that she had started out in science
and gravitated to art, but in a sense, they had similar values. Another
young woman who said she had a business background urged artists to be
brave and passionate, and value themselves instead of taking societys
Human beings have a need to create, said student Melanie Authier.
I have friends in engineering and medical school, and theyre
coming to me with questions about art, about ways to connect.
Hughes said that art is undervalued by the world at large. Its
not a frill, its incredibly important. Its seen as a luxury
unlike cars and other possessions. Yet in the last years of my
mothers life, those things werent important to her. The only
thing that mattered was music.