Home » Art School Ph.Ds Make the Blood Run Cold

Art School Ph.Ds Make the Blood Run Cold

In THIS article in the New York Times, Roberta Smith notes that “The recent inflated art market has created the illusion that being an artist is a financially viable calling.”


Art school. Image: educationuk.org

“…The growing interest among art schools and universities (mostly abroad so far) in offering a Ph.D. in art makes the blood run cold. It also seems like rank, even cynical commercial opportunism. It’s too soon to tell, but I’d like to think that the economic downturn is doing serious damage to this trend and maybe even put budding artists off graduate school entirely.

It’s a topic that we highlighted in THIS opinion piece for The Mark News.

In any case, Smith goes on to introduce a new, free art school started by the Bruce High Quality Foundation in New York. Click HERE for their website, where you can buy a t-shirt, donate to the foundation or follow BHQF on Twitter.

2 Responses to “Art School Ph.Ds Make the Blood Run Cold”

  1. As a curator / gallerist I believe that there are numerous trajectories one can take for pursuing a career in the arts. I have worked with artists who have never pursued or received a formal art education and who create amazing work and have successful art careers; and I have met other individuals who have degrees from prestigious art schools and create work that will probably never sell or be exhibited. All of which leads to a natural debate as to what is success?

    However, the discussion here is one of higher education and the training of artists. I have to admit that when I first heard about a Ph.D in studio art, I was somewhat skeptical and questioned the value of additional art training above the MFA level.

    Over the course of my career I have encouraged numerous artists to pursue an MFA. If one has the time and money, when else will you have the opportunity to really focus on your practice, your voice, be given permission to experiment with materials, tools, techniques all without worrying about the market, your dealer, the critics, or the public? Not that being in an educational setting does not have its own set of expectations. But for the most part, art school gives an artist the permission to focus on their own work without external pressures or expectations other than graduation.

    Now I will admit that for the most part I am a huge supporter of higher education. I don’t believe it is the right thing or necessary for everyone, but I do believe that you should never stop learning and for some, this means continuing with post-graduate studies.

    This summer I presented a paper at the Arts in Society Conference (http://2009.artsinsociety.com) in Venice, IT. Some of the most interesting papers, projects, and presentations were by current students, post-doctoral fellows, or graduates of Ph.D programs in Studio Art. The Ph.D experience did not appear to be solely about art-making but about grounding their art practice in a larger cultural, societal or theoretical framework. Most of the artist / Ph.D’s that I met were interested in academic careers but were also very serious about their art practice.

    There is no prescribed formula for art world success. A Ph.D requires time, dedication, hard-work and money. It is never going to appeal to everyone, nor is it going to become expected or the norm. Pursuing a Ph.D is far from cynical commercial opportunism as Roberta Smith states in her New York Times article quoted above; as it takes one away from a focus on the creation and production of art, and instead forces one to be more reflexive, as they contextualize their own work in a broader historical and cultural framework. However, for those artists who want to push or take their practice in a more academic or theoretically grounded direction, or are interested in the pursuit of higher education, a Ph.D in Studio Art may be exactly what is needed.

    Angela Brayham is a gallerist in Toronto, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D looking at international contemporary art festivals and events such as Biennales and the way they engage the public and intersect with local arts communities.

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