Art School Confidential or How to get into the dispute of artistic value

Art School Confidential is a rare film where the confusions around artistic value are depicted. Yes, modern art is not merely a tolerant attitude shown by museum curators, who kindly allocate some of their precious space for the works from Mondrian to Pollack : artistic value, at least in New York City, has become the foremost issue for our art students. When they enter into Stratmore, what are they supposed to learn from their professors?

In the good old days, this value is never a subject for open discussion. Value equals beauty and beauty demands properly applied techniques and hard working (added up in due time something called ‘personal vision’). It is a student’s task to get familliar with those rather ‘technical’ aspects of fine art and these techniques are taught in seperated disciplines : drawing, painting, sculpture and so on. Now the question is : if art is no longer ‘about composition and color’, but about ‘express with maximum freedom your true nature’ (say, for example, an assholian nature), do they still need to attend an art school in order to learn art? The answer propagandized by the film is a seeming ‘no’. For if it is true that most of the professors teach because they need a health insurance, if after twenty years of experience the only thing they learn to draw is triangles, if a cop who never gets more than Cs can paint all of a sudden with ideologically well-received paintings, if revealing the process of art is indeed a sufficient reason to justify the existence of a bad work, what is there to learn, after all, in an art school? You might as well invest the hard earned money of your parents in some more fruitful undertakings.

But if some of these issues exposed by this film are true, no meaningful alternatives are provided (if sucking and licking certain parts of human body do not count). The author of this film (if there is any), it seems to me, have adopted too easily (with an American businessman’s efficiency) a nihilist point of view. Modern art IS about the freedom of form and it IS about the process and ideology behind artistic creation, but it is never about nihilism. The confusions experienced by art students are understandable because unlike their ancesters, they face a crossroad where doctrines (good and bad) have been wiped off, road signs (right or wrong) have been uprooted. It is totally up to yourself to discover your own method and direction. But there is no reason to panic so soon. Directions will show up again, with techniques and hard working.

Another important issue brought up by the film is : can an artist exists all by himself? Probably not. Art seems to be a pursuit of beauty (or anything else at all), but in reality this endeavor is often mixed indiscernibly with all sorts of other less prestigious motivations : be famous, with all its derivative advantages (wealth and female admiration), and be great, if possible.

Out of pure fear that all these are not entertaining enough, that the abstract confusion of artistic value alone is not enough material for a watchable film, the plot gets disrupted by this cliché film student and his hectic project (sponsored generously by grandpa, for the love of gun fights) of ongoing campus murders. The one who had commited them, on the other hand, claimed to have paid a ‘humble tribune to the great murderer’ by making a serie of portraits of the victims. A typical case of schizophrenia, no doubt. What is interesting here is that those moments of uncontrollable killing impulses have been described as ‘enlightenments’ which sort of ‘redeem’ the impotency caused by artistic failure, that true crime (with murder ranking high above) is a sort of behavior art (an idea that has become, in the course of years, more and more popular), that paintings inspired, driven by these moments are powerful thus valuable.

Or if they still do not possess a recognizable value, then exposure certain does. Maybe we should cry this credo out really loud : don’t doubt your work, if its value is not recognized, it is simply not exposed enough. Once turned into a celebrity, our protagonist no longer needs to worry about anything about art– as long as his painting sell.


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