Fresh Visions 2013 curator’s text: Judging the Temperature of Art by Degrees

[English text below]

由毕业展探测艺术的未来温度:艺术学院及批判性实践

李蔼德

作为文章的前言,我想说明一下,虽然我在中国当代艺术界积累了一些经验,但为这次展览做的前期准备是我第一次与中国学院系统进行的持续接触。这篇文章则是我对这一体验的初步回应。

今年新视觉展的参展作品选自中国八大美院绘画系的学士、硕士生毕业展。毋庸置疑,我对这些作品充满期待,毕竟它们的作者理论上将构成中国艺术界的未来。可惜的是,满足这一期待的作品虽未匿迹(其中一些将出现在新视觉展上),却也寥寥无几。宏观看来,各大毕业展中的作品在艺术实践上都稍显保守,我猜测这种保守主义与推进学生艺术创作的美术院校不无关系。其中,具有批判性的艺术实践是最为关键的缺失,在我看来这却正是艺术院校应当展示出的成果。

我认为,“有趣”的作品是以巧妙手法结合创作媒介和主体,并呈现出超于形式主义或精湛技巧的创造力。这些手法不会对其媒介或主体妄下判断,相反,它们对“媒介/主体为何存在”、“为何被放诸这一语境”提出问题。对我来说,重要的不是媒介、主体或是技巧手法,而是贯穿在媒介、主体和技巧手法之中的观念。没有观念发展于其中的技巧是单薄的:它很难对观众进行关于世界的诉说。我想这就是批判性思维(critical thinking)的一个侧面,当然它还可以以多种形式进行呈现:包括发展传统艺术并使其与当代艺术联接;跳出传统艺术手法,发展出与当代艺术和生活更为贴近的全新艺术形式。

我的观点看上去与我参观的这些毕业作品展的呈现相悖,当我步入其中许多展览时,我对展出作品的技术水平赞赏有加,而这种赞赏却无法构成对一个艺术作品的长期欣赏。当然,导致这种技巧惊人但思想稀薄的作品产生的原因也是很多的,并不是所有原因都来自艺术学院体系。作为一个正统的教学体制,艺术学院体系旨在将其学生引领至某一特定的评判高度。然而,正是由于这些正统观念以及学院体系自身的标准化导致了对批判性的不适应,而在我看来,这种批判性正是真正意义上的艺术的基础,它以其固有性拷问着艺术的形态、标准,以及艺术发生的语境。

在学生作品上,艺术院校或许会选择关注一些更具考量性的因素,譬如在我参观的毕业展中,绘画技巧就是机构关注的中心。绘画技巧也存在许多关注点,甚至有人会说,对绘画技巧的持续关注和追求正是“学院派”的特征,这种追求将最终发展为对技术完美性的自体追求,或是对创新精神伴以有限技术的追求。从另一个角度来看,学院或许正是这种追求的自然结果,它是满足这一狭窄关注的机构,致力于追求这些内在需求却拒绝以开放、批判性的方式思考这些需求。

在艺术学院之外,当代艺术世界则是一个宽广的、多样的生态,它同时容纳着严苛的学院生产和探索艺术与世界关系的批判性作品。学院维系着艺术世界的一个侧面,同时也被艺术世界维系着,它支撑着一批社会和专业人士,以及建立在学院系统终端产品上的机构。

另一方面,当代艺术还有另一个更为重要的侧面,这个侧面中存在着比学院标准更具广博性关注,其中之一我认为就是前文提到的批判性思维。基于这一理念,我希望艺术院校能为学生提供一个培养批判能力的环境,鼓励学生将批判性思维作为艺术实践的重要组成。

艺术学院的确是(也应该是)艺术系统中重要的一支,它以训练和经验为艺术家提供坚实的基础。学院的认可也因此合理地被看做艺术家们争相追逐的通行证,每个学院都将他们特殊的权威传递给学生:教育背景成了评判艺术家实践的参考。中国的八大美院(也是本次新视觉展览的主体)逐渐发展成为传统意义上的
“顶级”艺术学院,在机构化进程中发展成为艺术教育的泰斗,也正是由于机构化,它们同时成为一个为学生授予价值的自我维持的系统。对于没有入读过这几个学院的艺术家,一种对他们地位和价值的暗示性判断就可能会因此产生,艺术界的某些块别和活动或许会因此将他们拒之门外。校园名望决定论可能是个全球现实。对于所有机构化的系统来说,它们最初机构化的动机通常都是很充分的,但在这个基础上,我们则需要提问质疑:学院是否配得上拥有这种授予价值的机构性和社会性权力?这个问题的答案是展示在他们的成果之中的——也就是毕业展中的呈现。

我作为策展人的活动便建立在这些毕业展呈现的“简单”的事实依据之上。与此同时,我在这些展览中大量地观察到了批判性视角的缺失。不管这些展览成果体现了什么,这些展览都是缺乏成果的。

 

艺术家及e-flux杂志的创始人安东·维多克在(Anton Vidokle)e-flux上书写了在他看来美国及其他地区的艺术硕士(MFA)项目中存在的专业化的问题。当他的艺术硕士课程进行到末尾的时候,维多克发现每个学生的毕业论文都必须装在一个标准化的“黑色塑料文件夹”里上交,这种特定规格的文件夹还需要在特定的商店里才能买到。维多克拒绝购买文件夹,因此也从未完成硕士学业。

维多克所说的“黑色塑料文件夹”有着明确的暗示:即学院体系形成的僵化的评判系统。不参与这个体系便无法被人发现因此也就无法成功。如维多克所说:“系统及组织的需求通常就是对预先制定的规则的理解。在这一过程中,文件夹就替代了艺术本身。”1 在这里“文件夹”代表了那个衡量学生作品的持续且便捷的体系,可惜这一持续性更多是在服务学院而非学生。我在新视觉展览准备阶段参观的毕业展就如同这些“黑色塑料文件夹”:在预先制定的语境下的呈现成为了成功的关键(它显然代替观众做了“成功”与否的判断)。

无论如何,我和我的同事还是为展览选出了一批我们认为有趣的作品,显然现今的艺术学院还未病入膏肓。这些作品在中国学院体系中的存在,证明了那些不为体系服务的作品也是有存在空间的,从乐观的角度来看,这一体系还是存在变通的。维多克在他的文章中将马赛·杜尚(Marcel Duchamp)的作品比作“一种不断向艺术机构退还文件夹的行为”,而这时“文件夹”则起着“炸弹”的作用——一种触怒体制的行动:“它们能够推翻那些陈列它们的展架。”尽管这个对照过于激烈了,我还是将它看做对批判性实践的描述:尽管批判性手法较“炸弹”要微妙许多,但它们拥有同等强大的力量。我们在新视觉上展示的作品已经开始跳出学院系统的僵化,在毕业展的传统空间中呈现充满创造力的批判性行为,并同时证明了保守语境下仍旧存在有趣的探索。

无论在中国还是国际范围内,艺术学院都连接着艺术界的新兴力量,亦因此对全球艺术生产有着深远的影响。如果艺术学院希望实现这种影响,他们就需要肩负起为学生创造生产语境的责任。我相信以多种形态进行着自我呈现的批判性思维就是关键。因此,我会将“好”的艺术学院的工作定义为:积极推动不同思考与批判性思维结合,并将这些思维放在与技巧同等重要的高度。这样的批判性思考必然将质疑构成学院系统的学院及艺术准则,与此同时,它也将帮助这一体系以及它的学生更加紧密地参与当代艺术世界的未来。

  1. 安东·维多克,《没有市场与教育的艺术:艺术的政治经济学》,e-flux杂志,43期(2013年3月)

The Art Academy and Critical Practice

Fresh Visions 2013: Graduate Painting Exhibition

7 September – 7 November, 2013

OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen, China

I should preface this text by saying that although I have some years experience with the contemporary art world in China, the research made in preparation for this exhibition was my first sustained contact with the art academy system in this country. This text is a preliminary response to that experience.

The selections for this year’s Fresh Visions exhibition came from works in the undergraduate and postgraduate degree shows of the painting departments at the top nine art academies in China. I was inevitably hoping to see interesting work in these degree shows, from artists who one hopes will form the future for the art world in China. Although such work existed (some of which is on display in Fresh Vision), it was unfortunately in the minority. Broadly speaking, it seemed that the work on display in the degree shows was fairly conservative in its approach to artistic practice. I surmise that the environment of the art academy within which these students have developed their practice plays a role in this conservatism. One significant aspect that I felt was generally lacking, and which I believe should have been demonstrated in the results from these institutions, was evidence of a critical artistic practice amongst their students.

For me, “interesting” artwork would be work incorporating an intelligent approach to medium and/or subject matter, coupled with a demonstration of creativity beyond formalism or technical mastery. These approaches would try not to make assumptions about their medium or subject matter, but would be asking why these exist and why they are being applied to their particular contexts. The important thing, for me, is not media, subject, or technical skill, but the development of an idea through those media, subjects, and skills. Technical skill without the development of an idea is not sufficient – it tells the viewer little productive about the world. This I would say is an aspect of critical thinking, and can take many forms: from the ability to develop traditional modes of art so that they remain relevant in contemporary contexts; to thinking outside of and beyond traditional modes such that new forms of work can be developed which may be more relevant to contemporary art and life.

My attitude, though, seems at odds with the results in evidence in the degree shows I visited. While I walked into many of those shows and had positive reactions to the generally high level of skill on display, this kind of reaction is thin gruel to any long-term appreciation of an artwork in my opinion. This technically impressive but critically lacking work could, of course, be due to any number of reasons, not all of which have anything to do with the art academic system. The art academy system serves its purpose as a formal teaching environment that aspires to reach certain standards of judgement of its subjects. However, precisely because of these formal aspects and standardisations the academy system in itself may find it difficult to accommodate the criticality that it seems to me forms the basis for effective art, a criticality which naturally puts into question that art’s own forms and standards and by extension those of the contexts within which it acts.

The art academy may choose to focus on more quantifiable factors of the students’ work, institutionally focusing on the technical skill that I saw in the degree shows, for instance. There is much to be valued in technical skill, and one might even say that a focussed pursuit of technical skill is an archetypal “academic” stylistic trait, ultimately becoming a self-sustaining pursuit of technical perfection, or of innovation within a limited technical context. Looked at from the other direction, the academy is perhaps the natural result of such a pursuit, an institution that satisfies a narrowing of attention to these aspects, pursuing their internal demands with little opening for critically addressing those demands.

Looking beyond the art academy, the contemporary art world is a broad and varied environment that can accommodate strict academic productions as well as work that seeks to play a more critical role in its relations with art and the world. The academy sustains and is sustained by one part of that contemporary art world, feeding into a social and professional set of people and institutions that are built on its end products.

On the other hand, there is another—arguably more important—part of the contemporary art world that has broader concerns than just academic standards. One of those concerns I would suggest would be the aforementioned critical thinking. Based on this claim I would hope that art academies could provide an environment to nurture critical faculties in their students, recognising and promoting this as an important part of their artistic practice.

The art academy is and should be an important part of the art system, providing training and experience that builds into a strong grounding for its artist-subject. Academic qualifications have fittingly come to be seen as a desirable thing, with each art academy gaining their unique reputations that transfers onto attending students: educational background serves as a certain reference regarding their practice. In China the top nine academies (the subjects of Fresh Visions) have historically developed as the traditional set of “top” art academies, institutionalised as the pinnacle of an arts education, and—having been institutionalised thus—are now a self-sustaining system of the granting of value to their students. If an artist has not been to one of these academies, there may even be an implicit judgement as to their status and value, and certain sections of the art world or artworld activities may be closed to them. A system of affirmation based on attendance at particular schools is possibly a universal truth. As with all institutionalised systems, there will have usually been good reasons for their initial institution. If this is the case, the question then becomes: do these academies still deserve this institutional and social power to confer affirmation? And the proof will be in their results – in this case the art on display in the degree shows.

My activity as a curator for Fresh Visions is based on this “simple” fact of the end results in front of me when I visit those degree shows. And as such, much of what I saw in the degree shows was lacking the critical aspect that I have mentioned. Whatever the reasons the results speak for themselves – and the results are generally lacking.

 

The artist and founder of e-flux Anton Vidokle writes in the e-flux Journal about what he sees as the problems with the professionalization of art practice through MFA degree programmes in the US and elsewhere. At the end of the MFA course that he attended, Vidokle found that every students’ dissertation had to be submitted in a standard “black plastic folder,” of a certain format and only purchasable at a certain store. Vidokle never purchased this, and subsequently never completed this MFA.

Vidokle’s “black plastic folder” is a very clear indication of the restrictive systems of judgement that an academic system can come to institutionalise. If you do not fit into these systems you are not visible and you do not succeed. As he says: “systemic and logistical needs often demand legibility according to predefined terms. In the process, the folder replaces art itself.”1 This “folder” represents a convenient and consistent system for assessment of the student’s work, but this consistency comes to serve the purpose of the academy more than it serves the student. The degree shows I have seen in preparation for Fresh Visions are perhaps similar to those “black plastic folders,” where performance in this defined context becomes a criterion for success (and certainly it equates to “success” for the visitors).

Nevertheless my colleagues and I have been able to select a set of works that we feel are interesting and have been included in this exhibition, so it is obviously not a hopeless situation within the art academies. The fact that these works exist in the art academy environment in China means that there is room in there for work that does not simply serve a system, and that system—to look at the situation positively—can accommodate some leeway. Vidokle, in his text, compares the work of Marcel Duchamp to “a repeated act of offering the folder back to the art establishment,” and whose “folders” acted as a kind of “bomb” – an action that could serve to upset the system: “they were capable of bringing down the shelf they were stored on.” Although this is too destructive a reference for this activity, I see this as a characterisation of a critical practice: however the critical path is subtler than a “bomb,” but potentially just as devastating an activity. The works that we present in Fresh Visions begin to move beyond the strictures of the academic system, performing their critical acts of creativity within the regulated spaces of the degree shows, and proving that there are still interesting approaches within this apparently conservative environment.

Art academies are at the nexus of the emergent art world both here in China and internationally, and as such have a profound effect on the future of art production worldwide. If they want to live up to those possibilities, they have a responsibility to create a productive environment for their students. I believe that critical thinking in its many forms is key to this. I then might characterise a “good” art academy as actively promoting paths of thinking that incorporate such critical thinking, instituting it as a method as important as technical skill. Such critical thinking would inevitably question the academic and artistic principles that form the foundations of the art academic system, but at the same time it would allow that system and its students to become more integral participants in the future contemporary art world.

Author: Edward Sanderson

  1. Vidokle, Anton, Art without Market, Art without Education: Political Economy of Art, in e-flux journal, #43 (March 2013).
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Fresh Visions 2013 curator’s text: Judging the Temperature of Art by Degrees by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International