With a culture war raging over education, where does art school fit in?

Of all the areas of modern life that have been disrupted in recent times, arguably none has suffered so absurdly as the American education system. Even to simply list, in oblique terms, some of the fundamental problems of schools of all kinds in this country is to look into the jaws of a declining culture. One major political party has decided that the right to own semi-automatic rifles is more important than the lives of children, while the other has done little to counter it; state and federal politics have left economically vulnerable young adults mired in unnecessary debt that many have no hope of repaying; increasingly mainstream extremists want to control the behavior of students and teachers and rewrite the history books in their favour.

A lot of this isn’t new, or at least it’s been a while in coming. In 1967, in Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address as governor of California, he spoke of his desire to shape the state’s colleges and universities – the nation’s largest public higher education system, which he would defund severely during his tenure – by his particular definition. American values. “We believe it is not a denial of academic freedom to provide this education within a framework of reasonable rules and regulations,” Reagan said. “It does not constitute political interference with intellectual freedom…to demand that, in addition to education, they build their character on accepted moral and ethical standards.” In his words, one can almost hear the distant echo of Senator Ted Cruz yelling about critical race theory.

This year, we dedicated the annual issue of Art de T to the theme of art school, a relatively recent addition to the field of education. As apocalyptic as the circumstances may seem right now, the stories we’ve produced are hopeful: about the artistic legacy of historically black colleges and universities; about a growing arts community in New Haven, Connecticut that is both tied to and independent of the city’s Ivy League university; about a longtime teacher who has retired and is more fully dedicated to a career as an artist; about the many (often debt-free) people who have learned by avoiding formal education altogether.

Art schools can arguably be constraining environments – they have historically been privileged places, and too beholden to various orthodoxies. (As artist Daniel Clowes writes in his 1991 comic “Art School Confidential,” from which we borrowed the title of a piece in this package, “Anyone with a trust fund can excel in courses that are little more than vague pep talks designed to maintain enrollment by tricking students into thinking they have “potential.”) But at their best, they have represented, and continue to to represent, the idea of ​​school in its freest form – a place to do nothing less than forge an identity uniquely its own. “The answer to all of our national problems, the answer to all of the world’s problems, comes down, when you really analyze it, to one word: ‘education,'” President Lyndon B. Johnson said in a speech. 1964, a year before he enacted the Higher Education Act. As prescient as Reagan’s words are, I’d say Johnson’s has aged better, and I hope they resonate when you read these stories.

Kayleen C. Rice