The question of whether or not artists need professional training is one that I have often thought about, but which does not have an easy answer. This issue is thorny because of a related question: What exactly is professional training? There was a time when “training” meant studio apprenticeships with master artists, or when training was more vocational and meant learning a craft. This model, however, no longer seems relevant within the current system.
We are now in the era of the MFA program. MFA programs are not necessarily bad, but I do find them problematic in their current incarnation. Now, an MFA can equal celebrity status within the art world for artists who have yet to find their own footing. This can be daunting for both the artist and the arts professional, and can lead to homogenization within the art world.
I recently read on Artnet.com (News, March 3, 2006), “Go into any Chelsea art gallery with a Yale MFA and it gets your slides looked at. Can you imagine now, with [Robert] Storr in charge? Make contact with that dean and upon graduation, doors—gallery and academic—will open.” What does it mean when the appointment of a new art school dean might lead to such an open door policy? On the one hand, it is a great opportunity for students, but on the other, artists should be recognized for their work rather than their pedigree.
What does this cult of education do to the countless number of artists who are creating meaningful work but are un- or less trained? I believe that these artists deserve to gain entrance into the system not merely as outsiders, but should be seen alongside trained artists. Wouldn’t it be nice to discuss the work on view rather than education?
That being said, I do see value in professional training (whether an MFA, apprenticeship, etc.). Training gives artists a sense of faith in their own work and an ability to present and stand behind their work, which creates and enhances success.
I may have more questions now than when I began, but as I end this rumination, I still cannot help thinking about whether artistic training must take place within the arts. What about the artist who is trained as a scientist, architect or writer? Can we move beyond the MFA as the sole model of professional training within the arts? Are others forms of training equally valuable? Can training make a difference at all?
— Denise Markonish, Gallery Director/Curator, Artspace, New Haven, Conn.