Here are some excerpts from an article written by Anton Vidokle in e-flux called Art without Market, Art without Education: Political Economy of Art. I thought that it made a lot of good points about the homogenizing effects of MFA grad schools and the kind of art that is being produced by these programs. I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of art that I see being made and have slowly come to the same conclusions about how Graduate schools are training artists to create work that can be easily recognized and commodified for an art market with specific expectations. This means that artists are being taught to be more competitive by utilizing the same marketing tactics that businesses use and by learning to create products that are designed to stand out amongst the other competitors.
The problem of professionalization is connected to the proliferation of MFA programs, which have become a prerequisite for young people entering the arts. In a sense, universities and academies have created a perfect economic feedback loop that perpetuates their own existence: most artists depend on having a teaching position. This is because, as Walid Raad recently pointed out, the average life-span of financial success in the art market (in places where there is such a thing)—a period during which a successful artist’s work is in active demand by collectors—is a mere four years. How do you support yourself when your work does not sell anymore? You teach—and to qualify for a teaching position, you need an MFA degree. This means that most artists who aspire to a life-long practice have little choice but to enroll in MFA programs and often pay astronomical fees and go into debt in order to have a chance of teaching in the future or selling their work in the lucrative art market. But unlike other fields, such as law or medicine, where graduates can reasonably expect a job upon graduation, there are no guarantees that an artist with an MFA degree will find a teaching job. With recent shifts in hiring policies at most universities—towards part-time, untenured, adjunct labor—very few artists ever get a tenured, secure position. To me, this resembles a kind of pyramid scheme or institutional blackmail in which money is extracted using false promises, with the benefits going to very few—primarily the institutions themselves.
It seems to me that MFA programs have become a tool of indoctrination that has had an unprecedented homogenizing effect on artistic practices worldwide, an effect that is now being replicated with curatorial and critical writing programs.
For a few years now I have experienced a certain sense of déjà vu while walking through art fairs or biennials, a feeling that many other people have also commented on: that we have already seen all these works that are supposedly brand new. We are experiencing the impact of contemporary art as a globally traded commodity that is produced, displayed, and circulated by an industry of specially trained professionals.
…if one is really looking to produce a different kind of art, it is necessary to step through the standardization and professionalization it promises, and discover a way to access whatever may be on the other side—even if what one finds does not resemble art as we currently understand it.
This supposes that, somewhere close to the center of what we all know art to be, there is a kind of open, undefined quality. And this is something I feel to be increasingly difficult to develop and maintain both in art and other areas of life, when there are so many pressures in the market-driven economy to divide labor, to professionalize. As artists, curators, and writers, we are increasingly forced to market ourselves by developing a consistent product, a concise presentation, a statement that can be communicated in thirty seconds or less—and oftentimes this alone passes for professionalism. For emerging artists and curators there is an ever-increasing number of well-intentioned programs that essentially indoctrinate them into becoming content providers for an art system whose values and welfare are wholly defined by its own logic of supply and demand.