[iDC] sharing "new media" curricula/potentials

Kevin Hamilton kham at uiuc.edu
Sat Jan 27 02:06:10 EST 2007

Thanks for all the posts -

I like the way this thread is re-locating the question of relevance and 
fairness in the relationship of curricula to post-educational life. 
Preparing students to be capable of situating themselves wisely in 
relation to the models offered is more specific than a traditional 
liberal-arts approach, without tying curricula to narrowly-defined job 

As others have said here in different words, these concerns are 
important at least because we need to be clear with students about what 
they should expect from their education - not as customers, but as citizens.

The question remains about how to teach to such a goal - the question of 
how or why to teach programming is directly related to curricular 
attitudes towards post-educational life.

Though the focus won't be New Media, this weekend's symposium on the 
Future of Art School, at USC. looks like it will speak to this. Is 
anyone going who can report?

At the risk of creating too long a post, I'll include below a couple of 
excerpts from the reader Frances Stark put together for that event. I've 
found this little anthology to be very helpful.

The reader, entitled _Primer_, is available for free download on LuLu 
here, though you have to sign up for an account first.


I'll just quote from two contributors, whose approaches seem to come 
from different sides. Bailey seems to see less need for material 
education, in favor of nurturing reflexivity. Verwoert instead sees in a 
return to medium the potential for action, especially in light of the 
art worlds' incorporation of conceptualism. Perhaps like the approach 
Saul briefly described, a combination of both of these is necessary.

Apologies if this material is not new to some of you - perhaps it was 
covered at 2005's New Media Education conference in NY - but it's 
helpful to me, and I encourage all to check out this collection of essays.

What follows is all excerpted - apologies to the authors for the cut and 

- Kevin Hamilton

First, from Stuart Bailey's "Towards a Critical Faculty" essay:

[begin quote]

This fraying of any coherent consensus or ideology since the 
Bauhaus—further confused by the tendency towards decisions of school 
policy increasingly made by schools' financial/bureaucratic divisions 
rather than academic ones—has resulted in a largely part-time generation 
of teaching staff lacking the opportunities (time, energy, resources, 
community, encouragement) to engage in theoretical or philosophical 
grounding—while (as far as I can see, from my own and colleagues' 
experiences) needing and wanting one. Accepting all this as given, then, 
and zooming out of the specific focus on schools, how might we 
effectively summarize current social conditions directly related to art 
and design on which we might found a new protocol?


I think this involves being able to answer the following questions 
honestly and explicitly, and with concrete justifications and examples:

Is an increasingly generalized, inherently cross-disciplinary art/design 
education necessary and desirable? Why?
Is a broader encompassing of other social studies fields necessary and 
desirable for art/design education? Why?
Should a curriculum be predominantly geared towards 1. questioning, 2. 
fulfilling, or 3. creating … either a. social needs, or b. commercial 
demands? Why?

If the boundaries between disciplines are no longer watertight, with 
attitude, practice and deconstruction as the bedrock of our field, we 
need to reconsider the nature of the primary tools and skills offered to 
new students...If the question of art is no longer one of producing or 
reproducing a certain kind of object (and if the medium no longer sets 
the terms of making—what "painting" demands, or sets out as a 
problem)then a responsible, medium-based training, which always says how 
to make, can't get to the question of what to make. How does one get 
from assignments that can be fulfilled—color charts, a litho stone that 
doesn’t fill in after x-number of prints, a weld that holds—to something 
that one can claim as an artist, to something that hasn't been assigned?

Educating reflexivity—teaching students to observe their practice from 
both inside and outside—offers students the
facility to interrogate their potential roles and their effects. So upon 
entering the market, industry, commerce or
whatever other distinction of post-school environment, they are at least 
equipped to ask whether they want to / ought to / refuse to enter into / 
challenge / reject (the) existing art & design world / industry / 
academia / market.

[end Bailey quote]

And with a perhaps different approach, Jan Verwoert:

[begin Verwoert quote]

It still remains to be discussed whether much of the conceptually-based 
work that passes as an intervention into open critical discourse can, at 
the end of the day, really count as a substantial contribution...What we 
see, instead, is the rise of a new culture of art project-making that is 
superficial in its content, and in its form deeply entangled in the power 
play of competitive curating, as these projects are primarily 
commissioned to fuel the machine of the global exhibition industry and 
simulate a constant productivity, which purposefully prevents everyone 
involved from ever reflecting on what it is that they really produce.

The submersion of conceptually-based practices in the global exhibition 
industry we see today, the defender of the academy’s boundaries will 
continue, is in fact the outcome of a tendency Benjamin Buchloh 
diagnosed early on as an inherent danger of the dematerialization of art 
production and deskilling of art producers pushed through by the 
Conceptual art of the late 1960s. The radical dissociation of art from 
all aspects of a skilled practice within a conventional medium, Buchloh 
warned, would in fact make Conceptual art all the more vulnerable to 
outside forces that seek to determine the shape and meaning of the work: 
'In the absence of any specifically visual qualities and due to the 
manifest lack of any (artistic) manual competence as a criterion of 
distinction, all the traditional criteria of aesthetic judgement—of 
taste and of connoisseurship—have been programmatically voided. The 
result of this is that the definition of the aesthetic becomes on the one 
hand a matter of linguistic convention and on the other the function of 
both a legal contract and an institutional discourse (a discourse of 
power rather than taste).' Buchloh concluded that the only form of art 
that could withstand co-option was a Conceptual art that engaged itself 
in institutional critique and criticised the exhibition industry from 
the vantage point of a distanced observer. You could, however, also come 
to a different conclusion. When the working model of the flexible but 
deskilled conceptual producer has been established as a global norm, a 
new strategy of resistance can be to reclaim traditional criteria of 
medium-specific art practice and defend the academy as a site where 
skills can be acquired that may strengthen the autonomy of the artist in 
the face of the new set of dependencies created through the hasty 
culture of project-making.

Can the Academy be a Place of Initiation Into Practices of Resistance?

But what then, the critic will hold against this, is the difference 
between the strategic evaluation of the skills acquired through an 
academic education which you propose and the neoconservative call for a 
return to traditional standards? Can you really distinguish one from the 
other? Or are you not inadvertently playing into the hands of retrograde 
traditionalists when you praise the potentials of a skilled, 
medium-specific practice and deny the revolutionary character and 
liberating effects of the conceptual turn in the late 1960s? Yes, the 
defender will agree, it is indeed essential to make it clear that the 
strategic re-evaluation of the notion of skilled practice and academic 
education in no way betrays the spirit of the initial liberation of art 
from its confinement to academic disciplines achieved by Conceptual art. 
Still, it should be possible to renegotiate the concept of skills in the 
spirit of the critical break with disciplinary power. In fact, Gayatri 
Chakravorty Spivak seeks to do precisely this in her book 'Death of a 
Discipline. In a discussion of the fate and future of the academic 
discipline of comparative literature, Spivak confirms her belief in the 
political necessity of an undisciplined form of teaching that challenges 
the literary canon of colonial modernity. At the same time, she 
articulates her discomfort with the deskilling of students who receive 
their literary training only on the basis of the advanced 
interdisciplinary approach of cultural studies and, as a result, often 
lack the basic skills of closely reading texts which students enrolled 
in traditional courses do acquire. 'We have forgotten how to read with 
care,' she writes. To rehabilitate the ideology of a disciplinary 
academic education is not an option. Instead, the question Spivak raises 
is on the basis of what method or model the skills of a discipline could 
be taught in a different spirit within the horizon of
the critical philosophy of interdisciplinary education that cultural 
studies stands for.

[end quote]

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