Things They Don’t Teach in Art School Anymore

It’s been fourteen years since I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute with my pants at my ankles and a diploma in hand.  I felt the best comment I could make on spending a then outrageous $80,000 on my art degree was to shake the President’s hand while wearing orange dyed tighty whiteys.  I guess the joke was on me, as I’m scheduled to make my last student loan payment on May 23rd, 2021.

Despite the cost and the easy jokes at KCAI’s expense, I can’t imagine having done 1/100th of the things I have in my career as an artist without having attended that great school.

As times change, so do the technologies, and its funny just how much of my education has become obsolete by digital media, Photoshop, and the internet.  Thinking back to those halcyon days of milk and honey makes me wonder just how much the things that are taught there have changed, and really has made my generation the last one to receive such an old-fashioned education.  Here’s a list of things that I doubt are taught anymore:

Every freshman had their eight week photography workshop, where you were sent out with your Pentax K1000, rolls of black and white film, and took pictures of window blinds and shadows darting across sidewalks.  When all the shooting was done and it was your day in the Photo department, you locked yourself into a tiny blackened room where no light could exist, pried open the film canister, retrieved the film, and coiled it onto the processing mechanism, where you’d get all headachy smelling the various chemicals as you processed your own film before squeegee-ing it out, hanging it to dry and then printing (dodge and burn!) your own photos.

WHAT MUST HAPPEN NOW: Every art school kid is armed with a killer 16 megapixel digital camera or the latest iphone and just snaps away pics, emailing them to a printer somewhere fifteen minutes before class only to get yelled at for overusing the Hipstamatic app.

One of the more tedious projects ever conceived by some villainous design teacher was to have every design student create their own font.  This taught a lot of things – line work, balance, continuity, as well as the basics of layout and typography.  Sure it was super anal and passing through the design building when the task was assigned made all the painters chuckle, but school shouldn’t be all shits and giggles.

WHAT MUST HAPPEN NOW:  You think some trust fund Generation O or whatever they’re called will ever have the patience to design and layout 26 letters and 10 numbers?  Dude, they’ve got the font from Twilight on there!  Sweet!!!

How simple a concept really, draw with a pencil, erase your mistakes, re-draw.  Repeat until finished or too drunk to draw.  That’s the way things were done in all departments – painting, illustration, design, even the Neanderthals in sculpture could scratch out their oversized concrete penis sculptures on a napkin or cardboard box using a pencil.  Seemed like that would never go away, but…

WHAT MUST HAPPEN NOW: Every kid in the school has some flashy mac laptop, loaded up with the latest version of Photoshop CS using daddy’s credit card (student editions!).  How disconcerting would it be to walk into a completely silent drawing class with every illustration student hunched over a laptop using Illustrator to create their mediocre copies of Disney and Pixar characters?

WHAT MAY EVEN HAPPEN NOW: As awful as that vision is, imagine every little art student drawing on an ipad.  I think I just crapped in my pants.  On to the next one…

The soon to be lost art.  Lithography, letterpresses, etching, drypoints, silkscreening.  An entire department (at my school, it was an offshoot of the Painting Department) dedicated to creating drawings, images and transforming them through painstaking processes to create a new image that was new, vibrant and alive.  Using techniques developed centuries upon centuries ago, Printmaking boasted some of the coolest work that could be made into sellable multiples easily, but each print holding up as art.

WHAT MUST HAPPEN NOW: Photoshop and the advent of cheap digital printing kinda takes the charm away from hand pulled prints and the entire art of printmaking.  It’s so easy to slap an image of the Bosom Buddies and a couple rainbows and unicorns together in photoshop and just hit the print button, why should you concern yourself with any sense of technique, skill or anything beyond the derivative pop schlock of the day?

The idea that colors have a visual impact caused by specific color combinations, hue, saturation and lightness.  Essential to all color mixing, painting, illustration and design, this concept even intrigued Isaac Newton enough that he wrote a book about it when he wasn’t discovering gravity.

WHAT MUST HAPPEN NOW: Nothing different, they never taught that stuff in art school! Ha Ha Ha!  Thanks for taking out an extra Stafford loan, sucker!

Every year there would be a meeting for all painting students to discuss the death of painting.  I originally thought this was started somewhere in the 50’s, but I may have been off a few centuries, as every couple of years since the first cave paintings were created, some knucklehead would complain about the lack of creativity and no new frontiers ever to be achieved by such an arcane art.

WHAT MUST HAPPEN NOW: You bet they’re still teaching this – why mess with all good traditions?