When I went to the Academy we didn’t have a Thesis Show. No, for some reason, we had something called a Diploma Project Exhibition; although, that’s not what my CV says. The first such show I saw was in 2003, at the end of my first year. The last show I saw there was in 2008, the spring before I left the city.
The place, by just about any reasonable metric, is an anomaly in the context of the 21st century American graduate art program. I used to have a spiel I would give if somebody happened to ask me about the school. It doesn’t really happen as often as it once did, so I’m out of practice. I’ll let Peter Drake, the school’s dean do it for me:
The conventional model for how an art school should be structured is so common now as to be virtually academic: offer a bit of this and a bit of that; don’t take a position because the art world is in a constant state of flux; whatever you do, don’t specialize. This has resulted in a jack-of-all-trades condition that makes most art programs indistinguishable from each other. If you travel from coast to coast, from one MFA program to another, you can enter their doors and become convinced that you haven’t moved at all. On the surface this seems like a good idea; the art world has been in a pluralist stalemate for over thirty years and shows no signs of ever changing. Why should an MFA program take a position?
The simple answer is that all art making takes a position. The very act of picking up a brush is a declaration. Choosing to make objects in a digital age is taking a stand. Believing in anything is potentially progressive. The relativity of pluralism has created a critical crisis where all things seem equal, but does anyone really believe that? The real joy of art is not found in watching someone make an acceptable version of a patented school, but rather it is in the iconoclastic, the anomalous, and the unexpected. In effect, it is doing precisely what you shouldn’t be doing.
The New York Academy of Art enters this critical crisis with a firm belief that when young artists are given the most extensive set of visual tools available and a complete awareness of contemporary culture, they will make important contributions to visual culture by doing what many people believe is no longer possible, making great art. It has been suggested that there are no more great movements to be had from art making, that the great contributions of the last century have been exhausted. This has an “end of history” ring to it that is both dispiriting and contrary to cultural evolution. Great art is being made and will always be made by artists who refuse to adapt to the accepted norms of their era and instead forge ahead with work that is masterful, critically aware, and deeply contrary.
We present the graduating class of 2012 as a prime example of what can happen when talent, intelligence and willful determination meet as a counterpoint to cultural relativity.
Peter wasn't the dean when I was there. He was a member of the adjunct faculty. I never had a class with him, which I've regretted probably since the day I graduated. Hiring him as the dean is probably the best decision that school ever made.
The NYAA 2012 MFA Thesis Exhibition opens at 111 Franklin St. in Tribeca, next Tuesday, May 15. The reception will run from 6-8pm. The show will remain up until May 26.