UART (in Canada, 2014): Advice for Canadians Thinking of Going to Art School

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My general advice to Canadians thinking of pursuing studies in the fine and applied arts at the postsecondary level is that they should attend a reputable, practical oriented, art college. If they want to obtain a university degree, they should do this separately, at a university that offers a full range of university programs, before or after their art studies. At such institutions, they will have the option of taking courses in a variety of subject areas and, if they are so inclined, of majoring in something other than art.

Apart from possibly taking some individual, practical, courses taught by part-time instructors who work primarily outside of these institutions, I would suggest steering clear of those art schools that offer university degrees. This includes even those venerable old Canadian art schools that, in the past decade, have become accredited niche universities–including, in Vancouver, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design (formerly the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and, before that, the Vancouver School of Art) and, in Toronto, where I lived for many years, OCAD University (formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design).

I strongly disagree with those institutions having been turned into universities, and I regret not having spoken out about the transition when it was occurring. I hesitated mainly because I then still considered Emily Carr, at least, as a potential employer, and didn’t want to alienate anyone associated with the institution. Also, I then didn’t have a blog in which I could readily express my views. I’m speaking out now in part because I recently applied for an administrative job at a relatively new, very interesting, private art college here in Vancouver, that DOESN’T aspire to be a university, so speaking my mind may now help me more than hurt me professionally. Also, I now have this blog.

Lest anyone reading this blog post suspects that the views I’m expressing here about Canadian art schools being turned into universities are not my legitimate views, and are merely what I think a particular potential, non-university, employer might want to hear, these views are fundamentally consistent with the views I have earlier expressed in this blog about the humanities in Canadian universities today and about the ongoing bid by the local private Christian university, Trinity Western University, to have its own law school. Also, even if I don’t get that job I’m after (I should know within a couple of weeks), I’ll leave this post up. It’s high time I came clean.

I’m not rehashing here everything I’ve said earlier in this blog about the ongoing philosophical transition in Canadian post-secondary education in recent decades, and about the problems experienced by many Canadian university students in recent decades related to philosophical intransigence and inconsistencies in our universities. (If you are interested in learning more about my views in this regard, you may wish to check out some of my earlier posts in the UABCs category of posts.) But I will point out that artists, and those with a good knowledge of the fine arts, seem to be among those who are most sensitive to these issues, and most negatively impacted.

For example, as part of my graduate work in Education, I took a course called “Aesthetics and Education,” in which most of the students were artists and art educators. (In the latter group, several had been employed as primary or secondary school teachers for many years.) Virtually all of the students in that class were very familiar with postmodernism in the Arts, and themselves possessed postmodern perspectives. Unfortunately, the professor for the class (a failed classical pianist, nearing retirement age) was far less familiar, and most of the students balked at what she taught and her requirements for student projects. The one student in the class who, in one candid moment, out of earshot of the professor, admitted he knew nothing about art was, in that class, the “star pupil.”

It’s bizarre that some of our most prominent art schools have made the move to become universities at this critical juncture, when they should have stayed basically the way they were, and set an example for our universities. This move wasn’t made in the interests of Canadian art students–or of industries that hire art school graduates. It seems to have been made mainly because a university degree is likely to lure in certain naive foreign students with little knowledge of Canada and Canadian education, but with ample money that can help sustain these institutions. But sustain what?

What in my view was a very serious mistake does, however, seem to bode  well for other Canadian art schools (like the private art college to which I recently offered my professional services) that stick to a more practical approach, consistent with a contemporary Canadian outlook.

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