robertogreco + petervanriper + communalism   1

A Community of Artists: Radical Pedagogy at CalArts, 1969-72 (East of Borneo)
"In (and Out of) the Classroom

The academic program instituted in the first two years after the institute opened in 1970 responded actively to the radical critique of education, at the same time evincing a Romantic belief in the liberating and equalizing powers of art and artists. Early promotional literature explicitly redefined the notion of “school” or steered clear of the word altogether. As Judith Adler notes in her 1979 ethnography of CalArts, Artists in Offices, “reference to the new organization as an institute (with its connotations of scientific and scholarly prestige) and as a community implicitly distinguished CalArts from other schools where artists teach students.” 6 The CalArts concept statement explicitly stated that “students [were] accepted as artists […] and encouraged in the independence this implies,” while elsewhere faculty and students were described as “collaborators.” 7

The first admissions bulletin similarly highlighted the fact that there was to be no fixed curriculum at CalArts. Provost and dean of theater Blau advocated “no information in advance of need,” and dean of music Mel Powell called for “as many curricula as students.” The vision for critical studies outlined by dean Maurice Stein argued for doing away with courses altogether, because “courses really get nobody anywhere.” Powell’s vision for the music school was similarly anarchic and personality-driven: “We must know by now that curricula, or especially descriptions of curricula, are almost always humbug. What counts is the people involved. Expansion of musical sensibility, adroitness, knowledge, experience—that has to be operative, not catalog blather.”

Many of the radical pedagogical impulses expressed in these early admissions materials came to pass once the institute was up and running—in its first year, on a temporary campus at the Villa Cabrini, a former Catholic girls’ school in Burbank, and in its second year, on the permanent CalArts campus in Valencia. Although the school of critical studies did end up offering courses, the options might better be described as “anti-courses”—i.e., non-academic classes parodying academic classes or academic classes in subject areas considered unworthy of study by the academy, such as Advanced Drug Research, Chinese Sutra Meditation, Sex in Human Experience and Society or Superwoman: A Feminist Workshop. Across the institute, schedules were intentionally loose and attendance voluntary. 9 One of the course schedule bulletins that were mimeographed weekly and distributed on campus lists a range of classes and events, some of which repeat, others that do not: a lecture on “Epistemology of Design” is offered “at instructor’s home,” while Peter Van Riper is scheduled to lecture on “Art History or Whatever He’s Into”; a meeting with the dean of students is open to “all persons interested in discussing and working on untraditional ways of providing psychological services (Counseling, Group Therapy, Encounter Groups, etc.)”; the Ewe Ensemble (Music of Ghana) meets in parking lot W, at the same time that Kaprow offers Advanced Happenings; in the evening, a concert by Ravi Shankar."



"The Fluxus artists’ interest in a more open-ended, experienced-based pedagogy and their experiments with temporality and alternative uses of space dovetailed nicely with the administration’s desire to buck the bureaucratic conventions of schooling. 13 As the associate dean of the art school, Kaprow in particular had a powerful influence on the direction of the early institute. “Kaprow was the thinking behind the school as far as I’m concerned,” Knowles argues. “[He] had the vision of a school based on what artists wanted to do rather than what the school wanted them to do.”"



"Corrigan and Blau fought their dismissal, insisting that they couldn’t be fired by the Disney Corporation, only by the board of trustees—who to begin with refused to support the decision. Roy Disney modified his position to allow Corrigan to stay on until the end of the year, though he remained firm in his firing of Blau as provost. Blau rejected an offer to stay on as dean of theater and dance, and by the end of 1972, both Corrigan and Blau had been ousted, three years after they’d begun planning the new school and two years after it opened. The faculty was downsized, and numerous hires they had made were canceled or let go.

Notes from a faculty retreat convened in Idyllwild, California after the institute’s first year reveal that many of the original faculty and administrators themselves favored reforming the structure and curriculum of the institute, and one wonders how the school might have developed had Corrigan and Blau been allowed to stay and build on their experience. Blau, for instance, argued that “the faculty must be better structured to reflect more of a distinction between student and faculty” and “a better definition of competence, eligibility, and progress must be established” for students. He also suggested that “separate programs […] be introduced for students who are capable of directing themselves and those students who need more specific guidance.” Other faculty members cited “great dissatisfaction with the chaotic situation of the past year,” “a need for more pragmatism,” and a need to clarify “programs and degrees—their content and what they represent.”

Although by that time the Disneys had donated more than $30 million to the school, much of it had gone to fund the building, which was lavishly equipped for art making, and the institute soon found itself in financial trouble. After a brief interlude with Walt Disney’s son-in-law Bill Lund at the helm, CalArts got a new president in 1975, Robert Fitzpatrick, whose charge was to assure fiscal solvency to the institute and make “all the divisions separate, to give each dean complete autonomy in his field, and to make the intermingling available to the students who could profit by it as a resource, not an obsession.” 28 Fitzpatrick had little reverence for the institute’s founding vision—either Walt’s version or Blau and Corrigan’s: “The trouble with utopia is that it doesn’t exist,” he said in a 1983 interview. “And then there was this dream of the perfect place for the arts, with all the disciplines beautifully mingling, every filmmaker composing symphonies, every actor a perfect graphic artist. Sure, it’s a great idea as far as it goes. But nobody noticed that each of the arts has its own pace, its own rhythm, and its own demands.”

What is missing from Fitzpatrick’s own vision is any reference to the more Marcusian conception of the institute not just as the “perfect place for the arts,” but as an ideal community fashioned through the arts. As Faith Wilding reflects on her experience in the Feminist Art Program and the community that developed out of it:
What remains of primary importance to me […] is the sense that we were connecting to a much larger enterprise than trying to advance our artistic careers, or to make art for art’s sake. It was precisely our commitment to the activist politics of women’s liberation, to a burgeoning theory and practice of feminism, and to a larger conversation about community, collectivity and radical history, which has given me lasting connections to people and a continuing sense of being part of a cultural and political resistance, however fragmentary the expression of this may be in my life today.

Despite his own conflicts with the institute, Blau holds a similar perspective: “During the time I was there (I cannot speak for it now), it was—like the Bauhaus or Black Mountain—not only a school but very much what Disney wanted, a community of the arts, in which students and teachers trained together, performed together, constructed ‘environments’ together and even somehow managed—where the particular work was not of a communal nature—to leave each other alone.”

CalArts today is a school rather than an anti-school, with grades (low pass/pass/high pass), a timetable for graduation, and for the first time in its history, a syllabus in every classroom. Yet an investment in radical pedagogy persists, with a loose consensus that the educational situations that work best often involve field trips and social outreach, project-based learning, and “mentoring” as opposed to “teaching.” The notion that faculty are to treat students as artists and colleagues prevails, with its attendant benefits and difficulties. The question of what form the delivery of content should take is a live one. Time and space are continually contested, and an openness to what might be places constant pressure on what is.

Just last year, the institute carved out a “commons” time from the heavily scheduled individual school curricula in which students can come together across disciplines to collaborate—in some sense, a return to its origins. Although, to paraphrase Marcuse, an art school can only be truly free in a free society—i.e., art becomes life only when life is also opened up to creative change—the promise of this commingling endures. Indeed, the Gesamtkunstwerk that preserves a vision of emancipated social life in times of political conservatism holds even greater possibilities in our own era of renewed resistance and collective action."
calarts  cv  history  education  1960s  1970s  robertfitzpatrick  roydisney  waltdisney  robertcorrigan  mariosalvo  herbertblau  fluxus  judithadler  melpowell  janetsarbanes  mauricestein  feminism  freedom  tcsnmy  lcproject  openstudioproject  alisonknowles  petervanriper  allankaprow  dickhiggins  emmettwilliams  jamestenney  namjunepaik  owensmith  judychicagomiriamschapiro  johnbaldessari  herbertmarcuse  art  arteducation  radicalism  communes  communalism  interdisciplinary  crosspollination  crossdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  experimentation  blackmountaincollege  bmc  pedagogy  teaching  howweteach  deschooling  capitalism  unschooling  power  control  democracy  anti-teaching  anti-schools  artschools  altgdp  activism  community  relationships  bauhaus  collectivism  society  grades  grading  schedules  timelines  syllabus  projectbasedlearning  2014  1969  1970  1971  1972  pbl  radicalpedagogy  artschool  syllabi 
august 2014 by robertogreco

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