Our new Summer Session topic is Back to School, and today we bring you an article from our sister publication Art Practical. Here, Patricia Maloney reviews the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s tour Teach 4 Amerika, the collaborative’s 2011 performative critique of the art academy. Though BHQF foregrounds its significant arguments against the economic art-school model with a healthy dose of irony, Maloney finds that the most ironic aspect of the tour is its dependency on the very academic structures it critiques. This article was originally published on May 4, 2011.
On April 27, the pranksterish collaborative the Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF) arrived at my alma mater, the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), in a limousine painted to resemble a yellow school bus for their tenth stop on a five-week, eleven-city tour across the United States. At each destination of Teach 4 Amerika, which is sponsored by the New York–based nonprofit public-art program Creative Time, BHQF has challenged art students to reconsider the terms, methods, and purpose of their educations. They posit that the proliferation of BFA and MFA degree programs in this country—over 900 at last count—has led neither to a corresponding increase in contemporary art’s reception in the broader culture nor to an expanded market in which more artists can sustain themselves by sales of their work. Instead, according to BHQF, it supports a self-perpetuating, peripheral industry around art and contributes to the increasing professionalization of the contemporary art world.
All these conditions—the glut of academic programs, artists’ narrowing access to the art market as their numbers rapidly increase, the progressive isolation of contemporary art within a sphere of similarly educated participants—have been pressing topics of conversation for several years and urgent ones since the 2008 economic collapse. They’ve also been the impetus for the rise of alternative pedagogical models by which artists self-direct their research and curricula. So the precept behind Teach 4 Amerika—that aspiring artists should eschew formalized art education in favor of such alternative models in order to reclaim their artistic agency—has much traction and would have resonated more strongly in the rally if it hadn’t been grounded in the outmoded premise of the artist as an autodidactic bohemian.