What Does it Mean to Call Art "Too Professional"? 

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While few even within academia would describe the “professionalism” outlined in Bhandari and Melber’s book as negative, the term “professionalism” tends to imply a connection with the market, an arena art schools generally view with considerable skepticism. In a July 30th lecture (click through for a Google doc of the lecture), anonymous artist collective Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF) traced the beginnings of art’s professionalism to the 1944 G.I. bill, which subsidized higher education for veterans. Through new accreditation, what were once finishing schools for women began to offer what we now know as MFA programs. (The G.I. bill gave these institutions the funding to offer professorial positions, but also subsidized veterans to attend them, meaning that they quickly became dominated by men.)

The collective went on to describe the history of art school pedagogy, which, in the late 60s and early 70s, reflected a larger anti-market attitude that still endures in art schools today. “There isn’t a cannon outside of the market,” a member of the collective told me later that week at the BHQF studio. “You don’t see a critical history of culture and its market’s being taught… So there’s very much a have your cake and eat it too kind of legacy that’s fucked up and very confusing to young artists.” In other words, artists are taught to thwart certain professional conventions while simultaneously trying to make a living.

Indeed, I speak to countless artists whose understanding of the art world is so paralyzing they can’t make work. While part of this has to do with Ed Halter’s MFA outline of no artwork shall receive a pass, the prohibitive cost of art schools also creates problems. Interestingly, a distinguishing characteristic of the Bruce High Quality Foundation is that most of its members graduated from Cooper Union, one of the only free arts institutions in the country. “Not taking on that debt over the course of a four-year program becomes an ideology,” a member explained. “Why should this put people in so much debt?” In part a response to this problem, the group tells me they plan to start their own school. While they claim not to have any miracle model, they also promise to provide students with information they currently aren’t being given — most specifically, a critical history of culture and its markets. In other words, they plan to define the term “professionalism” for artists in a way that might open up a few avenues that Ed Halter’s MFA model has been closing down for years.


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