Thoughts on Art & Academia

Most of my art-making has taken place in academic settings — as an art student, a gallery director, and most recently a university professor. My understanding of the art studio has been shaped (and limited) by the understanding that art is a serious academic discipline, in which studio time is analogous to scholarly research.

One of the delightful things about the Guild, then, is the sense that studio time can be any number of things to different people. For some, it is a serious discipline that carries the weight of a divine calling. For others, it is a peaceful place of rest, healing, and recreation. Still others come to the studio for personal therapy or spiritual exploration. We work side-by-side here, and though our hands manipulate the same materials, our souls are often hungering for completely different things. That is true even when we are not particularly aware or able to articulate it.

I think that is a much truer understanding of creativity than is often found in an academic setting. Expressiveness and art-making cannot be limited to scholarly pursuits, because they are a fundamental part of what it means to be human. When we confine art to a serious academic discipline, we miss out on its incredible potential to connect, heal, and liberate us. That is increasingly unacceptable to me.

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About Sarah Jane

Working artist, university professor, community educator. Currently living in community at the Grunewald Guild, Leavenworth, WA.

4 responses to “Thoughts on Art & Academia”

  1. Lew says :

    Sarah – While I’ve never personally made art in the realm of academia, I have encountered a very serious posture about art on the part of academicians. It has disturbed me as well because I’ve always sensed a more right-brained, flowing, non-analytical engagement with art. For me art’s always been more a matter of the heart rather than the head.

    I’m not saying this very well; maybe what I mean is that while I do ponder the art I engage, and even the art I make, but I don’t intellectually analyze it.

    “When we confine art to a serious academic discipline, we miss out on its incredible potential to connect, heal, and liberate us. That is increasingly unacceptable to me.” – I like this thought and am wondering if there’s any way you might bring the “incredible potential to connect, heal, and liberate” into the academic environment you occupy?

    Thank you for listening.

  2. Sarah Jane says :

    Thanks for commenting, Lew. That’s consistent with my experience in academia as well — I like your description of it as a “serious posture.” Art is a relative newcomer in academic fields and has often been viewed as a “soft” discipline, so I think some of this is a defensive posture on the part of academic artists who feel the need to demonstrate that art can be a serious field of study.

    I’m definitely still working through my thoughts on this, so perhaps more productive ideas will follow…

  3. Lew Curtiss says :

    “I think some of this is a defensive posture on the part of academic artists who feel the need to demonstrate that art can be a serious field of study.”

    I believe you may have hit upon the heart of the matter. In the everyday working world of art-making we all seem to be dealing with the prevalent view that art is merely decoration or pointless frivolity. With that in mind, I can easily see how academic artists could be concerned that they’re not being given full professional regard by their colleagues.

    Have you read (worked your way through) any of the writings of Ellen Dissanayake? She’s a UW Ethologist who believes that we humans are hardwired (evolutionarily destined) to be art-makers. Her work is dense with information, but I’ve found “What Art Is For” to be very interesting reading.

  4. Sarah Jane says :

    Sorry I didn’t respond to this comment earlier. I definitely want to write more about what art is and what it has the potential to be, and how some of those things might intersect with academic art research. It’s heavy stuff, though, and it’s taking some time for me to work through all my thoughts on that. On the plus side, I’ve recently discovered that I do some fantastic thinking while shoveling snow. 😉

    Thanks for recommending the Ellen Dissanayake piece. I’m not familiar with her work, but I will seek that out.

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