Ucla Creative Writing Mfa Program

Back in the 1970's, Burden was a legendary wild man, a conceptual artist who bled for his work -- he spent five days jammed into a small metal locker, rolled on broken glass and crucified himself on the roof of a Volkswagen, with nails driven through his palms. Now he's 53, a tenured professor of art, with an annual salary of 2,000 and a package of benefits provided by the state of California. The proverbial romantic artist, struggling alone in a studio and trying to make sense of lived experience, has given way to an alternate model: the university artist, who treats art as a homework assignment. In fact many critics feel that art schools are directly responsible for a decline in the quality of art.'' People think collectors support artists,'' he tells me. This spring, some 2,000 aspiring Rembrandts received Master of Fine Arts degrees, an estimate based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, in Washington. degrees, nor students of creative writing, filmmaking, acting, music and dance. programs, but in 1996, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the U. Department of Education, more master's degrees were conferred in the visual and performing arts -- a total of 10,280 degrees -- than in English (8,000), biology (6,000) or math (4,000). '' When I go to the New York galleries, all I see is art-school art,'' says Barbara Rose, the art historian.

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One can trace the situation to Marcel Duchamp, the modern-art maverick who penciled a mustache on the '' Mona Lisa'' and invented the tradition of art-as-idea.

But it makes more sense to trace the rise of American art academies to, of all things, an act of Congress: the passage of the G. Bill in 1944, which sent a wave of World War II veterans off to school, art school included. American artists who might once have studied at quaintly bohemian, craft-intensive schools like the Art Students League (as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko did) or Black Mountain College (as Robert Rauschenberg did) or the Hans Hofmann School of Art in Greenwich Village began enrolling at universities instead.

In their studios, they diligently fabricate cutting-edge art: videos, performances and room-size ''installations'' intended as an exercise in cultural critique. is frequently described as the power art school of the late 90's; visiting the campus is like attending an opening of the Whitney Biennial. '' You can't teach someone to be a Michelangelo,'' he said, ''but you can't teach someone to be an Einstein either.

Oddly enough, the academic vogue for French post-structuralism has turned out to be an efficient recipe for American-style success. In addition to Burden, the first of the crop to be hired, you spot Charles Ray and Barbara Kruger, Nancy Rubins and Paul Mc Carthy, Lari Pittman and John Baldessari, a 68-year-old conceptual artist with flowing white hair and a matching beard. It bothers me that people think that physics can be taught but that art can't be.'' He took a bite of his vegetarian burger and added confidently, '' I think we teach students to think better.'' To be sure, not every teacher sees critical theory as the path to perfect enlightenment. I've known a lot of geniuses who went by the wayside.

'' But it's universities that support artists.'' It was a shining afternoon, and the air was fragrant with the scent of eucalyptus trees. That figure does not include students of commercial art and design, who will receive another 500 M. There's no official tally of students enrolled in M. Does this mean that we're in the midst of a cultural flowering, a bright new renaissance? '' The art is either feminist or deconstructionist, and basically it looks like homework, because what is homework but learning how to follow the teacher's rules?

Burden is a heavyset man with a fringe of brown bangs, and he was dressed haphazardly in an orange button-down shirt and beige shorts. '' In truth, it has been three decades since contemporary art acquired the look of the seminar room.While modern art began as an assault on the academy, post-modern art might be described as a return to the academy.Instead of the old academy of rules, now we have the Academy of Cool, schools that treat avant-garde rebellion as a learned occupation.Stopping into the studio of Sandeep Mukherjee, an Indian student with an elegantly shaved head, I found him at work on an interesting drawing based on photographs. '' I don't want my name in your article,'' he said, explaining that he recently had a one-man show at the Steffany Martz Gallery, in Manhattan, and ''it would hurt my reputation if people knew I was a student.'' Someone else pointed out that you can't damage your reputation if you don't have one.Delia Brown, who paints pictures of herself dressed in campy ancien regime costumes, giggled, and said on behalf of everyone, '' We each nurture the delusion that we'll be the one artist to make it.'' Are academies good or are academies bad?In the 70's, California Institute of the Arts, which was founded by Walt Disney amid the orange groves of Valencia, became a finishing school for the New York art world.(Eric Fischl, David Salle and Ross Bleckner are among its grads.) Other prominent schools include Otis College of Art and Design, the University of California at Irvine and, as you hear wherever you go, Art Center College of Design, the latest academy of the millisecond. Young artists today have something in common with doctors and lawyers: they need to be academically certified. '' When, I wondered, did cutting-edge art become a lesson you learn at school?Unlike Manhattan, where an artist can be part of a community just by walking down a street in So Ho, the L. art scene, like the city itself, has no geographic center. While California artists know they've made it when they're offered a teaching job, New York artists know they've made it when they quit their teaching jobs.'' In New York, you just don't get teachers who have large careers,'' says the artist Barbara Kruger, who is famed for her screaming, red-and-black critiques of power. A., she stressed that the school's prominence shouldn't be seen as unshakable.'' A lot of the schools in New York hire people part time for 25 cents a semester.'' Although Kruger teaches at U. The California school scene is a changeable kingdom where migrating bands of artist-teachers can cause an academy to rise or fall suddenly.

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