Art school panels highlight issues in contemporary art

The School of Art’s panel series on Saturday was focused on art issues unique to the Internet age.
The School of Art’s panel series on Saturday was focused on art issues unique to the Internet age. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

On Saturday, the School of Art hosted its first series of panels featuring students, curators and professional artists discussing issues in contemporary art.

The day of panels — which covered everything from the role of the Internet in art-making to how the camera phone has changed photography — was meant to foster discussion in a public setting about ideas that students had been dealing with in their mandatory first-semester “Critical Practice” class, School of Art Dean Robert Storr said. At the end of the fall semester, students chose classmates and art professionals to moderate and speak on the panels, as well as the contemporary art issues that interested them most, Storr explained. The students primarily expressed interest in how Internet and technology affect current art practices.

Anoka Faruqee, acting associate director of painting and printmaking at the School of Art, said she thinks talking about artistic ideas is as much of a part of a career in art as making and exhibiting artworks.

“[In a public setting] you have to take responsibility for saying what you mean and for fostering dialogue yourself,” Storr said. “Panels are thinking on your feet. Students at the School of Art need to learn how to do that if they’re going to survive in the art world.”

All four panel discussions touched on media’s impact on the art world, with topics ranging from the redefinition of “kitsch” in the age of YouTube videos to ways for artists to maintain authenticity in an increasingly digitized world. Faruqee said she thinks that students’ interest in media is a “spirit of the times” — a theme she has seen increasingly in both student work and contemporary art more broadly.

Mia Fineman, a writer and assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, reacted against the idea of giving the Internet too much attention.

“The leveling effects of the Internet are overstated,” Fineman said, adding that she feels the distinction between professional photographers and amateurs persists.

While panelists disagreed at times, Storr and Faruqee said they would have liked to see panelists challenge one another to a greater degree. Storr described the level of criticality as “middling.” Faruqee suggested that including faculty members on the panels might encourage students to contradict other panelists’ opinions more, since professors would be more familiar than outside professionals.

“There was a little bit of reticence in expressing an opinion or contradicting one, but that takes practice,” Faruqee said.

Audience member Hannah Price ART ’14 said the panels showed how the use of new media is making art more accessible and allowing for a greater variety of perspectives.

“The general approach to art is more open because there are more materials to work with,” Price said. “Because it’s more accessible, it makes it that much more usable.”

But while two audience members said they feel that the Internet has made the practice of art more democratic, panelist Erin Desmond ART ’14 said she thinks the Internet — and the increased circulation of images it enables — increases the difficulty art photographers face in making their images meaningful. To combat the tendency to express ideas exclusively with images, Desmond said she uses performance art to make photographs and videos that fall into a category between documentation and artwork.

Storr and the head of each of the four School of Art departments delivers a lecture in the “Critical Practice” course.

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