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THIS PAGE: Hickey Speech : Student Slides : Dwayne Carter's Letter : Hickey links
Saturday March 1, 2003 was a busy art day. We don't go to everything all the time. We pick and choose. That day, we picked a startlingly incisive and entertaining lecture by former Fort Worth art critic, now Las Vegas educator Dave Hickey at noon at UTD.
Apparently, what he said pushed some serious, fellow art teacher buttons. I'm sure he meant to, and that those buttons need pushing.
Emotionally Abused and Battered Grad Students See Hope!
Dave Hickey's entertaining rapid fire lecture at UTD was a much needed prescription for what ails Graduate Fine Art programs in this country.
He not only stated what has been obvious to those of us out of school, he also dared to say it out loud in enemy territory. This, of course, thrilled JR and me.
Here are some of Hickey's ideas. Words in parenthesis are mine. [Words in brackets are JR's memory of what Hickey also said, although JR was taking pictures, not notes. Bracketed words in green are JR's comments.]
Teaching Art should be "student centered." (There's an overdue radical concept.)
Art should be "The best of an Artist," not a reflection of or a reaction to the usual codependent dysfunctional grad school family of competitive professors and competitive students. (Think Robert Earl Keen's Felice Navidad).
Art professors do not need to be unlicensed psychotherapists nor parental authority figures. (But what will they do then? According to Hickey, a lot of them quit producing art years ago.)
Three year grad programs are the best, where students are left alone at first to find out what they want to do, before the faculty messes with them.
Two year programs are the worst, where professors mess with students from the beginning, resulting in the students never knowing where they want to go with their art. ( Maybe the professors can substitute abusing puppies and kittens.)
Grading is impossible, because it insults and destroys an artist's Soul. The alternative of blindly handing out Bs does likewise.
Young artists need a form of "sibling support" taking place among their own generation.
[Artists, like doctors and lawyers, need to learn to set up a "practice."] Art Students should be "interns" for their art careers. Grad schools need to educate and nurture eventually practicing, producing artists, not more academics.
There was more, but hearing about it might only upset you.
Hickey finished up with slides of some ULV students' work. I was reminded of Chris Kysor and Scott Barber's work seen here in Dallas recently.
Listening to Dave Hickey's outspokenness was delicious. Although we should have realized that if we could understand Mr. Hickey's talk, then it was not really an important High Academic Fine Art Treatise Critique.
In fact, one of Dallas' own Academics quickly wrote to JR [See Richland College teacher Dwayne Carter's letter below on this page detailing many more Hickey pronouncements.], drawing an analogy between Hickey's and George W's "Texas Plain Speak." To this academic such an analogy was a complement to neither party.
In his defensive zeal, this academic failed to realize that Dubya comes across as stumbling and hesitant as well as dumb, but David Hickey is quick, vividly and accurately descriptive, and decidedly not dumb.
Apparently a little too accurate for the comfort of some. But Hickey can sit next to me any time.
Hickey's UNLV Graduated
Grad Student Slides
I photographed all 86 of Hickey's slides, presented in pairs for many long minutes, the left of which were out of focus throughtout.
Because I could, of course, and because I wanted to think about any art Hickey deemed worthy of showing us in that academic setting.
Many have long since forgotten that UTD was once touted as "The Prairie Flower — The Black Mountain College of the West." I'm serious about this. Somewhere I even have the oversized poster proclaiming that ridiculous tout. Even now I can't divulge this info with a straight face.
It was fascinating to hear this notable former Texican critic promote his urban students' work and talk about trends in American art. One of the aspects of working in Las Vegas he praised was that there were no farmers attending that very urban university.
I wish I'd noted names
Luckily, intelligent people like CJ Davis and Kerry Inman read this story. CJ sent us most of the artists named below each image pair, but he near-missed one. Kerry sewed that one up, and we're back in business with the correct names. I've included CJ's descriptions in this sized type — except for the Bear painter, whose name Kerry provided.
Hell, I wish somebody in that academic hall had had the raw intelligence to record the lecture, although that may be pushing the envelope too far. But I do remember some of what Hickey said about some of the art in those slides.
The pair of slides above is what they actually looked like from where I sat, except the background was black. I remember Hickey saying that this painter's work was really easy once "[you] learned all the computer stuff to show the [planar] distortions."
Forgive that I was shooting angled across from the projected art. Most of these double image sets have been Photoshopped near to death, significantly undistorting, so you can more easily understand them.
Oddly, several of the pieces he showed involved otherwise flat art, physically propped to bend the plane of painting, although the work on top only looked like it did.
On the left in this pair is a side view of a color field painting. The corners are bent out.
The "bear" painter is — thank you to reader
Kerry Inman, who finally got his name right.
The LasVegas native/UNLV grad's name is
Part of letting art grad students loose to do what they want, instead of insisting that the teachers direct them, was that those students could immediately do what was important to them as individuals.
What was important to this art grad was Bear Art. Bear being the term for large gay men like himself. Hickey noted that Gobel's work was doing well in "the Bear Market."
Even I have often, over the years, bemoaned that it takes graduating artist grad students a half dozen or more years, once they finally get out of school, to shake the dictates of their professors, and start being themselves and letting their art reveal who they are.
Jack Halberg uses the neon circles of paint
from the floor applied with glue.
This is the pair that clicked in Kathy's memory as being similar to Chris Kysor's recent show in The MAC's local art closet. I forget what Hickey said about the left piece. But he explained that the spots of fluorescent paint in the one on the right were the flattened blobs of extruded paint peeled off the floor and glued into place in the day glowing complexity above.
Several of his students' work were shapes, not so much sculptured as ready-made objects from builders' suppliers and other sources, placed together to make art.
topDave Hickey as George Bush
Or, Dave Hickey, the education critic. I felt inspired to write this after hearing Dave Hickey's critique of Graduate Art education Saturday, March 1, 2003. I couldn't help but be struck by how similar he was to George Bush in his use of Texan Plain Speak.
Ideas, although contradictory, are addressed in black and white terms. This is good, that's bad. What's the problem?
Hickey is so very capable of supporting his well-informed opinions. His neon bulb of enlightenment glows in a relativist art world that has moved beyond gang think and is now into the cult of personalities. When the values in the world are contradictory and we are unable to act, it is reassuring that there are some who know exactly what they think.
Hickey didn't use the terms cult or gang. His claim was that working with Graduate Art students is like having family relations. He also pointed out that artists must gain a constituency to succeed.
I was surprised when Hickey mentioned Suzi and Bruce (Rothenberg and Nauman). It was the same tone when Michael Auping lectured on Suzi a few years ago. Auping spoke of a personal connection with the couple as he talked about riding ponies on their ranch in New Mexico. I didn't understand their art any better, but I felt we (the audience) knew them personally. In the end, I knew I would be too embarrassed to call Susi and ask to borrow some red sienna for a painting I was working on.
The illusion was shattered. They weren't just people sipping coffee after all. They are Michael Auping and Dave Hickey's important friends in a network of important friends. I wonder if Hickey has ridden their ponies.
Lacking in other standards we gravitate toward strong-minded simplification of ideas. Hickey's stance on many things was very clear. Hickey stated he was drawn to Las Vegas because of its "serene self-sensory environment" that did not attract sissies, religious people, farmers, and people searching for themselves.
His Vernon [Fisher] quote was, " I hate artists who produce art like mine, and I hate art not like mine." There is a man who has defined his terms.
Who is getting the art teaching jobs, but glass ceiling artists like Haim Steinbeck and Barbera Kruger. This is closing the door to many entry-level art teachers.
Hickey included several good ideas to consider about teaching practice.
- Open doors and don't withhold your contacts.
- Emphasize peer critique, not teacher student critique.
- Don't critique unfinished work. You can't see the idea in the student's head
- You are not the student's mentor or psychotherapist. Grade them on tangible, demonstrable concepts. To critique their art directly is to critique their soul. "How barbaric," was Hickey's comment.
In spite of stressing that artists receive a strong foundation based on methodology of art making, with a strong eye to history, his student work looked very trendy. The only works I couldn't appreciate were the paintings and objects with the beautiful decorative gradients and colors of Japanese prints.
Much of this work could function as decorative backgrounds for living or office environments. Is that a bad goal? Otherwise the work by Hickey's former student / preacher /artist who has conducted covert weddings in the Vatican was outrageous and fun and challenging.
My own thinking is that Modernist contradictions are now codified. However, we don't have to justify everything in relation to Cezanne, Duchamp or Picasso. None of these people ever played video games, talked on a cell phone or emailed their critics. Old paradigms start showing fissures. Because of this, perhaps we can't be linear and logical in our justification of new art practices.
Hickey had many important points that were understated. Artists must have self-sufficiency. Art production has to be supported by some economic support system. Some artists have the economic security that universities seem to afford. Others are finding alternative methods for using their skills in non-high art production in order to support their high art production.
This is a realistic picture of our times. It also moves us away from a purist modernist concept of the artist who does not sell out. The artist is no longer someone who would rather wait tables than bastardize his ideals of art production. Hickey mentioned artists who supported themselves by carving figures for the Casinos and by drawing backgrounds for The Simpsons cartoons.
Hickey's discussion of critiques in art classes points to one of his major simplifications / contradictions. When trying to establish a climate safe for experimentation, perhaps there are multiple approaches. Don't leave anyone behind. I love working with the good students.
They do deserve special attention. But, he mentioned a student that painted a word on some plywood and did not know what to do next. She might also be coming from some special different place and end up with a greater potential that can be seen at the moment.
On the other hand, I think Hickey is right. It is easier to empathize with people with similar energies or like minds. We should all develop our cults in order for our dialogues to survive. We can't all be friends with Suzi and Bruce, but remember in the art scene (at least in Dallas) nobody wants you if you want them.
Everyone wants someone who already has something going. We all want to attach to the star. We are better by association. I think apathy may be the answer. If artists in Dallas focus on production and dialogue, others will eventually feel left out. However, if they don't come flocking, and you have self sufficiency then who cares.
Art students who learn the current state of art practice and gain an exposure to history of artistic precedents will have choices.
If Hickey were to go back to Texas, I bet he would try to initiate standardized testing for students entering Graduate Art School. If he does this, I will volunteer to help him, particularly if the test can embrace contradiction and fun.
Hickey Links Online
While tracking the correct name for the Bear painter above, JR stumbled through a lot of Dave Hickey web presence. The few of those that still work are:
Dave Hickey interview in Zingmagazine - words on a page.
Dave Hickey - Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, promo for a book available on Amazon and Robert Christgau's review of it
Wikipedia on Dave Hickey
Conversations with Dave Hickey by Sarah Douglas on Artinfo March 5, 2008
Links checked again, 404s deleted late October 2014.
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