May 25, 2020

All I can say when someone refers to an artist’s ‘practice’, I scream. I always thought that art students practice in art school and when they become good at it, they become artists. I know that lawyers, and dentists have practices, but that usually refers to the fact that they have an office somewhere where their customers go to be parted from their money. An artist, like the poet, is an honourable calling and does not need an office unless you want to call a studio an office.

I can picture my practice now as an art critic and I do have an office that I prefer to call a library. Anyways it is a room full of books. I will hire a receptionist and artists could call in to make an appointment. “Yes, there is an opening next Wednesday at 3:15.” Then the artist would drop by my practice and we could exchange art talk for thirty minutes. After that they pay my standard fee. (Actually, my standard fee for bullshit, up to now, has been free.) What a business model. After all, I do have a BFA and MFA, so I must be entitled to a practice.

Speaking of visual arts degrees. I understand that a number of universities in North America and Europe are offering PhDs or other forms of doctorates in studio ‘practice’ (that word again). Another chance for over certification in the visual arts. Granted it gives universities longer time to make money from art students in these times of astronomic tuitions. My worry is that these degrees will become mandatory for teaching positions in universities and art schools. I had a look recently at what it would cost today to get my BFA (San Francisco Art Institute) and MFA (Indiana University) paying today’s full tuition. It would be in the range of $320,000. Add three or four more years for a PhD and it could easily be more than a half a million dollars. It would not leave a lot of room for a newly minted Dr. Artist to buy a tube of paint.

Reading the information that I have received online for some visual arts studio doctorate degrees, mostly from Europe, I would put them on a par with executive MBAs. Give us some money, a lot of money, and we will give you some letters to put behind your name and a nice framed diploma, perhaps from the University of Lower Molvanîa. How much nicer it would be to own an art work made by Dr. Smith than one from Pete Smith. For some this over-certified art stuff might work. Already I have seen work in various art fairs, another scam, described by critics as MFA art and it was not intended as a compliment. Think how much more money could be suckered out of the stupid with DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts) art.

It would be nice to think that more years in a university or art school would result in better art. That is not likely. I still remember a visiting artist telling my students that why he went to graduate school to get his MFA was so that he could learn how to talk about his art. In his case it was true because his paintings on their own said nothing. This true tale happened at least thirty years ago, and I am sure that art students are still learning to talk about their art not only at the graduate level, but at the undergraduate level as well. It would be wonderful if all contemporary art spoke for itself.

I do not know how many art galleries I have visited over the last fifty years and been greeted by empty, no art walls that instead feature a manifesto pasted to the wall by an artist telling why there was no art. This was sometimes backed by a statement by the gallery’s director or testimonial of the artist’s genius by an art critic. I have personally seen this phenomenon worldwide and a little of this bullshit goes a long way. A long time ago I gave a paper, in Poland I think, titled WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get.). I stand by that statement which, of course, means if there is nothing there, then there is nothing there. Look, if someone wants to pay big money to buy a certificate of ownership of an idea from an artist of duct taping a banana to a wall, who am I to stop him? But beware there could be limited editions, and there was in this case, and there are an awful lot of bananas and rolls of duct tape out there.

Marcel Duchamp has a lot to answer for, but he was a pretty good painter and not a bad chess player. Most of his jokes are over a hundred years old and were funny at the time. I think that he would find the idea of him having an art practice ridiculous. Remember would-be-artists, that practice makes perfect.

Bicycle Wheel — Marcel Duchamp

©Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, 25 May 2020.


  1. I went to a gallery in Denmark many years ago, and there was an empty canvas on the wall and two people actively discussing it. The artist didn’t even bother to paint it white or any colour, and it was for sale. Make of it what you will…

  2. Slam!

    It does make me feel, however the tremendous distance of my painting from much appreciation, based on the current polarized route art is taking between painting being a manifestation, currently, of at the latest, a mid 19th century aesthetic based on visual technique and paucity of significant idea, or minimalist (dare I say it?) deskilled art which passes as representation of the state of current culture, taste, preoccupation. When I was a student, generally figurative art was verbotten. And now figurative art needs to be “finished”, judging by the nature of the participants and winners of figurative art competitions. So much for skill.

    I agree with your point that people should look at what is in front of them with a critical eye, not with dogma running in the background.

  3. In total agreement here!

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