Monday, August 6, 2012

Falling for Future-Porn: The Demise of Art History and the Rise of University Marketing

by Robert Nelson, Associate Director Student Experience at Monash University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.edu.au

Art history is falling out of favour with universities but why? We need to look at the reasons behind this change (AAP Image/Warren Clarke).
The impending closure of art history at La Trobe University has drawn sharp criticism from academics. They have pointed out that students enjoy art history: it is economical, has enduring value and demonstrably excellent outcomes.

Alas, this mystery of a discipline loved by students and scorned by deans belongs to a larger trend in universities, in which art history has either been embattled or abolished. In spite of its popularity among students, the fortunes of art history have been tenuous, sometimes clinging on obstreperously (as at La Trobe) and sometimes perishing silently (as at Monash).

Two reasons might account for the demise of art history: an indifference from outside the discipline and a small but fatal weakness from within.

Academic administrators, who lead by clich├ęs, do not like the sound of art history. Against the vulgar rhetoric of getting ahead in a fast-paced world, realising your personal vision, extending your creative powers and pushing the future, the study of art history sounds out of date, as if dealing with quaint things from the past.

Faculties like to represent their vision as aggressively forward-looking, multi-disciplinary, lateral-thinking, full of digital newness and future-shaping ideas. If these were only platitudes, we might only sigh; but they are calculated to flatter new students with a fantasy of leap-frogging all the fuddy-duddy disciplines.

Art history has few friends. Studio art departments, keen to project a vigorous program of creative hygiene, are mostly scornful of art history. It seems too humanist in its values. For insecure studio academics, art history threatens to cloud the studio purity and seems to infect it with uncreative chronologies.

It also does not help to explain, as Art Association of Australia and New Zealand’s Anthony White admirably did in the Fairfax press, that art history is inherently interdisciplinary and that it nicely equips students for a world saturated in visual messages.

Art history drove me to learn foreign languages and their literatures as well as visual languages, to come to grips with philosophy, technology, social history, popular culture, urban planning and legislation, Indigenous culture, economics and globalisation and studio practice itself.

It is hard to think of a discipline which is quite so promiscuous in examining ideas. It prepares a person to make an intervention in almost any field of criticism.

To read further, go to: http://theconversation.edu.au/falling-for-future-porn-the-demise-of-art-history-and-the-rise-of-university-marketing-8570

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