Comments

1
This is a great article. I feel a lot of this has been said quietly, in small circles, many times over for many years, but I don't know if I've ever seen it in such a public forum. Props to Michael Darling for speaking out.
2
I received my Photo BFA from UW in 2007 and I cannot help but share many of the sentiments Darling mentioned. There is also a much broader and simple observation that I noticed, and still do as I monitor the darkroom every week: The UW Art building is devoid of any inspiration, art or shared creative space. That building is not conducive in the least for generation. Pale, beige, narrow and brick, it doesn't feel receptive to art. Its not a blank slate, it's a blank stare and I still feel discouraged when I'm in that building.

Aesthetics aside, my experience with the faculty was very enjoyable as you build a rapport that could feel like you are both working towards honing your craft but it always seemed like professors were so busy (especially with the grossly oversized intro photo classes) and so stretched thin that both the students and the professors fell short in their experience.

Additionally, I think a greater emphasis in medium cross pollination should have been more enforced. Only now am I having to find the qualities of paint and sculpture exciting and potential vehicles for my ideas. A drawing class, a poorly taught 2-D design class, a speedy 'contemporary art' seminar and a surprisingly therapeutic 3-D class is all we needed for our foundations. It never felt ambitious or experimental. The only time I really felt encouraged to break out of my comfort levels was with an Installation course which is now a staple. I worked with frozen dye and space, it eventually seeped through the whole building and became part of the building itself. It was a great turning point for me in regards to how my personal aesthetic translated into another medium. More classes like this would really stimulate better work and new material sensitivities.

I also cannot feel quite discouraged by students in the Photo dept as no one is in their making work. My whole quarter found me washing photograms only all quarter! Childs play! That's supposed to be a singular assignment that teaches you the inverse nature of exposure. Instead it was the whole studio experience for the intro class, a rip-off in my book.

In all, funding, adequate and contemporary space and cross pollination are the sectors that need the most improvement.
3
I for one am (obviously) glad to get this conversation on the surface. Thanks for writing this Jen, I hope it sparks a metric shitton of conversation and, if we're lucky, some action to follow. And thanks to Michael Darling for saying it out loud - although I wish he'd done it earlier ;)
4
The same holds true for the music schools. I teach music privately and always recommend that my graduating seniors consider studying music elsewhere and it gets me in trouble with the parents sometimes. Seattle doesn't have much of a music scene downtown and kids studying music have a tough time finding good jam sessions. If you study in New York, LA and New Orleans you can often sit in with your professors at evening jams. Seattle just needs to understand this and quit pretending this is the place to be for art and music. There is very little support outside the classroom and there doesn't seem to be much excitement generated in the classrooms.
5
Having gone to both the University of Washington and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago I have mixed feelings. The sense I got in Chicago is that the artistic community is more open to interaction with the surrounding schools and there are more opportunities for art students to develop their work and ideas about art into a more cohesive practice. In Seattle there are so few Art Schools (or so few good programs) that, combined with what I perceive to be a "closed off" art community it's hard to feel like you can grow in the development of your practice once you get out of school.
By closed off I mean you have to be young and hip or older and established. there feels like there is no room left if you don't fit into one of those groups...
makes me want to move back to Chicago sometimes - or start a revolution...
6
I'm an ignoramus about Art but there might be too many artists trying to be important and not enough trying to be good.
Maybe that's another way of saying rigor.
7
Maybe there is something to do with art education in the Northwest, but I think that's way down the list.

How about we start with the fact the SAM has sucked for sooo long and done everything possible to not show leadership in contemporary art until very recently? How about a stodgy Seattle art establishment that frowned on young nouveau-riche techies who wanted to get involved? How about a group of area museums that saw the Bellevue Art Museum as competition, rather than a partner in broadening the scene when it hired a Class A curator to shift its focus and lead at the bleeding edge of art/craft?

I can't help think that Mr. Darling's remarks are either ill-informed by his lack of time on the so-called Seattle art scene, or he's trying to play nice with his benefactors and avoid the harder truth.

Bad reporting, Stranger. You should know better.
8
The schools in Southern California turning out great artists are UCLA, CalArts, Art Center, and UCSD. Maybe USC is up and coming but in my time in LA no one is talking about their program even if it includes free tuition.

The scene in Seattle has always been craft and artisan based. There are pockets of conceptualism but they're small and can't seem to make a dent in all the galleries full of pretty colored glass. The MFA program at UW is simply a reflection of these trends. A fibers concentration? Really? Despite all the social activism in Seattle, it's not at all present in most of the art being produced.

9
Why is this article a rarity? Why do Michael's comments stand out?

Because we rarely speak our mind here in Seattle, and that's what's holding us back - holding our art-schools back from criticism hinders growth. Visiting artists - great. Seattle artists at SAM - cool. But none of that exchange sticks unless you're open to criticism and honest enough to give it back. Does a curator have to accept a job in another city before he can really speak his mind?
10
real art happens outside of the art world- The 'art world' is irrelevant and doesn't even know it. get over it
11
The SAM and Seattle's uptight 'arts community' (if you can call it that) can be blamed for some things, but it's gotten better recently. Kurt, Target Practice and the Andy Warhol thing are the best exhibits they've done in the 2 1/2 years i've lived here, and the 5 i spent going to art school.

The article is spot on though when it places most of the blame on schools. The schools here have just not kept up to date. At all. Everyone I know has complained about this quietly forever, glad to see it out there finally.
12
To blame the problems of seattle art on the art schools of seattle is short sighted. As a graduate of the MFA program I acknowledge there are many shortcomings of the institution and what it has to offer but that is true with any institution, including Yale, UCLA and USC. The city of seattle should nurture and enrich the educational institutions in the same way these institutions enrich and nurture the city. If you want faculty who are "leading the discussion" on a national and international level then the city should lead the discussion on a national and international level as well. It is in my opinion, wishful thinking to compare Seattle to LA, New York, Chicago or San Francisco. The most well known artists (not the same as best) teach in those cities because the cities offer possibilities that Seattle cannot. This is a cyclical problem not simply a problem of art schools.
13
on a side note: I Thought Joey Veltkamp was the 1st artist in Residence at SU? He created a very cool Salon series, that Jeffrey Mitchell, Matthew Offenbacher, Gretchen Bennett, Sol Hashemi and Jason Hirata, Kimberly Trowbridge, myself and others led workshops in. Sadly there weren't many SU students coming to the workshops, but it was still an amazing place to mix, mingle and make art. Joey did a great job to start it, and I look forward to seeing what Browning will do.

Sadly too, the UW doesn't even have a k-12 teaching art program, to help students who want to be educators in the worlds of the pre-art scene. I also see large gaps in k-12 art, but this past year it was wonderful to have Seattle School district students show art at SAM for the first time since I have been teaching. SAM was superb in hosting our students.

I hope this conversation continues and that the lines can blur more. As an educator in k-12 art in Seattle, I do see some gaps in the art realm here, but I am also see places where those gaps are filling. As an artist...I see them too, but many of us are trying to eliminate them, and as a student about to earn an MFA in a low-res program where I have had the opportunity to work with Harrell Fletcher, Marc Dombrosky, Stokely Towles and more from the visiting faculty at my school...it's opened my eyes immensely to what is going on beyond Seattle, all the while I have been here. We can build it, but some folks might need to stretch their comfort zones a little.
14
The point Darling makes is very well put. I wish Graves would focus on it--that Seattle is lacking in the realm of Graduate studies in art. The undergraduate art departments in Seattle are as good as any in New York, SF, Chicago. You don't need world class instructors to educate the essentials. Actually, it is probably better to have no-names doing it. But adding Graduate departments, visiting faculty, lecturers, older students, more intelligent students, etc, can have a profound effect on undergraduate students, "regular" instructors, discourse within the community, the galleries...the stranger.
15
Forgive the digression but since graphic design doesn't really get discussed on SLOG or in the Stranger, I thought I would chime in and say I've been really impressed with the quality of work coming out of BFA graphic design programs in the NW. I have seen a lot of portfolios over the years in New York and now here, and IMHO Seattle is producing some designers with great potential.
16
Have you noticed that the UW painting program only allows students to use oil on linen? Not only is cross-disciplinary interaction between programs thwarted, but if you're a painter you can't even freely explore most painting materials on the market today. Anyone who still thinks oil on linen is some kind of holy grail isn't paying attention. And if they're dishing out that kind of uneducated dogma about materials, just imagine what they're doing with ideas.
17
Ceramics? First thing I think of when I hear ceramics is yard sculpture. Are these the people that brought us the garden gnome? Well at least it isn't glass bongs. Glass glass glass and more glass. Well what do expect from a town where most of the art critics are still mesmerized by ... The Dadaists.

BTW the Seattle Art MUseum sucks. With all the money that place takes in there collection is the size of a closet compared to most cities of equal size. I am sure they will just go out and buy more boring abstract paintings, or maybe more glass. I know hang some junk cars from the ceiling.

Maybe another installation with found objects from the dump ... that would be so avant-garde.
18
The biggest problem with Seattle is that we all keep comparing ourselves to other art towns that are much bigger than we are. How about Seattle vs. San Diego, or Minneapolis, Detroit, Phoenix? At least make it a fair fight.
19
metro Seattle is about the same size as metro Boston according to Wikipedia. And as we know from Spinal Tap, Boston isn't a big college town....
21
The one thing not mentioned here is the general vibe of the city. People here are not friendly and they don't stick together like in other places and that's true of both the art and music community. It's each man for himself in a town that's really geared toward the tech industry. The weather here makes it easier to produce indoor software types and the cost of living is so high that many artists keep day jobs that get in the way of their creativity. You can live on a shoestring budget in other places and focus on art, but very very hard here. While I'm sure Seattle will produce relevant artists and musicians in the future, I just don't think it's an attractive place for most artists looking for national recognition and a supportive environment. Our expectations should be more realistic. A budding 18 year old artist will more likely study somewhere else when they weigh the pros and cons and I'm not sure making the art programs better will help. Capital Hill doesn't have the same electric vibe you'll find in say Soho or other art communities.
22
Mr. Darling, living in an ivory tower much? Free tuition for MFAs? Here's his argument that the UW could afford free tuition for MFAs.

"And, of course, the UW's got a lot of financial issues, but I think that's well within the UW's possibilities."

Yeah, sure, EXCEPT for the FIRST part of that sentence the SECOND part makes a lot of sense.

If Mr. Darling is so UTTERLY CLUELESS about the financial realities of public colleges in Washington State, perhaps he should just "zip it".

23
Dear Tenure=Death,

Painting students at UW are not restricted to oil on Linen. I have no idea where you got that idea. Go look at the MFA show at the Henry.
24
While making some good points, this article leaves out a great deal of information and fails to acknowledge the excellence of the Painting program and the national reputations of most of its faculty who exhibit their work in galleries and museums in LA, New York, Europe and Asia. The sadly ill-informed reader comment above claiming that the painting program restricts materials to oil painting on linen is a complete fabrication.

Also unacknowledged here are the blows the entire school of art suffered from the sad losses of the Printmaking, Fiber and Metals MFA programs that were the source of much innovation in the 90's. Budget cuts that created these losses as well as the loss of tenure line positions have shrunk the programs and the faculty while injuring the morale of a remaining hardworking community.

If the School of Art lacks unity, perhaps a building that houses all programs under one roof would create avenues for dialog to build a stronger, more vibrant community. Also, if the state believed in the excellence of the students entering the School of Art enough to provide of tuition waivers and financial support, great things would happen, but only a fortunate receive tuition waivers. This keeps students away, creates a great struggle those who come and puts up many barriers to dialog and creativity within the programs.

Essentially, if the State of Washington supported the School of Art, it would be killer fantastic. In more prosperous times, my experiences as an MFA at UW were fabulousÔÇôlargely due to its faculty. In the current lean period, my recent experience as a Visiting Lecturer have been great. It is regretful that the School of Art has become a red-headed stepchild in the eyes of the State. Thus, the art community suffers the consequences.

25
While making some good points, this article leaves out a great deal of information and fails to acknowledge the excellence of the Painting program and the national reputations of most of its faculty who exhibit their work in galleries and museums in LA, New York, Europe and Asia. The sadly ill-informed reader comment above claiming that the painting program restricts materials to oil painting on linen is a complete fabrication.

Also unacknowledged here are the blows the entire school of art suffered from the sad losses of the Printmaking, Fiber and Metals MFA programs that were the source of much innovation in the 90's. Budget cuts that created these losses as well as the loss of tenure line positions have shrunk the programs and the faculty while injuring the morale of a remaining hardworking community.

If the School of Art lacks unity, perhaps a building that houses all programs under one roof would create avenues for dialog to build a stronger, more vibrant community. Also, if the state believed in the excellence of the students entering the School of Art enough to provide of tuition waivers and financial support, great things would happen, but only a fortunate receive tuition waivers. This keeps students away, creates a great struggle those who come and puts up many barriers to dialog and creativity within the programs.

Essentially, if the State of Washington supported the School of Art, it would be killer fantastic. In more prosperous times, my experiences as an MFA at UW were fabulousÔÇôlargely due to its faculty. In the current lean period, my recent experience as a Visiting Lecturer have been great. It is regretful that the School of Art has become a red-headed stepchild in the eyes of the State. Thus, the art community suffers the consequences.
26
I totally agree with @9. To criticize UW in Seattle is to paint a big target on your back - no wonder Darling waited until he was headed out of town to speak his mind. It is so good to hear the issue of mediocrity in our art departments aired, but I wish that the same scrutiny would more often be applied to our schools as a whole.

Seattleites need to loosen up and learn to take some constructive criticism. UW is a good school, but it is not an amazing school - and we have no excuse. In a city with brains, wealth and tons of creativity, we could be one of the country's great centers for education. Why do we settle for mediocrity and pretend that it is excellence? We should expect more.

Thanks for this article.
27
"...historically they made a huge effort of gathering faculty who would be cutting-edge..."

Is that a thing, a thing that art schools do? Holy shit. You just blew my mind. Someone should have told me this when I decided to waste 5 years of my life at a horrendous "art" school.

Great piece. We need more like this.
28
You can't have the cake and eat it too. Seattle is known for software, coffee and Boeing, not art. Every 20 to 25 years someone revolutionary may come along, but it's just not a conducive place for the arts. A little town like Tucson has more viable artists because it's cheaper to live and you don't necessarily have to hold down a day joy to sustain your art career. It's also a dog eat dog city and I don't see too much healthy comaraderie among artists like I've seen in other places. I don't think the art programs at any of the schools can do anything about this. The art and music scene in Seattle is very sugar-coated by locals. Anyone who has been to city with a vibrant art and music scene knows what I'm talking about, but all too often people formulate their opinions in a vaccuum here in Seattle. Furthermore, other cities have Art walks that feature live music and the different mediums help each other. For a city that brags about it's education level, you'd think it would have figured this out. I think sometimes we are all head and no heart.
29
Great piece! I found this article quite interesting.

I just recently graduated from Seattle University with a degree in English and loved it, but as a self-professed drama major at heart, was heavily involved with the theater department for the entirely of my time there.

The challenges the department face are many, most notably lack of adequate funding and lack of visibility - both on and off campus. Incredibly, when attempting to promote our plays, I found many students didn't even know we have a theater on campus!

For theater kids who need to stay in Seattle and who can't get into UW and don't want to go to Cornish for whatever reason - many of which you've covered - there's not much else for aspiring actor.

It is important that we recognize the issues with our art schools and admit that they need improvement. For a city that prides its self on its small but energetic arts and culture scene, our schools should reflect that pride and dedication.
30
CAPITAL HILL is not soho, but soho is not electric or eclectic. art in seattle is bad.
31
Wow.
I hope this conversation about creativity and art becomes less city self-referential and less gallery/art world myopic.
I chose to leave a position at a well established Art Institute precisely to teach and practice Sculpture at the UW.
Why? The UW is similar to other Research One Universities. It is a powerfully diverse, high caliber resource from which to teach, mentor, learn and practice art. What makes the 3DForum at UW School of Art a potential leader in an academic studio art practice? It values and recognizes ambitious, experimental and disciplined methods of both teaching and making art.

Hiring "hotshots" to teach is such a common, quick-fix solution to claim status. That tact only works if the environment(the city and school) wishes to be a sustainable, inspiring, provocative "hotbed" from which "hotshots" can forward their careers. (from emerging, into mid career and maybe, even prominence)
I'd much rather be identified with the creative place that makes and maintains the cultural cutting-edge, rather than a place that only hires them in and retires them.
Do we have higher expectations for the role of an artist than to check off their gallery show card?
I work in a program that proves to be nothing less than highly motivated, curious, dedicated; the R&D of contemporary culture in our society. Step it up.

32
Good point. In art schools across the country there are many opportunities to work with "hotshots" 20 minute a year while they look at their watches, and then walk out to leave you floundering, but few opportunities to be mentored, pushed and sustained in a laboratory community of the conceptual and physical act of cultural practice. I would say that this work is not restricted to the 3DForum however.
33
Eshafkind: Just to respond to your point, SU is calling Matt Browning the first artist-in-residence and Joey Veltkamp's programs the pilot.
34
Jen,

When Chris Ozubko became the Director of the School of Art at UW, his goal was to emphasize computer and digital art. It was a growing field at the time, and along with the boom in computer science, it was the best option for offering a lucrative program to prospective students. In 1998, the UW Graduate School had asked the School of Art how it could remain a nationally viable program that showed its MFA graduates were landing reputable jobs across the country. Unfortunately at that point, the MFAs were weak: the graduates were not placing well, if at all.

*Disclosure: I worked at UWGS' Academic Program Review from 1997 - 2001 and was present at the review of the School of Art.

Anne Wagner (art historian) was on the review committee and found that the paltry amount of state funding that is set aside for arts education was astonishing, since the government in her state of California had regularly set aside a significant percentage of arts funding annually, regardless and with no questions.

So what the UW School of Art is lacking is a state government that does not adequately support arts education as well as the lack of quality donors from its alumni. In addition the question is, why do UW graduates not want to donate back to their school? The assumed answer is due to the fact that the degree did not amount to much for the alumni.

It looks like the DXARTS program is radically interdisciplinary. Although DXARTS models itself from MIT's Media Lab Program, its goals, to me, sound much more like the fashion program at the New School: one that churns out robust students who can land jobs in their industry rather quickly.

This story is complex and could definitely be scooped deeper and there could be a much larger grass roots organization upon the part of the Seattle art community. But most are probably not aware of the School of Art's relation to the UW Administration and most especially the excessive lack of state funding that comes from the State Legislature.

As Scott Lawrimore wrote: "where are all the arts patrons at?" The School of Art has been saying the same thing for years. Could, for example, the True family or the Shirleys set up endowed professorships or regularly contribute to the development of the school, and make sure that the funds do not go to support DXARTS? While it's easy for Darling to blame the schools, it really should go in the direction of the state and those who have the resources to help.

The reports that I am referencing are available for public viewing:

The Graduate School's recommendation to the President of UW in 1999:

http://www.washington.edu/about/accredit…

The Review Committee's report on DXARTS in 2008:

http://www.washington.edu/about/accredit…

The School of Art is under review this year:

http://www.grad.washington.edu/fac-staff…

Jill Conner
Art Critic, NYC

35
Okay. I'm no expert just yet, and I haven't gone to art school, but I'll be attending the School of The Art Institute of Chicago next fall. Though I was accepted to the UW, I didn't even consider it for a heartbeat. To me it seems that part of art school will be school, the other part will be networking, and Seattle...well. Might as well not take that risk.
And thank you #2, I always just got this feeling that the UW is concrete, serious, cold...yes, a research school.
36
Why would anyone go to UW for a fine art degree? That's like going to the mall for custom jewelry. Not to dis UW. It's an amazing leader in so many disciplines. UCLA has proven a giant can have a sensitive side. So it can be done. It will take a few generations to retool UW into a UCLA regarding art patrons, faculty, and reputation.
37
This is a great article and I really appreciate reading and learning from it. I love modern and contemporary art and take the opportunity to see as much as I can here and in every city I visit. Obviously everyone has their own tastes &c but it doesn't really seem that difficult to assess when something is well done within its sphere, whether you love it or not. The art I've seen here just seems so mediocre. Since I know nothing about the art schools here I found Darling's comments (as well as the various responses) quite interesting. But coming to it from outside the "art scene", that is to say I read the art press and visit as many shows as I can but didn't go to art school and am not an artist myself, I think that the local art press is equally part of the problem. They are champions of mediocrity at best and enablers at worst. So much self-indulgent, idea free, derivative, craft-less art is lauded and elevated to a truly undeserved stature. The hyperbole can be pretty glaring: nobody labeled a "genius" even remotely rates. Honest critical feedback is so valuable to an artist, even if you dismiss it out of hand. Always hearing that everything is fantastic, that you are a "genius" can stunt development (why would a "genius", need to develop, pretty hard to improve from there), see the myriad cases where people surrounded by yes men become completely myopic and detached from reality.

Which, I want to stress, isn't to say the local art press aren't good critics and writers, I think they are when they put themselves to it. But they really give a pass on the local artists (and I can sort of understand why, it'd be pretty depressing to always be down on the locals) and I think are part of the problem of the current state of Seattle art.
38
I'm surprised nobody mentioned The Art Institute of Seattle yet.
Or is that the point?
39
Shared dreary basement studios (devoid of any inspiration, art or shared creative space as DJ put it), limited funding for teaching assistants, questions regarding the future of the MFA program and the inherent value of my graduate degree defined my experience at the University of Washington.

When it was announced via email that my department would not be excepting any new graduate students (cementing its fate as a defunct program) during my second quarter I decided to pursue other options.

For the record, I feel that I made the correct decision. It is a "sad loss" to see departments crumble under budget cuts but its even more so to see how the University of Washington treats its students and faculty without the dignity or respect they deserve.


40
Shared dreary basement studios (devoid of any inspiration, art or shared creative space as DJ put it), limited funding for teaching assistants, questions regarding the future of the MFA program and the inherent value of my graduate degree defined my experience at the University of Washington.

When it was announced via email that my department would not be excepting any new graduate students (cementing its fate as a defunct program) during my second quarter I decided to pursue other options.

For the record, I feel that I made the correct decision. It is a "sad loss" to see departments crumble under budget cuts but its even more so to see how the University of Washington treats its students and faculty without the dignity or respect they deserve.
41
As much as one can argue that students have the freedom to take classes outside of their discipline (ie- photomedia, 3d4M, painting)this is not exactly expected beyond the three or four "foundation" classes that we are required to take before/around the time we declare our major.

The fact that the majors are physically segregated from each other (specifically photomedia in the basement and 3d4M at the CMA near U Village) has two flaws: 1) it is inconvenient to cross-pollinate and maintain a consistent practice, which requires the availability of discipline specific technology/ tools and 2) students are generally not allowed to use such tools without being enrolled in a course. What are we paying for then? How can we be expected to thrive as artists in an increasingly interdisciplinary field when our educators make it difficult for us to develop in such a way? If the UW expects to compete with leading undergrad arts institutions (which I believe it can, but can only do so if the institution believes in what it has to offer), regardless of geographic location, then these issues need to be addressed. Bravo to those who have sparked the discussion.
42
Listen- I am currently enrolled at Cornish College of the Arts for my junior year in the theater department. I found this article to hold some truth- as of right now Cornish is trying to find a new president and due to the new dorms and furthur endeavors, it seems like it's trying to become more of a university- but mostly, I saw this article as a statement with no real solution. The statement is that our art schools just don't have the same "rigor" as other ones? So... do we all have to go to Julliard or Yale to study art? All of my teachers have studied movement in other countries and most of them have learned The Method. I like the fact that I'm being taught world reknown methods, but that my teachers are also adding in thier own ideas and methods as well. It's nice to work with teachers who do actually work in the city. They work and they have thier successes and thier failures- and it's the process they share with us. I love the freedom to make my own choices within a structured cirrculum, which in fact, can't be dated. I know several teachers who add and take away certain things every year. I love Cornish and I love that it's in Seattle.
43
Being originally from and a current visitor to Seattle, as well as having attended one of the nationally prominent art programs repeatedly mentioned in the article and the comments, I found this piece personally very interesting.

I think the thesis that art in the NW suffers because there are no good regional programs is a very sound one. The Art Academy is traditionally where students congregate to create a creative atmosphere, to get lost in studio, and to form friendships and relationships that will form the basis of lifelong intellectual and artistic community. This locally grown and organic intellectual and artistic atmoshere is as important to local art as locally grown food is to regional cuisine. If a program can't develop a national or international reputation, then it will fail to both attract students as well as retain those who do attend after they finish. The institution that houses the art program needs to create an environment that enables artistic and intellectual dialogue.

But it isn't only the schools (or lack of them) that is to blame. You have to create an entire constellation of opportunities and relationships for art to thrive here. There's a whole economy and ecology of art and design that is missing in the Northwest.

A program like Yale works not only because of the talented students it attracts and its rigorous admissions process, but also because of its proximity to New York City's art, culture, and design world. Relationships and connections that are built in an institution such as Yale are activated and built upon in the environment of the City. Similarly, UCLA, CalArts, and Art Center work because of the economy of Hollywood that sustains artists. In short, there is a 'scene'. But these 'scenes' aren't just created organically, they are also helped along by public policy and funding.

I tend to agree with those commenters who cite economic and political factors the primary reason art doesn't do well in Seattle. Art scenes are as engineered as they are organic. You need funders to underwrite more critical endeavors and initiatives for the arts in Seattle. Those endeavors need to be written up in the national press. An aura around art in the city needs to be built up, and that aura needs to be somehow tied to economic vitality. One thing is to provide subsidized art space, something New York City is doing now. City officials realize that its own economy is strangling its art scene, and affecting its international reputation.

While Seattle isn't comparable in art or design terms to the art economies of New York or LA, it is comparable to Austin, Minneapolis, Providence, and Rotterdam (NL), all small to mid-level cities that have great universities, institutions, and art schools that support a vibrant artistic or design life. What I find both encouraging and discouraging about Seattle's art scene is that it always seems to be emerging -- promising, but never quite there. I've read the stranger for nearly 20 years, and this critical piece seems to say what it often says about this City, that it's never quite good enough. But the perspective always seem to be one of personal disdain. It's a good essay about one person who makes enlightening comments about the city's art scene, but unfortunately, the article doesn't seem to offer any direction in terms of proactive, policy and institutional-level change.
44
Mediums. Really? Really?
45
"Seattle needs to revolutionize its master of fine arts program at the University of Washington..." very true. MFA programs are great. People come from all over the country and world to enter a dialog and, when it works, can change the politics and identity of the their location. Last i checked, Seattlites wants nothing to do with those damn Californians! Where else would they come from?
46
Seattle's navelgazing and self-obsession, constant questioning "IS THIS ART YET?" in conversation and press all contribute (or rather don't).

Michael Darling might have also reminded Graves there is only one paid art critic in Seattle and we all could have gained some perspective. Such a damning statement about our schools should have been handled with more balance, and not sent out into the world with a tone of resignation (to be read by potential grads and instructors, not to mention alumni and employers).
47
Michael is a wonderful curator, but not the brightest cultural bulb if he thinks that art schools are the problem with art in Seattle. The problem with art in Seattle is, surprise, surprise - money - and the administrative oversight of the few resources there are. Lack of funding hurts institutions, exhibition spaces, and artists, and it squeezes art departments, slashing faculty, programs, facilities, ideas, and time. Many of the faculty at the UW School of Art and Cornish are excellent artists and teachers, but they are left high and dry without the time and funding to make the changes they propose for their programs and to create opportunities to broaden their ranks. The problem is the nickel-and-diming mentality that stifles growth, and the lack of private, corporate, and public funding that leave both schools and artists adrift. In other regions, many thriving art departments and schools have a much stronger economic base.

As for the cause and effect principle, many artists who were schooled here live elsewhere and are doing just fine, thanks, and many artists who are here now went to school elsewhere but are languishing here. Why? The economic base is lacking. Despite the creative-geniuses-rise-above-struggle stereotype, lack of money destroys more often than it creates. Therein lies the original sin.

As for Jen Graves' take on things, more research, skepticism, and balance would have been in order. Michael is not Moses. And if would be heartening if you could try to get beyond the shallow water of snarky disgruntlement, self-righteousness, and myopia now and then.
48
Great article. I think having strong MFA programs would be great but I think there are additional ways to make for a stronger art scene. I am temporarily living in Houston, a big town with a strong art scene. Houston does not have a big art school yet the city is home to many great artists. First off the city is wealthy and its residents value the arts. There are top notch museums and interesting arts organizations that are well funded. The galleries are strong - people buy art. The MFAH has a kick ass residency program, the core. This program brings curators and artists to Houston for 2 years. Many residents decide to stay because Houston is very affordable and an incredibly supportive community. They tell their friends, their friends come. Finally, the word gets out and people just graduating with their MFAs, looking for a supportive community, move there. This could be Seattle...

Also, I can think of a handful of really interesting artists coming out of UW's MFA and BFA programs over the past few years (i think of the crawl space crew). It is not as if everyone coming out of usc, ucla, columbia, yale, etc is making compelling work.

I turned down going to a big name school for a school that gave me a full ride. I didn't graduate with the connections some of my colleagues had but I don't know if I would have grown as much at another school. School is where you begin to find your voice. where you can fail miserably and where you can begin to say what you mean. this can happen in surprising places...even in Seattle.
49
Seattle may not be LA, but it beats the hell out of places like Wash. DC, for instance, and is much more accessible to recent grads and other young artists than the largest centers like NYC and LA where most of them are eaten alive.

All this bears out my belief that the health of any art scene is fundamentally driven by money and real estate and developed by critical writing. Only a very tiny group of artists across the country have much of either even when they are successful, thus it is unrealistic to expect alumni to offer much financial support. The only person I can think of who is in this elite group is Chuck Close so someone get on the horn to him.

It is an excellent point that endowed scholarships from people like the True's and corporations like Microsoft or Amazon would raise the bar tremendously. Come on folk! This area has great wealth and even Dick's Drive has a scholarship program!

50
How curious that Jen Graves should write an article criticizing the art school educational system in Seattle, when in fact, she is part of the problem. While a student at Cornish, I had the displeasure of taking one of her "art history" courses. What I learned was not only is she disorganized and a horrible instructor, but also homophobic and racist. When I filed a complaint with Cornish Provost Lois Harris and crew, what I got was written off, while they defended Graves. In short, I received an education in school politics, but very little about art history.
51
I'm a proud drop out of Cornish College of the Arts - transferred to some other mediocre art school, and I feel I'm all the better for it. Cornish was dated, and yes you could say it lacked rigor, yes you could definitely say that. That being said I miss getting high in the parking lot :), flirting with the dancers, a few of the teachers, and doing what ever the fuck I want and it being okay with everyone.
52
The quality of the schools is a symptom of a bigger issue and few are talking about it. Seattle is a cold and unfriendly city (despite what locals will tell you). That doesn't bode well for an arts community. A smaller city like Santa Fe has better quality art and attracts collectors because the artist have an alliance and help each other promote and survive. It's dog eat dog here, but people say nice things to people's faces while stabbing them in the back. Seattle lives in a vacuum and continues to talk a big game while not delivering. Save this months stranger and look at it a year from now. 90% of the bands and artists will no longer exist. Nothing sticks here and there is very little support from an audience for art or music to get something good going. Before a person talks about how great the arts are here, they should have visited New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans to name a few. I hear people say we shouldn't compare ourselves to these cities, yet claims are made here that suggest we are in the same league. Not by a longshot.
53
Hey, that's not the first time I've heard Lois Harris spout B.S. Cornish will never grow because their faculty is bogged down by self serving personal agenda. Their interior design department lost it's accreditation in 2007. And members of the design faculty omitted students from it's email circulations addressing Job opportunities, internships and industry functions.

Cornish college of the arts lacks integrity.
54
well joopybutt, if you were getting high in the parking lot then you weren't college material and it figures you got a mediocre degree, which fits your likely mediocre art.
55
I'm a former resident of Seattle, and current resident of New York. I can tell you one advantage that Seattle has over New York and San Francisco, affordable rent. When you live in Seattle it can seem expensive relative to Portland, but it's not in comparison to other cities. Seattle should capitalize on this by loosening it's live/work regulations.

I hear people in New York talking about how supposedly cheap it is to live in Portland. They should be talking about Seattle which is a much larger city in closer proximity to Vancouver BC, which is internationally recognized in the arts. Seattle needs an international art fair to raise it's profile.

Seattle is the largest American city in the region. If the city supports artist friendly infrastructure they will come.
56
With art, more is better. More teachers, more ideas, more approaches. What are you learning but process and approach? With only 6 people to choose from (and no real choice of when and what you take thanks to the degree track anyway) what are the odds that something they say will be resonant enough to have made all the accumulated quarters and hours worth your time? Not very. Much better to invite young, old and middle-aged artists to give lectures and critiques, if even just for a week!
And, please, please, let's abolish studio classes that are just that (people working by themselves, yet crowded among themselves), and actually do some reading, force some discussion in an ART class (not art history!); for once, asking students to take in information and discuss it with eachother, to learn something new, and see an article through another's perspective. Just doing that, might make art school feel less exhaustively self-absorbed. Looking forward to learning from my classmates and professor's perspectives, for more than a scattered 5 minutes here and there, I might actually get to class on time! (uh, you're right, maybe I am missing something glorious in those first 5 to 10 minutes)
Never-mind the UW's ridiculously restrictive degree tracks and the intense push for Interdisciplinary Visual Arts which requires taking a slew of intro classes and in so doing makes it difficult to pursue a single track far enough to take upper level classes... And never-mind those upper level classes... !. !. !. .... OK! ok, I'm done.
57
fyi... Elizabeth Darrow is not and has never been related to Clarence Darrow! Ask her...
58
New Orleans? Are you kidding me? If you aspire to the New Orleans art scene you have never been there and are clearly hallucinating.

The faculty at Cornish is probably bogged down with signing up for food stamps not their personal careers. Cornish is notorious for paying obscenely low faculty salaries. They are nationally famous for consistently appearing on the bottom of the faculty pay scale in salary surveys that cover the entire country.
59
I moved here from New Orleans after Katrina destroyed my home. Seattle and New Orleans should NEVER be mentioned in the same breath. Arts for Arts sake is an awesome weeklong art show walk in New Orleans that features local live music and attracts collectors like Marcus Allen. I love Seattle for many reasons, but the art and music scene are a joke to anyone who has spent time in a place like that. Seattle is 80% talk and 20% action. People generally have less money down there and music and art is something they cling to as a way of life, not a hobby. I don't want to offend anyone, Seattle has contributed a lot in the tech industry, but let's be real about the arts here.
60
I feel sick. What is this , comment #60? The art scene here is logging-town front-row S=H=I=T with all the advan and disadvan, so Darling can go to his next job w/out ever having connected here ( two shows in four years, (("we have a new collection, go curate"));Jen you are also from southern CA, have no clue after how many years); I taught at Cornish too, 7 years, so what if local faculty are 2nd class, it's a LOGGING TOWN in the BACK ASS ELBOW of the USA, not Chicago, East Coast; every 30 years we get the nation's attention and in between gather RUST, so all you WHINERS who skimmed 60 comments, GOOD JOB, you care enough to reply to JG (btw,'Kurt' show at SAM is a joke):

the scene is changing, no more Lawrimore or Billy Howard or vauge alt-contempo or Kucera hogging WT exclusively -- even SOIL is amusing as an anachronism -- what does it cost to belong now, $1500/year -- har har suckers, you too Tim

Nowadays in the 21st c. people rent condos, they buy cheaper art -- don't wait for customers to return -- it's a new scene just beginning to emerge- DF
61
I wish we could have the same dialogue about the music scene. It's beyond broken. There's so little work for full-time musicians that it gets downright ugly and insulting. On top of that you've got hundreds of wanna-be indie bands clogging the scene. Here today, gone tomorrow. There is alot of talk, but little walk in terms of support for local music. I teach music privately and my high school age students tell me they go to shows to see their friends but make sure to miss all of the other bands playing that night to make some sort of point. This place has a big city facade, but small town mentality. Sorry, it's true. Without a caring audience, even the best bands fall apart, or tour elsewhere. This attitude is so ingrained that I don't think we'll see a change for a long time. Most people are in denial and don't want to hear this.
62
Cornish is looking for a new president. Can anyone give three good reasons why someone would want the job after reading this?
63
Sure, birdbird, comment number 62.
1. There are lots of good artists there, both students and faculty, who were done a disservice by the remarks of Mr. Darling and Ms. Graves (her presence on the faculty there notwithstanding) and also by the quotes of a few disgruntled prima donnas, who know who they are and why.
2. Cornish is already doing a great job, despite its funding limitations, but it is in a prime position to help serve the underfunded art community here even more, especially if the new president can bring in more bucks to help in that regard.
3. The faculty at Cornish have been trying to make changes they themselves have proposed, but it has been in a context of bean counters and building restrictions, so there is all that potential there for a new President to unleash.

JN
64
#63, your comment is typical. No specific names mentioned as far as good artists are concerned, but the words "underfunded" "if the president can bring in more bucks" and "the faculty have been trying" stood out like a sore thumb. These wishy washy statements are indicative of the wishy washy scene. Please have lived in successful art community before you talk. Seattle is a joke to those in the know. Sorry.
65
#64 - Many artists who have graduated from and taught at area art schools have lived in successful art communities and, therefore, as you put it, "can talk."
And I suppose that you think you are "in the know" with your naive and wishy washy unregistered remarks. Hahahahahaha.
66
You can continue to look through rose-colored glasses but Seattle is not on anyone's radar in places where it matters. It lives in a vacuum. I'm very connected to the arts and music community in several cities across the US and the general sentiment is that Seattle is a camping trip and not worth going through the trouble of exhibiting artwork here. The sooner you accept that, the sooner bridges can be built to other communities.
67
Furthermore, JN, you make my point by using terms like "many artists" with no names mentioned. And yes, they "talk", but that's about it.
68
don't know if you read comments on old posts. but, whoa. i just listened to your exit interview with Michael Darling. listing off SAM's acquisitions, he named ten artists whose work they bought for the collection. only one was a woman.

damn. what a downer.
69
I find it really interesting to read this article because I actually work at the MCA and have met Michael Darling. He's really a brilliant man, and he's going to bring some incredible things to the MCA. Sorry you guys are losing him though! haha
70
This article is the first place I've heard that contemporary artists are rarely defining themselves by medium. Why then, would the Rhode Island School of Design (Ranked #1 in fine art by US News)still be offering separate MFA degrees in Ceramics, Glass, and Sculpture -the new consortium that is offered at UW?
71
guys i think is a good idea bery good.

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