On Grading and Fountains

Craft, Creativity, Content, Composition

I use a similar “four-Cs” model when developing rubrics.  But I substitute ‘Completion’ for ‘Composition.’  At the secondary level, I’ve found it necessary to assess whether the project is complete.  Call it attaching weight to work ethic.  I think I do this because, frequently, the projects I assign involve creating or proposing multiples.  If the project was to create three pitchers – and I think there is definitely merit to creating multiples in the practice of craft – then I want to link value to the follow-through of creating all three.

I guess I link “Craft” to “Composition.”  Learning design theory and the rules of composition fits under my heading of technical expertise.

On the other hand, I don’t know about the word ‘Completion.’   Maybe I’m off on this one.

I sometimes tell a story from my freshman year of college.  I remember being sprawled out on the floor of my 6th floor walkup dorm room (walkup because the elevator worked only on rare occasions), shredding crayons into shavings I could mix with paper pulp for a 3D project.  My roommate – a math major – finished her calculus homework, closed her book, and watched me for a few minutes.  Sweetly, she chirped, “I wish my major had me playing with crayons all day.”

I walked out.  Took my work to the studio, where I should have been working in the first place.  The studio was a bus-ride away, so I don’t think I came back for a couple of days.

The thing is, when math work is “finished,” it’s done.  It’s right or wrong, but you can close the book and move on.  But when my crayon-and-pulp relief was “finished,” I brought it back to the dorm and hung it on the wall across from my bed.  And late at night, or instead of afternoon naps, I’d be moving parts or adding marks or adjusting craft.  In adult life, I think there are many professions that allow one to close the book and move on, just like the calc homework.  But I’m learning that teaching art is not one of them, nor is making.  Because now, after watching this video and thinking about it over a holiday weekend, I’m wondering if I should scrap the word ‘Completion’ and come up with some other ‘C.’  Or maybe scrap the whole model.

The more you know, the more you see?   Here’s a starting point – maybe something we should all know, as we decide how to attach value (or grades).

Industrialism triggered the end of craft and divided makers from thinkers.  Photography relieved painting and sculpture from the burden of documenting reality.  And modernism allowed art decades of important psychological self-regard that affirmed the individual but unfortunately created a hermeticism that disconnected art from middle America, making it suspect and irrelevant.  Conceptualism brought in a class system that turned artists into producers who hired shop technicians.  We dismissed middle America as cattle and their artists as nostalgic artisans of the landscape.  In turn, they responded by electing politicians who dismantled our nation’s cultural life, and worse.  The art world retrenched, thinking itself superior and believing it could survive through the benefaction of the private sector.  Yet our recurring incestuousness, evidencing the decadence of empire and globalism, has finally crumbled our walls.  

-Ernesto Pujol, On the Ground: Practical Observations for Regenerating Art Education in Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), ed. Steven Henry Madoff  – incidentally, a book on Staley’s reading list.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say, “The more you know [ABOUT THE ARTWORLD], the more you see [INFER.]”

So – given:  Call Fountain the Turning Point to Conceptualism.

And then try to use Staley’s and Garoian’s four-Cs model to assess it.  

I’d posit that Fountain has nothing to do with Craft or Composition.  (You could certainly argue that the porcelain urinal is a beautiful object, but it is not one that the artist created or composed himself.)   Content?  Well, okay.  In order to understand why a urinal fathered conceptual art, you have to research and the artworld of 1917.  I won’t go into that here, as lots of people who are way more Artworld-y than me have written volumes.  Creativity?  Maybe, but by a dictionary definition, it’s arguable.

Assigning grades to any area of learning is a weighty enterprise.  Grades can make or break one’s sense of potential when one is still vulnerable.  (Why do you think I spent so much goddamn time on a crayon-paper relief?)  Maybe after an artist has been capitalized – like Duchamp was an Artist – she or he can create work that defies traditional assessment.  I think that my four-Cs model is probably outdated.  It’s pre-Turning Point; pre-class system; pre-Conceptualism.  It needs a tweak or two, and I’m hereby accepting suggestions on a fourth (or even fifth and sixth) ‘C.’  But the thing is, I would rather my students not have to know all about the artworld’s superiority complex in order to clearly see the beauty in aesthetic experiences.

(I’d also like them to be able to articulate that beauty without using Artworld inferences that add stones to to the cultural walls created by conceptualism.  But, hey, I can only do so much in a semester.)

If this excludes the Fountain, so be it.  I’d like to think that those walls are crumbling, anyhow.


2 thoughts on “On Grading and Fountains

  1. (sorry, i’m going to keep leaving novel-length comments on your posts)

    “Conceptualism brought in a class system that turned artists into producers who hired shop technicians.”

    i think this was a valid point in the 60s, 70s, 80s, maybe the 90s, even….but i think it’s less of concern now. i think if anything, more artists are tending toward the handmade than are not (one only has to look at the wild popularity of Etsy to see this happening). i think the artists who hire shop technicians have always been a small minority of working artists, and their existence is constantly held up as a way of bemoaning the state of making in the world.

    i think this country is, in many ways, now reacting to the world that was created post WWII – that of the space age, canned vegetables, prefab houses. we’ve overdosed on the mass produced, the slick, the clean, the easily made foods – and now we’re veering back to the other end – artisanal beer and cheese, artfully distressed furniture, etc. the fact that i live in a converted warehouse is a prime example of this – in the 50s, 60s and 70s no one would DREAM of living in an old industrial building in the middle of a marginal neighborhood in what many still consider a decaying city. i think this swing in aesthetics is happening in art, as well, though more slowly (as it always does) and gradually more and more value will be assigned to the handmade and less to those so-called conceptual technicians.

  2. Agree and disagree, B. (And novel-away!)

    I agree that the growth of DIY culture has made the handmade more accessible, and maybe, by slow increments, more valuable.

    But I don’t see too many members of the Artworld branching into DIY culture. Take a look at the headline artists in ARTNews – none of them have Etsy pages. (Don’t misunderstand; I think Etsy is lovely – you know that!)

    I’d like to see the swing in aesthetics that you suggest; heck, I’d like to be a player in that swing. But in order to get there, a lot of bridges need building. Our political voices (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lucas-kavner/mitt-romney-would-elimina_b_1834429.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003, ugh) seem to suggest that continuing to cut funds to arts and culture is a very real possibility. For the arts “to stand on their own” as the Mittster suggests, it’s going to be a big challenge to lead the masses to ‘SEE’, experience, appreciate, value … without the ‘know’ that has become so exclusive to the museum-cultural-philanthropic crowd.

    I’m curious… when you were TA-ing, how did you approach grades?

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