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Friday, 10 October 2014


You've got a good book in you.

>> ... reasoning that I would learn 100% more in one year than I would in zero years.

That implies that you would learn half as much in zero years as you would in one year.

I'd take that.

This is an excellent post, being instructive, insightful, and from the heart. And oh so true.

My first comment should come with a :), in case that's not clear.

I thoroughly enjoyed the article.

I'm glad you reprinted this for several reasons.
1. It's a very good and useful essay.
2. It promoted me to find the original post in Set. of 2007 to read the comments back then which were worth reading.
3. Searching through 2007 to find your original post took quite awhile since I ended up reading most of 2007. So much of your stuff is timeless.


Oh my...

Where to begin? First, I have two daughters in college. Both business students, one on her BS in the US, the other on her MSc in Sweden.

It's not so much that business is in cahoots with education, but much more that education has become business. The key to understanding how rigged the game has become is FAFSA: virtually all universities require you as parent to fill out the FAFSA forms online, as part of the application process, telling you they need to know that information to see what sort of student aid you might get. However, that skews the information flow and distorts the market for education.

What do I mean? Simple: the business side of universities know what you earn, how many kids you have, what your net income after taxes is, if you have savings and own a business, etc. You are transparent to them: they can then calculate your "pain" thresholds for paying. If you don't earn much, grants and loans get your kid into school, you co-sign the loans.

Good lord, why? Education is such a highly-considered good that most see it as being necessary, and that gives the business side of the universities enormous leverage over you. Since they know how much you can reasonably be expected to cough up, they can then calculate the "affordable" price, custom-tailored to your income and life style.

In economic terms, it's called rent maximization. The universities know you want your kids to have a college education and that you chose the college because your child really wants to go there. They have you over a barrel: they know that there is a price level that you're willing to pay and adjust their student aid accordingly: they are extracting, effectively, the maximum amount of money that keeps you with that college and not abandoning it for somewhere else with lower prices.

This happened with my younger daughter. One university, where she really wanted to go, came in with a late offer after she had been accepted elsewhere. The offer was attractive: they dropped the tuition price by some 60% via a mixture of grants and her working: it came exactly at a price point where I could have said: doable. However, my daughter at that point realized that it would have left her severely in debt, and went with the program that gave her a 50% tuition scholarship and let her graduate with less than a third of the debt of the other school.

Universities are in the business of extracting as much of an income stream as is possible with the given income of parents and students. This is then either realized directly when the income stream is largely tuition and grants (there is no waiting time for the income stream) or turns to commercial entities, backed by a US government guarantee, for loans, whereby the cash stream for the loan is invariably packaged in a structured finance product that is sold to investors so that the university immediately gets a discounted cash flow, transferring the risk to third parties (who earn their returns for the risk).

Fundamentally it's a scam and has been for decades. The image of higher learning as an ultimate ticket to good jobs and success is exactly that: an image that is heavily sold and marketed. This goes especially for fields where the rewards are at best immaterial, such as a BFA or MFA. Going into debt for the indulgence of such degrees is sheer madness.

How to change this? Hah!

Seriously: FAFSA must be eliminated so that universities can't know how much of a cash flow you have that they can exploit. They need to learn to price their services competitively without knowing how to maximize their prices: right now, they know exactly your pain threshold. Secondly, make student loans removable in bankruptcy. Right now they are not: go bankrupt and you still owe on your student loans. In other words, the universities as businesses have no down sides to maximizing their profit.

If the universities don't know how much they can take out of your pockets and they have skin in the game (high risk of nonpayment of loans means either very high interest rates or fewer loans), the price of a college education will then change to reflect the risks of being paid back for that education. If enough find the education useless and default by going bankrupt, that university will lose its privileged income stream...and will have to adjust themselves to the reality of consumers having to make hard choices.

You should check out the law school statistics today... they're probably a lot closer now to the art school numbers than you might think!

There was a trade-training (ie. two year, or one year, technical types of study) evaluation made in 2012 in UK.

The results were, approximately and from memory, that in engineering subjects there were more than twice as many vacancies as newly qualified students, and in hairdressing/beauty-salon subjects there were five times as many newly qualified students as there were jobs . . .

The colleges ran the hairdressing (etcetera) courses knowing full well that they were 'over-producing', but they needed the money so they continued, while careers advisers were totally unable to explain the economic realities to (most of) the school-leavers looking for further-education courses in the colleges. And I have no idea what this all means.

Adult training courses in the evenings, or as distance learning, used to be the way to study the things you wanted, rather than the things one must, but now those options are disappearing gradually.

Next I'll be saying something like "I remember when all this was still fields" and waving my zimmer-frame around...

Eisenhower painted not only in his dotage but also most days while President and, before then, while the senior commanding general.

Eisenhower reputedly acquired his passion for creating art from Winston Churchill, who painted watercolors while British PM and Defence Minister throughout WWII. It's fair to say that neither was "retired".

Interesting you should mention a liberal arts degree in philosophy. I used to work with a guy who has a Ph.D. in philosophy. He earns a living as a software engineer. But in talking with him, it always strikes me that his life has been enriched by his studies, regardless of their uselessness in his money-making activities.

That's why I went to commercial art and photography schools; I wanted a career not just an education. My teachers were working professionals and I was working for an ad agency while I was a student. Most *fine* artists I met in the classroom back then produced good art, but they could not handle the time constraints.

After my career became lucrative, we had a baby and when the baby went to kindergarten, I went back to school for a university degree. I am now retired from commercial work and still young enough and financially secure enough to pursue fine art.

I had a wise mother that told me when I was very young if I wanted to grow up to be an artist, I would either have to wait on tables or become a sign painter of sorts. It was not hard for me to make that choice.

The lack of practical education is present at all academic levels. There are few if any high schools which require students to learn simple life basics such as how to budget expenses, how to get a job and keep it, use a credit card without going bankrupt, or balance a checkbook. Yet this is a set of skills needed by almost all, whether they go to college, tech school, or just try to get work after graduating. And I think that if the students did have these skills, they might question the lack of job related learning in the schools of 'higher' education.

"The idea is that there are professions out there in the world with remunerative positions waiting to be filled—i.e., jobs that need doing—and that that's why the school exists: for training purposes ...This is fraudulent on the part of the art schools, of course. Think of it as one of the world's biggest white lies."

They are far from alone. Religious education, seminaries and such, psychology, alternative health care modalities and others have similar problems. The schools prepare more people than are needed for the work available. And like art schools, they prepare them poorly, paying no attention to their actual aptitude and skills* and little or none to the practical sides of actual practice/employment.

I was amazed when a good acquaintance decided to study psychology, impressed, but disturbed, as she stuck with it right through to the state license to practice. I was unsurprised when she was unable to turn all that into any sort of income to support her. Another forty-something for now living again with her Midwest parents - with a mountain of student debt. She could survive with the work she was doing before, but likely can't do that and pay her debt.

The explosion of small, private 'Universities' over the last few decades is a vast con game, based on poorly designed and managed Federal student loan practices. It's far broader than what I've talked about above, including all sorts of academic and technical fields where poorly qualified professors baby sit poorly qualified students as they learn part of the skills and knowledge to succeed in jobs for which there are too many candidates for demand.

Student debt is a hidden drag contributing to our long term economic malaise.

"There is no art profession and there are no artist positions waiting to be filled."

I don't believe this to be true. If you change it to read "fine artist positions", perhaps so. I believe there is a continuing shortage of really talented artists for the huge demand for 2 and 3D and moving images for commerce. The problem is much the same as for fine arts, many, many who are competent and few who are exceptional, but there are a lot more jobs that will support a person.

"There isn't any need for a certifying process for artists, either. It's not a guild that can protect itself from interlopers or overcrowding by keeping membership exclusive."

"And then you have to factor in the sobering likelihood that some of those 5–7% would have succeeded as artists anyway, even if they didn't have a B.F.A. or an M.F.A., because they happen to be particularly good, or particularly driven."

One of my sons has drawn on what ever is at hand since he could smear finger paint and hold a pencil. He chose not to go to art school, mostly because he knew just what he wanted to create and wasn't interested in most of the curriculum. After a handful of lean years, he is so busy as a graphic artist that "I wake up, start drawing, draw all day, and fall asleep drawing." He has to turn down paying work.

His wife has her art degree. For now, she is the support "team" without which he couldn't be nearly as successful. She's still in the field, as you put it.

"particularly driven." is interesting, as it calls up an image of someone driven by the need to succeed, make money, etc. For artists there is another kind of drive (to which you refer below). My son's second major area of work started because he is driven - to draw. His drawings on napkins while waiting for lunch were seen by a right person. Luck, sure, but the drive to create let it happen. His creative talent and hard work have broadened it far beyond that first client.

"For individuals who have an artistic temperament, not practicing art in some way or other can be unhealthy."

A great truth. There are other, perfectly good, reasons, but the real reason I keep making images is that it feeds me to do so, whether or not anyone else sees and/or appreciates them. That I have a small fan club doesn't hurt, though. \;~)>


* This is not an exaggeration. I have a friend who teaches at a large, well known private 'University' of good reputation specializing in this sort of fields. You might find it hard to believe what pressures are put on teachers to keep students in the school, no matter what. A whole industry that produces little of value and ruins thousands of lives depends on government loans not to the industry, but to its customers.

Mike, as to statement number 4. It IS the responsibility of the institution to tell people about their abilities to earn a living in a creative field they've spent money to learn. With a few exceptions like the wealthy, the only people in this day and age that go to college and spend $20,000 a year to do so, are people that expect to make that money back in employment. They are all pretty shattered when they find out the pay is not up to paying the loans back. The number one thing I hear from college grads in my business? "I could have spent the same amount to get an education in an industry that had a decent payday, not this!" In fact, the entire marketing campaigns for colleges revolves around how this education will get you a better payday.

At 20K a year and up, the days of the middle class going to enhance their personal learning is gone. The cost is too high. There are creative communities in almost every city that can be a good source of personal interaction and a welcoming attitude, and why go to college to take art/photo courses where the teachers just have you read books you can get from the library?

85% of my staff are people under 30 years old, all owe college loans, some are from blue-collar factory backgrounds, some are from college educated parents; all of them went to college expecting the experience would get them a decent and upper-middle income paycheck, based solely on the fact that they went to college. No one would say they went to college for the "leaning experience". That's left over from the baby-boomer generation (and when my bill from UW-Milwaukee was $265.00 a semester).

Your line, "the proverbial liberal arts degree in philosophy", brought a smile to my face. I retired a couple of years ago and I like to think my Philosophy degree served me well during a long career in an non-related field.

I could write several long, opinionated essays about this topic. I was trained as a musician, but gave up trying to make a living at it and the music became much more enjoyable. I was a hobbyist photographer, but (while in music school) started shooting weddings to make money. I made money, but it almost ruined my hobby.

My wife is a painter with a BFA, MA and MFA, all in studio art. She, of course, made her living in graphic arts and advertising. Now both retired, she paints all the time, I photograph and produce exhibitions, and play music almost daily. The degrees we both have did not lead directly to job success, but they are hardly wasted.

And that brings me to my reaction to your essay. You seem to lament that many academic departments will lead to jobs, and are fairly up front about that; while art schools will likely not lead to jobs, but don’t discuss that as part of the curriculum.

Why should they? The point of university education at the baccalaureate level is not job training, it’s education. Well, except in America. This is where we have gone wrong, and it’s one reason why college is so expensive (due to minimal or no government support) and everybody has evolved to view college as trade school.

I ended up working and retiring from a very un-arts job in which most of the people I worked with had business admin degrees. They were sometimes very bright, and good at their jobs, but uneducated. They knew no more of culture, philosophy, history, or the arts then any kid in high school, because they had never studied any of that.

Of course people who graduate from law school or med school practice those professions. That’s graduate level education leading to professional certification. Undergraduate education does (or should do) no such thing. A classical undergraduate liberal arts education should teach a person to think, not to do a specific job for 40 years.

I do agree that a young person contemplating art school should have “the conversation” about their career with someone, but they should not be discouraged from pursuing art because it probably won’t make them rich.

In a museum: "This is not a public lecture. Please leave."

That is a great piece of "Art." I will ponder it for the rest of my life. Your description of it will suffice, and may actually be better than your actual experience of being there. It is hard to guess what my imagination will do with it over time. The depth of it, as human interaction, is tremendous.

My opinion of Art is unqualified. Art is the stuff of life. Anything that one human offers another- beyond the material- that enhances the capacity to appreciate humanity and being human,is Art.

The material residue that, fortunately, is left behind by some artists may command a high dollar in the public market; but ultimately, the Art associated with it is free to those who see, hear, read, or otherwise contemplate it. Art exists apart from market. To attempt to attach the market to it is to debauch it.

If I may: I referee high school football at the Umpire ( positioned with the defensive linebackers) position. One of my all-time favorite pieces of art is Nails' Tales at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, "Sconsin". It is sculpture of a great concrete phallus, consisting entirely of footballs. Every time I visit Madison I make it a point to visit Nails' Tales. I wind up having a good laugh every time. If I had to pay admission, I would. But I don't. It's free.

The thought of you and that lecturer.....There should be a sculpture commemorating the event.

Godspeed to you Mike. I am glad you have persevered.


Art and Fear is a good read on this topic.

Great piece. Agree with it completely. On my Ipad I enlarged the sentence 'I don't think there are many better ways to add richness and a sense of voyage to one's life than by being an artist. Even a part-time artist.' and made a screenshot of it. Then I read the next sentence…
One other way one can lose oneself, is when there are bills piling up and the necessary money can be made by accepting assignments that require one's artistic talent, but in the wrong way. Hard choices.

Rather than training artists—though they do kind of do that—don't art schools principally serve as one of our society's major ways of supporting artists? Ray Metzker was a professor; so is/was the recently featured Nicholas Nixon, among thousands of others. There was just what seems like a good ruling for artists at the US Tax Court (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/07/arts/design/tax-court-ruling-is-seen-as-a-victory-for-artists.html), revolving around an artist who made her licing as a professor... as many/most do.

So it seems that through the charade of which you speak, those wealthy enough to afford art school subsidize the living of the artists that our society considers to be valuable/great/worthy.

Perhaps not the best way, but it's something...

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