Nearly every artist under the age of fifty in the United States today has a Master of Fine Arts degree. Howard Singerman's thoughtful study is the first to place that degree in its proper historical framework and ideological context. Arguing that where artists are trained makes a difference in the forms and meanings they produce, he shows how the university, with its disciplined organization of knowledge and demand for language, played a critical role in the production of modernism in the visual arts. Now it is shaping what we call postmodernism: like postmodernist art, the graduate university stresses theory and research over manual skills and traditional techniques of representation.
Singerman, who holds an M.F.A. in sculpture as well as a Ph.D. in Visual and Cultural Studies, is interested in the question of the artist as a "professional" and what that word means for and about the fashioning of artists. He begins by examining the first campus-based art schools in the 1870s and goes on to consider the structuring role of women art educators and women students; the shift from the "fine arts" to the "visual arts"; the fundamental grammar of art laid down in the schoolroom; and the development of professional art training in the American university. Singerman's book reveals the ways we have conceived of art in the past hundred years and have institutionalized that conception as atelier activity, as craft, and finally as theory and performance.
Howard Singerman is Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory at the University of Virginia.
"Few sites within the university open a richer critical reflection than that of the M.F.A., with its complex crossing of professionalism, theory, humanistic knowledge, and the absolute exposure of practice. Howard Singerman's Art Subjects does a magnificent job of both laying out our current crises, letting us see the shards of past practices embedded in them, and of demonstrating—rendering urgent and discussable—what it now means either to assume or award the name of the artist."—Stephen Melville, author of Seams, editor of Vision and Textuality
"Art Subjects is a must read for anyone interested in both the education and status of the visual artist in America. With careful attention to detail and nuance, Singerman presents a compelling picture of the peculiarly institutional myth of the creative artist as an untaught and unteachable being singularly well adapted to earn a tenure position at a major research university. A fascinating study, thoroughly researched yet oddly, and movingly, personal."—Thomas Lawson, Dean, Art School, CalArts