Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Fine Arts Center History P.S.

In the July 29 Gazette, I had a story on the history of the Fine Arts Center. In it I mentioned several reasons for the decline of the center's art school following WW II — including budget issues, the decrease of interest in regionalism, and the rise of abstract expressionism.

My mother has informed me of another major cause: a societal change that she thinks was the most important factor in the school's decline.

"After the war, artists didn't go to art schools any more," she said. "They started going to college and getting MFAs."

This makes a lot of sense The G.I. Bill put college within reach of millions of people for whom it had previously been impossible. Universities also exploded in size, meaning thousands of artists who would previously have taught in art schools went into academia instead. This was the case with my father, Bernard Arnest. He was probably expecting to teach at some Fine-Arts-Center-like institution, but instead ended up at the University of Minnesota.

The affect on art was dramatic. On the plus side, post-war artists received a broader education, which is reflected in the greater emphasis on artistic concept in contemporary art. On the minus side, technique suffered. When my father studied at the Fine Arts Center, the regimen included two three hours of life drawing every day, plus twice-a-week two-hour evening sessions. He joked that, "if an artist sees a man jump out of a second story window he should be able to draw him before he hits the ground." That level of skill all but disappeared in the 1960s and '70s.

My father returned to Colorado Springs in 1957 with a two-fold job - teaching art at Colorado College, and heading the Fine Arts Center art school, where he had his studio for many years. (His was probably the last generation for whom it was reasonably possible to get a good college teaching job without a college degree.) I asked my mother when the art school finally ceased to be a training ground for professionals, and she didn't remember: "It just sort of petered out," she said.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that dreams of resurrecting the Fine Arts Center as a major professional art school will probably never leave the dream stage. I don't see it happening without a major shift in the way art careers are built, or a major partnership with Colorado College.

Oh, and moral number two: Always talk to your mother when you're reporting for a big story!


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