The idea of a graduate art program likely conjures up images of young artists in lofty studios, learning advanced techniques and honing the physical practice of their creativity. In truth, however, today's MFA culture is centered almost entirely around discussing art rather than actually making it.
In Talking Art, ethnographer Gary Alan Fine gives us an eye-opening look at the culture and practices of the contemporary university-based master's level art program. Central to this culture is the act of the critique, an often harrowing process-depicted here in dramatic and illuminating detail-where artists in training must defend their work before classmates and instructors. Through analysis of the practice of the critique and other aspects of the curriculum, Fine reveals how art schools have changed the very conception of the artist: no longer a misunderstood loner toiling away in a garret, now an artist is closer to being an articulate tour guide through the maze of contemporary art rhetoric. More importantly, he tells us, MFA programs have shifted the goal of creating art away from beauty and toward theory.
Contemporary visual art, Fine argues, is no longer a calling or a passion-it's a discipline, with an academic culture that requires its practitioners to be verbally skilled in the presentation of their intentions. Talking Art offers a remarkable and disconcerting view into the crucial role that universities play in creating that culture.