Saturday, November 14, 2015

ps151114  Values and Valuation: An ambiguous pairing in art  

Moving toward the Northwest Print Center and forming the corporation to build it, the author examines the two meanings of value as they apply to his plan to use his family art collection as seed capital. Putting education before art has importance to him.

Illustration: Sandbox stage of building the Northwest Print Center and Incubators

College experience

The most profound experience I had as an undergraduate in college in 1962 was the Symposium in American Values. As a farm kid I never thought about the meaning of the word, values. We were not well off, financially, as my mom and dad eked out a year-to-year, season-to-season existence between the bank, the Native Americans, weather, and diseases that could wipe out livestock.
When the colloquium was announced, I had several questions: What’s a colloquium? What are values? What distinguishes American Values from, say, Mexico’s migrants’ values? Value, in my mind, went no further than the income from a ton of potatoes or corn, or the price-per-pound of beef on the hoof. Monetary value was everything. Moral values were vague, fuzzy notions having more to do with the heart than the mind.
For several days while the colloquium took place back in that time, I was immersed in the questions and answers from our invited speakers. Those days had a profound effect on me; half a century later, I still consider that experience as I proceed toward the building of the Northwest Print Center and Incubators. I have to decide how to turn straw into gold, you might say, to get the money to start it happening. I have to turn art valuation into something other than what it has become in common terms—make the value of my art more than meets the eye.

Values and education

Fifty years ago, Vietnam was not a front page item. The cold war, the rise of Castro in Cuba, assassinations of the Kennedys—these were emerging events. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, TV, and folk music were uppermost on the minds of many college-age people. All the while, in my ‘twenties, the specter of being drafted into the army was omnipresent. When, in 1964, it was time for me to move on from undergraduate school, what I wanted most was to be an art teacher, get married, and get a Master’s degree and, hopefully, teach college art. I did all three—I got married to Lynda, got a Master of Arts degree, and got a job teaching printmaking at the University of Washington in our home state. Life was good.
Looking back, I wonder if the exposure to the Colloquium on American Values had a subtle effect on my choices. What made me put being a teacher above being an artist? Or, did my attitude come from earlier experience—farming, and my parents’ influence? They were exemplary people. They never got rich, but they had a rich life in the sense of living pretty well and living long—though, sadly at the end, not in the best of health.
Something made me say I wanted to be a great teacher when the art department chairman at San Jose State University (where I got my MA) asked me, “Well, are you going out to become a great artist now?” He was set back, I remember, and seemed a little let down. Maybe his years of teaching art history, and being chairman of the art department, had jaded him.

Institutionalized artists

Many teachers in our educational institutions will agree that it is difficult to achieve your teaching goals in American educational institutions. It is confusing, for example, to teachers with education in their hearts and minds to be asked to spend time on non-educational efforts. Sitting in committees, for example, or calling roll, giving tests, filling out forms, reading the latest orders and changes to the rules and regulations of the institution. Then there are is the competition for wages, promotions, and the question of what to do if teaching doesn’t pan out.
Art teachers seldom have a high place in American educational institutions, but we seem not to mind because we not only love teaching, we also love art in all its varying manifestations—performance art, crafts, design, fine art, art history, experiments in art and technology—it’s possible to see why art teachers get by on the meager budgets allocated to their domain of expertise.
The difference might lie in the different meanings of value when applied to art and non-art. Training to design cars, for example (a course which I came very close to taking) is different than learning to make art using creative, inventive, and imaginative, discovery research. Car design comes from without, from corporations and stockholders who have one thing in mind: valuation by money, or some equivalent of economic and political power.
Today, the influence of incorporated economic and political power on American educational institutions is profound—to the point of eliminating concern for American values. This is not good, because the founders of our experiment in government made it clear that the experiment depends on education. Without an educated voting population, we will fail as a nation, and knowing values and valuation in art is, to me, key to our survival—of any nation’s survival and, ultimately, Earth’s human life sustainability.