Professor Walter Gaudnek: He recommended an anatomically correct, if not politically correct, addition
“You should just paint a vagina on it, it would be much better,” Walter Gaudnek, the professor, is accused of telling an undergraduate last semester. “You can’t paint the Virgin Mary like this, she would be fucking pissed,” he added, according to a letter of instruction placed in his personnel file and provided to Inside Higher Ed via an open-records request. News of the letter was originally reported by The Orlando Sentinel.
So I don’t know how this guy beat the normal witch hunt that gets whipped up every time someone offends a special snowflake student with a questionable comment. Professor Gaudneck is getting off light, with a slap on the wrist it seems. Perhaps it has something to do with the bigotry of low expectations for university arts programs. In the article another art professor comments as far as standards go, “art is ‘a low-coherency field in which experts routinely disagree about even foundational principles…’”
With colleagues like that, who needs enemies? Low coherency indeed.
Perhaps there is some anti-Christian bias working in his favor here. Without seeing the student work in question, it’s hard to know the context of his criticism. If the thrust of the painting was a sincere religious effort, then of course the Academy would support deriding it. Who cares if the backwards Jesus people get offended? They are an approved target in the crypto-Marxist hellholes our colleges have become.
Gaudeck seems a pretty unremarkable establishment Post Modern artist, appropriating images from Classical artworks and redoing them as crude coloring book illustrations. He also seems to have an affinity for painting Hitler.
Walter Gaudnek: Again with the Hitler
Reading about this strange little controversy reminded me of my college art school experiences, and also filled me with dread. Back in the 1990s I experienced the decaying practices of upper level art education. I can only imagine what the bullying identity politics and virtue signalling of Progressives have turned university art programs into for today’s wishy washy Millennials. From what I have encountered, sophistry has completely devoured the credentialed art world, and inside that bubble, specious double talk stands in for artistic accomplishment.
I saw the evidence this was coming during my student days. In retrospect I can see the pattern. The older professors, trained under the more rigorous standards of an earlier era, tended to talk less, hanging back while we students engaged with our work, and only stepping in with technical pointers and observations as needed. It was some of the younger teachers, the adjuncts and the graduate students, who just wouldn’t shut up.
Instead of focusing on studio experience, the favored practice of this newer generation of instructors was to assign projects as homework, to be brought into the classroom for the grim slog of the never ending critique.
So many of my classes ended up falling into this dynamic. Imagine a group of more-or-less introverted teens and twentysomethings. These are visually oriented as opposed to verbally oriented people: aspiring artists. Because of their youth and lack of training, they are profoundly ignorant of solid intellectual concepts and analytical processes. This is not an insult, merely an acknowledgement of their level of maturity and education. They’ve come to a university to try to improve these deficiencies.
But ultimately it’s a bunch of inexperienced students, who are very engaged and passionate about making things-which happens to be very different than talking fluently about making things. And yet the expectation and the emphasis being placed by the teachers was on words, words, and more words.
These types of classes were very repetitive. Projects were usually not too structured, we were just expected have work to present in class. We’d bring in our pieces, pin them to the wall or set them up on easels, and sit in a ragged semi-circle to contemplate them. Then the speechifying would begin.
The critique model was very different than the group critiques I had taken part in during my beginning art classes. Back then the emphasis had been clear cut discussions of craftsmanship in regards to specific assignments. But now, what little guidance we received from the instructors of the upper level classes aimed our dialogs into the more rarefied atmosphere of Concepts.
Now this might have been productive if we had actually been led in discussions that allowed us to gain understanding of the meanings, methods, and purposes of art. However, the instructors were not much assistance in making this critique method practical. They were usually right there with us novices as far as the quality of their commentary went. Their blather was only distinguished by a larger vocabulary of buzzwords, a greater working knowledge of art history, and an air of dubious authority.
We knew we were supposed to be engaged in a discussion of the successes or failings of the work presented. But what it came down to was a bunch of mostly inarticulate kids trying desperately to sound smart and insightful about art, a subject which is historically infamous for being difficult to put into words. We sure didn’t know how to go about this, so we’d just throw out whatever and hoped it would connect.
It was usually an awkward and halting free for all. The mood was brittle. We’d take turns; everyone got their moment under the microscope. The discussion would go around the room. We were given the chance to make a brief statement about our own work, and then the rest of the class would comment.
We’d try a little of everything in response to the works we were looking at: offer irrelevant suggestions, go off on tangents, tell meandering anecdotes, make inappropriate confessions, hurl accusations, violate the rules of logic and decency in trying to make some obscure point, complain, change the subject, grand stand. At last the teacher would swoop in with some kind of cynical and pontificating final judgment, and we’d move on to the next victim.
This went on week after week, class after class.
Virginia Commonwealth University prided itself on being a school for so-called advanced art. Abstract, non-objective, and conceptual pieces were in. It became obvious it mostly didn’t matter what caliber of art work you showed up with; as long as you adopted the highfalutin jargon of the academic world to discuss it, it was taken seriously.
Just how to make all this this ill-informed opinionating into something usable was beyond me.
In the blind alleys we were directed into, the criteria being used to evaluate the works seemed on the surface completely arbitrary. But in fact, the more feeble the efforts were, the more opportunities it gave to launch into peripheral diatribes regarding half-baked sociology, aggravated psychology, convoluted technobabble and the like. This was the kind of talk that got these teachers really excited, subtly reinforcing that this was where our attention ought to be focused.
Rewarding certain behaviors encourages more of those types of behaviors. And so most students were dutifully herded into producing slapdash experimental works, and talking about activism, therapy and pedantic minutia, rather than trying to understand if an artwork functioned effectively on its own terms, as art. It was easier to adopt the lofty lecturing tone of the instructors, to curry favor by asserting the approved beliefs and attitudes.
Encouraging attitudes of grievance and victimization, or highlighting incidental matters of process or technique, does not lead to powerful art. But it does lead to the generation of thought police, dependent personality disorder types, and detached technocrats-all useful cogs for the Leftist machine. The indoctrination continues.
I participated in the tedious discussions, but I was always felt we were missing the point. We were not taught about how genuine art is made, or why. We were trained to substitute opaque discourse and tribal signaling for skillful achievement.
These endless deconstructive debates might not have done our art much good, but it was sure setting us up to take part in the approved modes of the establishment art world. They think if they pile enough words together, they can justify anything. However, they are profoundly wrong. Real art is self evident, and does not need to be propped up with a bunch of meaningless art speak.
We don’t need more dull, boring, brainless destruction of convention, what we need is not new, but perennial. We need an art that integrates body and soul and recognizes enduring and underlying principles which have sustained wisdom and insight throughout humanity’s history. This is the proper function of tradition.
Click here for THE DEATH OF UNIVERSITY ARTS PROGRAMS PART 1: ERIC FISCHL