Art School’s Box

For the first 17 to 18 years of our lives, we are brainwashed into understanding societal/cultural standards and expectations. Our parents understand the system, and so they’re able to pass down that understanding to us. Our education system is also built on the same understanding, and so we’re constantly being taught the norm and what’s expected of us. Needless to say, we have developed a deep understanding of how to fit in and what pursuits will grant us success.

Although art and creativity exist in schools, they receive less attention than other subjects and certainly aren’t cultivated. Despite this lack of care surrounding the arts, the phrase, “thinking outside the box,” has coined itself as the mission statement for anything involving creativity. Anytime an ounce of creativity is destined to be involved, teachers find cleverness in dishing out the advice of “think outside the box,” as if that provides any actual guidance.

So anyone looking to pursue a career in a creative field has become familiar with the “think outside the box” methodology. However, is thinking outside of the box really outside of the box? Or is it more of, just a bit further away from everyone else, in the corners that no one really goes to? We love to throw around that phrase, but it’s so ambiguous, but perhaps we throw it around because we perceive art to have a sense of ambiguity.

Nonetheless, those who dare to pursue higher education at an art and design school are going into it with the inherent mindset of this choice is already outside of the box. We have been told that being creative requires out of the box thinking, but I’ve come to experience it differently. Going to an art school alone differs from the norm, but as creativity begins to take on a role of higher importance in our culture, art school’s appear surprisingly similar to liberal art schools: safe.

It’s becoming evident that it’s alright to walk to the edges of the room (where the art is), but the only problem is that art then becomes a commodity. When art becomes a commodity, it no longer produces innovation. Therefore, the challenging nature of creative innovation will not be sustainable in the current system of art schools. At the risk of sounding like a hippy art student, I’d say that it is becoming too commercial.

Where Art School Should Be

By default, we think within society’s box, and so it doesn’t become necessary for our art school box to largely share the same area as society’s. This is how we create commercial, safe, and comfortable art—kitsch. Since we, by default, resort to society’s box of normality, it isn’t necessary for the two to even be connected because we will naturally draw connections from one to the other. Art is risky and we should be teaching students to be daring enough to make leaps that challenge society’s perceived wants and needs, for this is the basis of long-term innovation.

Boxes and constraints can breed creativity, however, I fear that art schools are becoming more and more generalized as the importance of art and design become more and more apparent. While it’s importance may be recognized, the short sighted and deliberate monetization of such careers is blind to what makes them successful in the first place.

Art schools should be specialized in experimentation. Our brainwashed minds know what’s normal, good, and acceptable. We all understand the basics of being popular, but great things don’t start off by being popular. They don’t conform to society’s get-good-guide. The issue is in that greatness and innovation aren’t well accepted—they’re shot down and we’re told to get back in line. Creativity is challenging, and in the beginning, it doesn’t fit with what we’re told is right and so art schools need to focus on, embrace, and specialize in experimentation and risk.