Sunday, December 9, 2012

Visual Assessments


It's a busy season in academia. Classes ended this week just past, and end-of-term reviews begin Monday and run through Wednesday. It's an exhausting ritual, but rewarding, too, as my colleagues and I get a snapshot of how things are going in the program.

A digression concerning snapshots: for a while some years back it seemed I chaired or served on a hiring committee annually. However quaint it seems, in the late 1990s the quickest view of a candidate's work was a rapid scan of a sheet of 20 slides, gathered in a sleeve. "Scan" in the human sense, not a technological one. It probably sounds callous, but in those years I learned to read a slide sheet in about five seconds. Within that interval I could identify the MFA subcategory–e.g., college-town painter of rail yards, domestic tabletops and pensive half-naked brunettes; maker of symbolic house forms, sometimes on stilts, often attended by spirals, seemingly always characterized by high-keyed color and energetic "mark-making"; accretion specialist given to assembling large sets of weird though unremarkable bits of modified junk, typically mounted on a wall or otherwise installed–and gain a sense of whether the candidate (inevitably a member of some MFA creative subcategory) brought something distinctive to the given genre. (Yes, that was all one sentence. 89 words. So sue me.) Totally doable in five seconds if you have looked at hundreds of such slide sheets. Special folks jump off the page. They also write good cover letters. I always regarded the cover letter as a key indicator, and I still do.

Image: Robert Fawcett, cover illustration, Famous Artists Magazine, 1959. There's an essay waiting to be written comparing the Famous Artists School to university art departments of the same period. A meditation on social class, modernism, resentment, and mock-Jungian claptrap. Another day!   

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