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Art Schooled

A Year among Prodigies, Rebels, and Visionaries at a World-Class Art College

Larry Witham

Publication Year: 2012

What does it mean to be an artist at a time when the art world is becoming increasingly fragmented and disconnected--when the most highly valued art objects are seemingly the most abstruse, visually vexing, and conceptually difficult, or may not be physical objects at all? How does the art of today connect with the art of the past? These questions and more inform and enliven the pages of Art Schooled.

In this fascinating chronicle Larry Witham takes readers inside the history, culture, economics, teaching, technique, and competition of one of the oldest and most prestigious art colleges in the country, the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. With rare, privileged access to the personal and professional lives of students, faculty, administrators, and visiting artists, he shows us how young artists develop their talent and vision, learn the ins and outs of the art world, and come to proudly define themselves as artists, even as theory and technology conspire to declare that art as we once knew it is utterly changed.

Published by: University Press of New England

Title Page

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Introduction: Portfolio Day

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pp. 1-10

On a chilly December afternoon, an annual ritual shared by American art schools begins at the Maryland Institute College of Art, better known as MICA. It is Portfolio Day. Students arrive with artwork—drawings, paintings, and photographs—to impress faculty at an art school where they seek admission. On this Sunday in Baltimore, ...

Part I. Foundations

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1. "Very Gifted People"

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pp. 13-30

To begin a school year, MICA holds Orientation Week, welcoming two groups that will be new to campus: graduate students and freshmen. They arrive in that order for good reason. The graduates are mature and focused, and only ninety in number, so they can get settled before the freshman tide rolls in. On a Monday afternoon in late ...

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2. Visiting Artist

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pp. 31-48

In his red T-shirt and paint-spotted blue jeans, Sean Donovan sets out across the great trestle bridge. The summer sun beats down. The bridge, its steel girders painted several colors, is an elevated highway as well. It is the connector between the main campus and the Studio Center, the former factory building across the railroad ...

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3. Tattoos and the Foundation Year

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pp. 49-62

When autumn arrives, making its debut in late September, students have fallen into the art-school groove: long classes by day, up half the night, crashing-out on the weekend, but back to life on Sunday night to binge on homework. Nora Truskey and Amelia Beiderwell begin their weekly classes on Tuesday, and Tuesday means the studio ...

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4. Seeing Red

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pp. 63-73

Every Elements teacher teaches color. As a consequence, they all take their class on a pilgrimage, a walk across campus, to the art-school library, downstairs to the very back. On this fall afternoon, the painter Michelle La Perri

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5. Lines and Marks

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pp. 74-90

Upstairs at Room 215 of the Fox Building, Cameron Bailey cracks open the heavy door. He wanders into the dim classroom, flipping the switch. The florescent lights above flicker on unevenly. Cameron has arrived at the Fox, a brick edifice, earlier than anybody in his Drawing II class, which begins at 8:30 every Wednesday morning. It may...

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6. Dead Authors Can't Define Art

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pp. 91-108

The giant blackboard in Critical Inquiry class is rarely used, but it’s there when Amy Eisner needs it. Eisner is a poet and English professor. She turns to the blackboard to start her twenty students on an adventure in “critical thinking,” what she will also call “the young artist as an intellectual.” With a smooth and deft hand, Eisner ...

Part II. Art Worlds

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7. Urban Legends

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pp. 111-125

Mandering west through Bolton Hill, an art student will reach Eutaw Place, a famous old street in Baltimore. In Victorian times, it was a promenade of wealthy homes and bronze fountains. It’s now a transition into poor neighborhoods. For MICA students who get this far, and turn right, a spectacular old building comes into ...

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8. Exhibitmania

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pp. 126-139

In a few more days, the clocks will be turned back, and nightfall will envelop the campus soon after students reach their 4:00 p.m. classes. They’ll emerge to see a full moon over the Brown Center, which glows from within at night, revealing its steel skeleton and glass skin. Halloween is around the corner. ...

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9. Digital Tsunami

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pp. 140-155

On the second floor of the Brown Center, back in the corner, a row of Mac computer screens flicker. They sit on white pedestals like works of art, which in fact they are, a small exhibit titled “SSI4: Sight Sound Interaction 4.” Outside, the November winds and rain pelt the barren trees. Each day students bustle past the flickering ...

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10. Art Market Monster

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pp. 156-169

Down at the Station Building, where the great clock tower is keeping time, the thoughts of a group of graduate-level sculpture students are far from Shakespeare. Their minds are on Miami. During this first week of December, Miami is the scene of the largest art fair in North America, Art Basel Miami Beach, which also draws fourteen ...

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11. The End of Sculpture (As We Know It)

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pp. 170-186

On the first Wednesday morning of the second semester, January 20, the frost is melting away, letting the sun in through the skylights of the campus sculpture studio. Inside, the white walls grow brighter. The room also fills with the faint sound of two students smacking clay on armatures. They are ready to sculpt the head of a model, ...

Part III. Art and Soul

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12. Snowmageddon

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pp. 189-205

A winter storm can be its own kind of art, and if dramatic enough, a Michelangelo of the Weather Channel. Such a masterpiece arrived in Baltimore in early February. For the art school, the storm was a source of awe, but also tribulation, two emotions not too alien to the lives of art students. However, after what seemed like two weeks of ...

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13. Paint-Spattered Wretch

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pp. 206-222

In February, the oil paint dries slowly, thanks to the cold, moist weather. The mood of winter has also slowed down some of the painters, who are now back in their campus studios, stoking the fires of their creativity. At the Studio Center, Sam Green of Rhode Island, a senior painter, tapes a brush to his gloves to keep going on a particularly ...

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14. Climbing the Glass Cube

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pp. 223-240

Late on a Thursday afternoon, March 11, Meghann Harris enters the glass Brown Center, making her way up two flights to her Typography II course, already with a few favorite styles in mind. She is climbing the glass cube. Outside, Chris McCampbell parks his car. He’ll be on the campus late tonight, so best not to ride a bicycle home, ...

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15. Being In Film

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pp. 241-250

Others who climb the glass cube simply bypass graphic design, heading to the top floor, the dizzying realm of Video and Film Arts. For a month now, the vibrations of Hollywood success have resonated in the department. A few weeks earlier, Music by Prudence won the Oscar for short documentary. Three filmmakers at mica worked ...

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16. Education of an Artist

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pp. 251-276

The change on campus is imperceptible. From mid-April onward, at least for a week, something is different around MICA. Calvin Blue, who is touching up white gallery walls for the Department of Exhibitions, picks up some clues. He notices that groups of adults are being escorted through the buildings. In the Art Education Department, ...

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17. Art Walk

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pp. 277-290

On the balmy Wednesday afternoon of May 5, two days before the end of the school year, Jen Mussari bursts from the glass doors of the Fox Building. She is heading for the printmaking building, about three blocks down the hill. Jen is carrying three large portfolios, filled with a semester’s worth of silkscreen posters, a final body of work as ...

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Author's Note

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pp. 293-294

This project would not have been possible without the generous welcome of the MICA administration, faculty, and students. My particular thanks to President Fred Lazarus, Provost Ray Allen, and Undergraduate Dean Jan Stinchcomb for approving my request to participate in the eight months of a school year, and for the chairs and directors of various departments for ...


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pp. 295-322


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pp. 323-330

E-ISBN-13: 9781611681888
E-ISBN-10: 161168188X

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012