Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Punking Disco, Discoing Punk and... um, Art Education: Q&A with John Kissick in today's National Post

In the Canadian art scene, Ontario's John Kissick is known for both splashy, super-intense paintings and a quite sharp critical writing practice. (His screeds on art education--informed in part by his position as director of the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph--are a particular favourite.) Recently, I got to talk with him about both in relation to a 10-year retrospective that's currently up at KWAG. Here's an excerpt from the condensed Q&A out in today's Post.

Q How is music also an influence?

A I was looking outside of art for something that might be used as a metaphor for my paintings, and I started reading a lot about popular music. I particularly liked the discourse around disco and punk in the 1970s. The argument about disco at the time was that it was plastic and ersatz; it was maligned by critics as the opposite of what music was supposed to be. But interestingly, disco was the only really political music that came out of that time because it was a backdrop for the urban gay and black experience in the 1970s. The critics loved punk because of its supposed originality, but the truth is punk was the most easily co-opted of all musics--it was so deskilled and could be packaged anywhere. What I really loved about this history was the inversion of expectation between genres. Reading about that was my eureka moment where I said, "So that's why my paintings are like that. I've been trying to punk my disco and disco my punk."

Q You're an artist, but you're also head of a university art department. How does academic learning get in the way of actual artmaking?

A Do you mean how does my job get in the way of my painting? I think that at the end of the day, these paintings are really about how f---ed up I can be sometimes. I'm constantly in this ongoing critique mode where I can make something and simultaneously deconstruct it. In academia, you're forced to deal with a variety of views that may not be anything close to your own. It's challenging, but it also results in some very smart artists.

Q You've critiqued art education in Canada. What would you like to see?

A I've got a few bones to pick. But one thing that would be really refreshing is truth in advertising. I mean, let's be honest with ourselves and our students about what we're doing. One of the easiest things to pick on is portfolio reviews. The correlation between portfolio quality and art school success is virtually nil -- drawing a bunch of grapes is relevant to what maybe 5% of contemporary artists do today. The only correlation that does exist between high school marks and art school marks is English grades; also, portfolio emphasis favours upper-middle-class and private-school kids. If you take a university administrator aside and ask why they're still using portfolios as entrance criteria, they say it's because the students expect it! So it becomes a self-perpetuating system, one that's not necessarily about getting and developing the best artists.

FYI Kissick is giving an artist talk at KWAG on August 19. If you can't make it, or you want a preview, check out these YouTube videos posted by the gallery (you just have to scroll down a bit). They're part of a longer DVD being released apart from the catalogue--something I've not often seen around these parts before. In future, the show will also travel to Kelowna, Grande Prairie and possibly other places.

(Image of John Kissick's Groovefucker 2 from KWAG, © the artist)


sally said...

Max Anderson is a former director/curator of AGO, famous for pushing block buster shows and pumping up attendance. I guess maybe he's working on a new theory now.

sally said...

oops. wrong thread. Sorry!

Leah Sandals said...

No worries!