03/06/2013 07:02 pm ET Updated May 06, 2013

Professional Practice Scans

We who educate aspiring artists, whether we're public or private, liberal arts or research university, or a professional school tend not to give sufficient attention to what ensures proficiency, what prepares our graduates to act upon an indifferent world. We tend to give little attention to preparing entrepreneurs who have a sense of business and an understanding of how to make the world work for them in spite; We are inclined to give minimal, if any, attention to basic skills (writing, presenting, managing, arguing, collaborating, etc.) necessary for transforming an excellent education in art into a successful life-long life in that art. Yes, we do an excellent job of giving students the skills, knowledge, and understandings that relate to art making but that's it! Put more self-accusingly, we have generally opened the door at commencement, bid the graduates goodbye, closed the door, locked it, dusted off our hands and said with a sigh, "We've done our part; Now it's up to you." I am here to say we can do better; we must!

Before I came to Memphis College of Art (I assumed the presidency in May, 2011) the faculty had already decided that they could do a much better job of educating their students by intentionally focusing on the professional practice of artists (be they designers, painters, sculptors, printmakers, illustrators, photographers, etc.), restructuring the curriculum in order to assure that our graduating students would be more successful. I applaud this effort and intent but I believe we can do better. A next and critically important step is for us to scan the profession of each "sub-discipline in the visual arts, ascertaining the primary and defining attributes held in common to those artists or designers who are actively and successfully practicing.scanning all of the major artistic avenues available to both. Understanding the behaviors, skills, and proficiencies that characterize a variety of professions within the visual arts will serve to inform our curriculum, allowing us to infuse at every level, activities and experiences that will ensure post-graduation success. My dream is that we will say to graduates, "go forth and act upon the world, make it work for you, and retain your ability to cause your dream to transform itself into your reality."

Considering myself an idealistic realist, I would say that we can truly fulfill dreams and shape the future for each of our aspiring students; for me, it is abundantly clear that better understanding the professions to which our students aspire and gravitate will provide a new model for shaping the future of visual arts education (and perhaps serve as a message to those who shape the curriculum in all the arts).