A School Based on What Artists Wanted to Do: Early Years at CalArts
Last updated: October 27, 2021
CalArts was created as a legal entity in 1961 and slowly came into being during the following decade. It began offering classes in 1970 and moved into its brand new building, designed with much hoopla to house all the arts under one roof, in the Fall of 1971. CalArts was unable to celebrate this Fiftieth Anniversary during the pandemic lockdown, but we have been thinking about the remarkable history of the school’s founding, and the range of experimental approaches to teaching art that were tried out during the Institute’s first years. The beginning of the Art School was marked by a remarkably productive conflict between a nascent Conceptualism shepherded by John Baldessari and Michael Asher, a feminist rebuttal lead by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, moderated to a degree by the anything-goes Fluxus hi-jinks of Allan Kaprow and Nam June Paik. Despite the complex struggles between these three groups, there was a shared desire to challenge the status quo, reconsider the parameters of art, and how it could be taught, if at all. All of which supported the pre-eminence of ideas, and a sense of experimentation that accepted failure as a part of the process.
A CalArts Story by Thomas Lawson
To outsiders the place looked like a hippie colony, a place full of longhairs and dogs, children running free, and hand-held video cameras recording it all. Inside, it was a place of possibility. Although there were recognizable classes, the motivating idea was to create more informal spaces where artist teachers and their students discussed ideas and developed projects, most outside the traditional frameworks of art-making, projects that aimed to question the very institutional construction of art itself.
A School Based on What Artists Wanted to Do: Early Years at CalArts Archive