Stopping into the studio of Sandeep Mukherjee, an Indian student with an elegantly shaved head, I found him at work on an interesting drawing based on photographs. '' I don't want my name in your article,'' he said, explaining that he recently had a one-man show at the Steffany Martz Gallery, in Manhattan, and ''it would hurt my reputation if people knew I was a student.'' Someone else pointed out that you can't damage your reputation if you don't have one.
Conceptualism and minimalism raised brainy questions about art and visual perception, while students today favor art about nonart issues.
Blame Derrida and his fellow French theorists, whose invasion of academia fostered a fashion for deconstructing language in the 70's, patriarchy in the 80's and gender in the 90's.
One can trace the situation to Marcel Duchamp, the modern-art maverick who penciled a mustache on the '' Mona Lisa'' and invented the tradition of art-as-idea.
But it makes more sense to trace the rise of American art academies to, of all things, an act of Congress: the passage of the G. Bill in 1944, which sent a wave of World War II veterans off to school, art school included. American artists who might once have studied at quaintly bohemian, craft-intensive schools like the Art Students League (as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko did) or Black Mountain College (as Robert Rauschenberg did) or the Hans Hofmann School of Art in Greenwich Village began enrolling at universities instead.
One afternoon, eager to see what the hype was about, I drove out to Art Center College of Design.
Set in the hills of Pasadena, with a view of the Rose Bowl, it occupies a sleek, black-glass building that looks like an industrial laboratory. program in art, one that has nothing to do with cars.
By the 60's, Yale had emerged as the leading American art academy; its alums included Chuck Close, Brice Marden, Richard Serra, Jennifer Bartlett and Robert Mangold, making it seem as if every hip artist in New York was obligated to have an Ivy League degree.
By the early 70's, craftsmanship had become passe and, as the critic Arthur Danto has observed, '' Art had turned into philosophy.'' Yet not all philosophies are the same.
Back in the 1970's, Burden was a legendary wild man, a conceptual artist who bled for his work -- he spent five days jammed into a small metal locker, rolled on broken glass and crucified himself on the roof of a Volkswagen, with nails driven through his palms. Now he's 53, a tenured professor of art, with an annual salary of 2,000 and a package of benefits provided by the state of California. The proverbial romantic artist, struggling alone in a studio and trying to make sense of lived experience, has given way to an alternate model: the university artist, who treats art as a homework assignment. In fact many critics feel that art schools are directly responsible for a decline in the quality of art.
'' People think collectors support artists,'' he tells me. This spring, some 2,000 aspiring Rembrandts received Master of Fine Arts degrees, an estimate based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, in Washington. degrees, nor students of creative writing, filmmaking, acting, music and dance. programs, but in 1996, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the U. Department of Education, more master's degrees were conferred in the visual and performing arts -- a total of 10,280 degrees -- than in English (8,000), biology (6,000) or math (4,000). '' When I go to the New York galleries, all I see is art-school art,'' says Barbara Rose, the art historian.