Detroit's Art & Design School

A few weeks back I pondered the potential of a question posed by visiting New Yorkers: What would an ideal creative education look like? Well, it may not look the same everywhere--something that all of us who teach something creative should pause more than once to consider. Renaissance draftsmanship or Bauhaus style workshops tend to be our studio models whether in NYC or Paris or Beijing. But can that really either be effective or even interesting? Flattening local knowledge and specificity in pursuit of idealized skills leads to atomization and an art world separated from everyday life, producing more producers of potential luxury or alienated avant-gardists. I propose a modest adaptation--rooted in local skills and vantage points, a creative education can be grounded in, well, the ground, without sacrificing ambition.

This is something that at first pass sounds like regionalism or provincialism, but, ultimately, I'd argue, augers more towards innovation fed by, but not limited by place. One thing I have learned from teaching art in Detroit public schools is that the distance between street and studio, home and class, lesson and use can be vast. Skills learned to cope in challenging neighborhoods may be at odds with a classroom, so let's not make everyone live bifurcated lives, but rather, let's see how we can leverage those skills.

Here's a start of the sure components of a Detroit city based creative arts-design and thinking curriculum with local influences:
Unit or Focus I (not in hierarchical order of any sort) might be

Words and Image
Look at the wealth of visual acuity tempered with graphic sophistication and chromatic vigor in the work of many of Detroit's sign painters (my examplar is the East Sider Bird.) With a good legion of skilled hands painting huge signs for everything from dry cleaners to party stores, the ubiquity of the painted word currently outstrips the printed vinyl banner world of easy graphic design enabled by Kinko's (no offense to the service bureau.) Fuse these skilled hands with the verbal dynamism of freestyle and composed rap and street cypher battles, and our visual/creative education has hands and mouths and ears engaged, dynamic and Detroit.

Next week: Unit II: Building, Joinery and Assembled Meaning