The vulnerability of students and faculty alike to factitious theory about the arts is in large part due to the bourgeois drift of the last half century. Our woefully shrunken industrial base means that today's college-bound young people rarely have direct contact any longer with the manual trades, which share skills, methods and materials with artistic workmanship. Warhol, for example, grew up in industrial Pittsburgh and borrowed the commercial process of silk-screening for his art-making at the Factory, as he called his New York studio. With the shift of manufacturing overseas, an overwhelming number of America's old factory cities and towns have lost businesses and population and are struggling to stave off disrepair. That is certainly true of my birthplace, the once-bustling upstate town of Endicott, N.Y., to which my family immigrated to work in the now-vanished shoe factories. Manual labor was both a norm and an ideal in that era, when tools, machinery and industrial supplies dominated daily life. For the arts to revive in the U.S., young artists must be rescued from their sanitized middle-class backgrounds. We need a revalorization of the trades that would allow students to enter those fields without social prejudice (which often emanates from parents eager for the false cachet of an Ivy League sticker on the car). Among my students at art schools, for example, have been virtuoso woodworkers who were already earning income as craft furniture-makers. Artists should learn to see themselves as entrepreneurs.
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