Education, or the act of teaching, can be an art form in itself, much like social practice, the theater, and other forms of performance. Though pedagogy may not often think of itself as art, teaching is, at its core, a performance: teachers tend to develop personalities that they exhibit solely while teaching, and the performative medium of pedagogy could be knowledge. Educators inhabit a uniquely political space, regardless of experience, skill level, time in the field, or what subject(s) they teach—in a way they are local-level politicians. They have direct influences on the minds of those they are responsible for educating, and are typically funded through public, governmentally mandated means. They are culture creators, propagators, warriors, defenders—the ultimate gatekeepers of culture in the real world. Educators themselves are educated. They often teach from a place of passion—and what might successful art be at its core, if not intentionally manifest passion?
Educators who pursue pedagogy out of necessity still can work in an honorable business. If, as Andy Warhol said, "Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art," then this could be agreeable, as long as "good" in this sense means: ethical, beneficial to society, or for the betterment of all people involved. Utopia is no place, but a state of mind. It can shape reality when education is honest, edifying, inclusive, and progressive. All of these qualities come together in good art, which makes education a better art than even good business.
Furthermore, when experienced artists are tasked with passing on practical knowledge and exposing students to art that might otherwise never be shown to them, there is a present engagement in a sort of oral tradition. Communication through visual languages lies at the forefront of most art activities, even those as cerebral as conceptual art, institutional critique, and social practice.
Education is Enlightenment is Utopia is Society is Culture: none of these things is inherently "Good," but forms of them extant in reality that are ethical, inclusive, progressive, and honest can be "Good." Pedagogy—in particular, arts education in public institutions—is a political, politicized form of social practice with three major underpinnings. First, the idea of education as a public right. Second, oral traditions of passing knowledge. Third, postmodern contexts of hierarchical industrialism, globalization, and social engineering.
Artists come into education from many backgrounds, some because teaching runs in the family; some gain experience during the course of MFA programs; some fall into teaching out of necessity, but find that it works well for them. Arts education is becoming an increasingly competitive area of study in the Ivory Tower, with the unprecedented proliferation of access to public educational institutions that offer accredited degrees at post-baccalaureate levels—while simultaneously fewer and fewer tenure positions are available at universities and colleges. With the condition of the art market as it is (accessible, yet esoteric: populist, yet oligarchical—and often expensive), and with its economy centered in mostly Western cities dominated by people of white European descent, questions of economic justice, institutional power dynamics, and relationships with colonialism arise. How can artists respond to these conditions and affect the market from the inside-out? Education is the way.
Education is most often associated with large-scale, corporate-model, institutional settings: this could be explained by compulsory public education's current state. Rising costs of college degrees, particularly fine art degrees, beg the question, Why attend? Most MFA graduates enter the workforce with more than $32,000 in debt, and early-career earnings for bachelor-level fine art graduates are among the lowest of any career. Education should be pursued and promoted because it has the ability to banish poverty, advance society, and encourage the creation of positive social environments.
In the mission of promoting a unifying, edifying understanding of the way our regional worlds work together on a global scale, artist Pablo Helguera worked with the Creative Capital Foundation in New York to realize a traveling School of Panamerican Unrest. From May to September of 2006, Pablo traveled from Anchorage, Alaska to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Along the way he held discussions and lectures, aided with a mobile video archive and a portable “museum” space.
In the SPU's own words,
"The project is inspired [by] the travel itineraries of those who once crossed the continent, [ranging] from missionaries [to] explorers, scientists, revolutionaries, intellectuals, writers, and others. In the utopian spirit of those who once conceived the Americas as a unified entity, the SPU will cross the continent, literalizing the idea of Panamericanism."
In this regard, pedagogy as art serves not only the Art World, but also disparate, interlinked American worlds. The SPU's lessons included discussions of the histories of areas dominated now by European colonizers by means of various socio-political machinations: population control, assimilation, outright warfare, annexation, historical and contemporary economic policies, classified intelligence operations, etc. By dissecting power relationships between oppressors and the subjugated in an accessible, novel way, Helguera realized education as a right in parts of the world where education is otherwise a privilege of the highest degree.
Helguera's educational endeavors are clearly seen to be informed largely by Pablo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is a quintessential text for dissecting the relationships between oppression, ignorance, and access to education (to put it reductively). The SPU could be seen as a companion piece to Freire's publication—a concrete, time-based manifestation of the ideology described within the book. However, one could argue that the short-lived nature of Helguera's travels prevents sustainable long-term educational changes from taking hold in socio-economically disadvantaged areas.
In defiance of sunny utopianism and opposed to clear-cut political stances, Claire Bishop penned a collection of contemporary art criticisms in 2006 titled Artificial Hells. Among her criticisms, performative art and social practice fall to scrutiny for their avoidance of declaring any aesthetic criteria. In writing about her book for Hyperallergic, Ryan Wong says, in Bishop's opinion, "art cannot and should not try to provide a way out. But it can shock, enrage and maybe even delight us into new possibilities, artificial though they are."
This artificiality exists in not only the illusory nature of art contexts, but also the physical or aesthetic, artifact-al qualities that define art movements. The "new possibilities" derived from information presented in conceptual modes of artmaking become artificial in how they exist first and foremost within an art context—a constructed reality composed of nebulous preconceptions about what art is or ought to be, steeped in critical theory, history, politics, etc. As soon as the art begins, it may be understood that anything that follows is a falsified reality with specific, internal logic that both defies and is dependent on that of the worlds we occupy each day.
As soon as the art ends, the artifice begins: it takes the shape of artifacts created during the art, or continues in the process of deconstructing presented ideas, or grows from discussions of pedagogy into active, independent educational settings—and the artifice always lives on in the memories of the art's witnesses (and memory is fundamentally deceitful). However, none of this makes the artifice any less illusory. In pedagogical capacities, however, the trick of artifice can be fully productive.
The specific artifact of pedagogy could be knowledge, if one needed to define it. Systems of knowledge function in myriad ways, some of which polarize each other (something that modern United States of American and European educational models seem to misunderstand or forget). For instance, the dissemination of knowledge as a means to utopia seems nullified by the controlled industrial settings of modern higher learning.
Educational institutions in this country are modeled after capitalist corporations and governments: universities have executive officers, presidents, and other administrative titles that overlap with those of big business and big government. Many universities receive federal funding based on growth, where students are seen as the GDP. The business and university environments are closely linked, which can be noted most clearly in Ivy League schools and some Greek Life associations.
Placed within the context of these hierarchical economics, Art World and pedagogy can easily seem at odds, especially since Art World functions ever more industrially. Pedagogy at its finest offers views of the world from more than one perspective and highlights the human element as a unifying narrative. It offers the tools to identify things in this world that need fixing and the tools to make changes that can help with the fixing. Postmodern, post-globalization economic practices, however, tend to devalue the human element, reinforce humanity's worth on the basis of wealth/class/caste, and hardly open the space for those people on the lower rungs of the ladder to communicate with the more privileged folk on the upper rungs.
Michael Reinsch has performed works that explore the boundaries and relationships between economic activities and the nature of Art World networking/sales. In 2013 he performed the work On Demand, where he mimicked the work environment of Starbucks (where he was, at the time, actually employed) in a gallery setting. An overhead menu presented audience members with the chance to purchase poems, paintings, drawings, and more in small, medium, or large sizes—or priced at $1/minute. At the opening reception, he additionally ran the counter as a kissing booth with the same dollar-a-minute rate, presenting himself as a blended artifice-commodity. He also hired applicants to staff the booth when he himself couldn't be there. All of this endeavored to reference contemporary art's reluctant, unavoidable relationship to customer service.
In light of these observations, it's easy to wonder, How can education function as art in an Art World where art functions as customer service or commodity? Is an educator supposed to take on the role of wait staff or sweatshop employee? In large-scale educational institutions, a hierarchical environment develops naturally out of the school's organization: undergraduate freshmen are subservient to sophomores to juniors to seniors to graduate students to instructors to professors to administrators to executives to... so on and so on until the largest econo-political entities are implicated. Within this hierarchy, educators must strike balance between being a member of the learning community and a member of the executive community while remaining subject to the whims of hyperobjective political forces. All too often educators are treated like fast-food restaurant managers: at once part of the proletariat, but culpable for the performative shortcomings of their charges in the view of institutions and ultimately subservient to them.
This is where free educational institutions shine. In removing the financial dependence, they create an intellectual space where educators and students may function as equals, teaching and learning insofar as they each communicate and hold different, specific kinds of knowledge.
Projects like the Conceptual Oregon Performance School (C.O.P.S.), co-founded by public university employee, gallerist, and artist Patrick Rock, take pedagogy out of the industrial and into the progressive without abandoning academia. In the organization's mission statement, they describe themselves as "a free, artist-run, experimental summer school, with a focus on contemporary performance strategies...based upon formal and informal lectures, seminar-based dialogue, and structured group critique." In blending performance with education in an intentional, artful setting, C.O.P.S. defies subjugation to mass market political corporations (AKA national governments). It exists in, and is informed by, specific Art World contexts, but starts to dismantle the bourgeois inaccessibility of politically dependent, corporate-model education and oh-so-sacred Art World pretenses.
The value of pedagogy cannot be named. The value of pedagogy on its own is tenuous, fluid, spectral. The value of pedagogy to Art World is variable, subjective, and unquantifiable. However, pedagogy is necessary for art, both as a medium, and as a method for passing on artistic knowledge. There are simply too many niches and obscurities in the different Art Worlds. Artists need artists who hold knowledge about these realms to spread that knowledge, so it is not lost. To have artists teaching artists about art is to have people teaching people about uniquely human systems that transmit, transform, and transcend culture.
Pedagogy can function within institutions without conceding to their oppressive structuring, such as the Sundown Salon Schoolhouse, founded by artist Fritz Haeg, which existed in various, international incarnations at galleries, museums, and art fairs, to promote student-led learning that included individuals from marginalized communities.
Pedagogy can function to defy the market (unlike many art schools, which are seen by some as factories churning out artists, objectified as they create like machines, to the ends of unsympathetic systems). The Bruce High Quality Foundation University, a free art "school" in New York City, aims to promote artistic freedom. It does not cripple with debt, it does not overpower conversations about art practice with conversations about art careers, and it does not build its foundations on the idea of Art World as art market.
Most valuable is the ability of pedagogy to enhance lives, continue traditions within contexts that allow room for traditions to evolve with the world around them, and to form accurate catalogues of its histories—histories that define, erase, and segregate cultures, while offering clear messages about what unites us by nature of history's subjective, human derivation.
Claire Bishop, in outlining why "art should not open a way out" acknowledged that art is currently attempting to do just that. When Art World caters to the market's industrial gluttony and lack of human concern, it's easy to agree with Bishop. But when Art World recognizes that humans are curious creatures with autonomous minds and serves to offer clearer visions of the worlds we shape (art we make) every day simply by living through them (making art)—then it could open a way out.
Arts education has the potential to lead an Enlightenment that is personal, intellectual, and utopian. Notions of utopia vary and, frankly, most are unrealistic, naïve, and fail to consider what prevents utopia from taking shape. Ultimately, a utopia of education could foster an abstract, global, mutual respect of cultural differences founded on understandings of how our unique, subjective worlds have influenced and are influenced by each other throughout history, with an emphasis on universal, basic humanity.
A practical, functioning utopia is not an end-all-be-all or a final destination. Through the innovative and grassroots kinds of pedagogy/education I've explored here, utopia could exist as a process and a collective journey, built on the fundamental grounds of transcendental respect for the autonomous human mind.
 Anecdotal evidence to support these claims derived from interviews with educators who wish to remain anonymous
 The Atlantic, December 19, 2014: "M.F.A.s: An Increasingly Popular, Increasingly Bad Financial Decision." Accessed 12/9/2015 http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/201412/mfas-an-increasingly-popular-increasingly-bad-financial-decision/383706/
 Organizations and individuals confronting such issues include Occupy Museums, Pil and Galia Kollectiv, John Roberts, Jessice Winegar, and others mentioned herein. "On Claims of Radicality in Contemporary Art," "Occupy Museums as Public Pedagogy and Justice Work," and "Cultural Sovereignty in a Global Art Economy: Egyptian Cultural Policy and the New Western Interest in Art from the Middle East" are publications related to some of these issues.
 U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed 12/9/2015 http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271013.htm
 U.S. Census Bureau: "What It's Worth: Field of Training and Economic Status in 2009." Issued February 2012. Accessed 12/10/2015. http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-129.pdf
 Universes in Universe, The School of Panamerican Unrest: A Project by Pablo Helguera. Posted January 2006. Accessed 12/4/2015. http://universes-in-universe.de/specials/2005/epd/english.htm
 Hyperallergic: "Art Should Not Provide a Way out" by Ryan Wong. Published August 1, 2012. Accessed 12/1/2015. http://hyperallergic.com/55068/claire-bishop-artificial-hells/
 The Bologna Process, a series of meetings and hearings of European Union countries with the intention of standardizing educational qualifications, aimed to replicate the "undergraduate -> graduate -> doctorate" system utilized by American post-secondary educational institutions. http://www.ehea.info/
 Place Gallery, date unknown. Accessed 12/9/2015. http://www.placepdx.com/michael-reinsch-on-demand.html
 "Hyperobjective" here refers to forces, systems, structures, or concepts that span time and space in such a large-scale way that humanity, limited by mortality, the mind, and the body, can never fully understand, confront, or comprehend. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Timothy Morton. University of Minnesota Press. Published September 23, 2013.
 C.O.P.S. http://conceptualoregonperformanceschool.com/index.php
 Information gathered from BHQFU official About page on website. n.d. Accessed 12/4/2015. http://bhqfu.org/about.php