Ucla Mfa Creative Writing

His '' Shooting Piece'' required a friend to fire a bullet into his left arm from a distance of 15 feet. A Master of Fine Arts degree has become an essential credential.

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A generation of art students read Baudrillard, thrilled to his notion that the world of real things has been replaced by ''simulacra'' (or mere images) and made art recycled from earlier art to prove the point. That could be the motto of just about any graduate art program in America, which doesn't mean that the schools are interchangeable.

California artists are fond of disparaging not only Yale ('' I've met Yale students and going to Yale is the highlight of their career,'' says Chris Burden), but also the entire Northeastern art-school scene.

In their studios, they diligently fabricate cutting-edge art: videos, performances and room-size ''installations'' intended as an exercise in cultural critique. is frequently described as the power art school of the late 90's; visiting the campus is like attending an opening of the Whitney Biennial. '' You can't teach someone to be a Michelangelo,'' he said, ''but you can't teach someone to be an Einstein either.

Oddly enough, the academic vogue for French post-structuralism has turned out to be an efficient recipe for American-style success. In addition to Burden, the first of the crop to be hired, you spot Charles Ray and Barbara Kruger, Nancy Rubins and Paul Mc Carthy, Lari Pittman and John Baldessari, a 68-year-old conceptual artist with flowing white hair and a matching beard. It bothers me that people think that physics can be taught but that art can't be.'' He took a bite of his vegetarian burger and added confidently, '' I think we teach students to think better.'' To be sure, not every teacher sees critical theory as the path to perfect enlightenment. I've known a lot of geniuses who went by the wayside.

To call an artist ''academic'' was to insult his work, implying that it was unimaginative, rote, banal.

Virtually all the great modernists, from Cezanne on down, felt undisguised contempt for the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, the mighty Paris institution where students began by copying plaster casts, progressed to the life class to study the (male) nude and, with few exceptions, emerged as proficient, B-minus painters of scenes culled from history or mythology.

In the 70's, California Institute of the Arts, which was founded by Walt Disney amid the orange groves of Valencia, became a finishing school for the New York art world.

(Eric Fischl, David Salle and Ross Bleckner are among its grads.) Other prominent schools include Otis College of Art and Design, the University of California at Irvine and, as you hear wherever you go, Art Center College of Design, the latest academy of the millisecond.

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.

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