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“Dad, I want to study Art.” This is one of the phrases a parent doesn’t know how to react to, not because it’s about a minor or unnecessary field of study, but because they ask themselves: how is my child going to make a living? Most people believe art doesn’t pay the rent, though it brings measureless satisfaction. In other words, an artist is happy with her art, but—in Venezuelan lingo—she’s a pela bolas.

So, what are we really talking about, when we talk about pursuing the ideal of studying fine arts, performing arts, art history, music, cinematography, visual arts and others, in the context of the region’s worst hyperinflation?

“Dad, I want to study Art.” This is one of the phrases a parent doesn’t know how to react to.

Many cases can be critically presented here. For example, the lack of technical resources and work supplies, and the unhealthy conditions of the Cristóbal Rojas Technical School of Visual Arts, the only school in Caracas that graduates medium technicians in pottery, jewelry, design, photography, engraving, painting, drawing and sculpture. The infrastructure was once a majestic academy for the arts. Now it struggles to hold on despite the lack of maintenance, the passing of time, the disrepair and the swarms of mosquitoes in every puddle of water.

In view of the lack of general resources, teachers have decided to work with recycled and waste materials, according to Engraving teacher Nelson Pérez, who cautions that they’re trying not to ask students or their families for a greater investment or expense. They understand that buying food for home is more important than buying a block of clay, engraving ink or special pencils for illustration class.

Artists have always had to solve any issues arising from their work, but right now we can literally say that artists are working with their nails and with trash. Those currently graduating from this school know how to work with “unconventional materials” because the Venezuelan reality has forced them to. They had no choice.

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Regarding the university environment, we can talk about the Venezuelan Central University’s Art School. Everyone knows that higher education institutions are going through an unprecedented crisis, which affects public universities harshly by being cornered by the State, bled by bureaucracy, dismantled and in shambles, with lack of teachers and deserted hallways due to crime.

UCV’s Art School doesn’t have its own classrooms, so the Literature and Philosophy schools offer their own for Art instruction from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I entered those classrooms for the first time in 2012 and I recently graduated from Performing Arts: out of the 27 teachers who taught me, 16 no longer work in the school, only three retired, the rest left the country or migrated to other institutions with better wages. In each case, the vacancy was filled by a newcomer or by teachers who exceed their hours to fill the empty posts. This is evidenced in the lack of subjects. In the hallways, you can usually hear teachers talk; they are exhausted, upset and concerned for the school’s future.

We’re one of the lucky schools that hasn’t had to scrap subjects or majors for lack of teachers, but we’re close to that scenario. This is, in part, due to the fact that less and less people are enrolling in the school, and even less graduate.

We’re one of the lucky schools that hasn’t had to scrap subjects or majors for lack of teachers, but we’re close to that scenario.

Each year, there’s at least one robbery in the Art School’s administrative building. In the last one—committed in June—robbers stole the copper wiring, so there’s no electricity. The house that defeats the shadows now toils in the darkness. Alice Smith-Kelly, current head of the school, says that “copper robbers destroyed our Art School and the Statistics School. They took 70 meters of wires. The four buildings are at the mercy of crime. Who can put an end to these robbers specialized in high-voltage electric wiring?”

Of course, the state of academic institutions is just a reflection of the general problem of art in Venezuela, represented in the decline of the National System of Museums, the closing of theatres across the country and how companies, actors and artists from every area are leaving the country to find better working and living conditions, and the materials they need for their work. What can an art student do if her entire industry is devastated? How can the artist contribute with her work and ideas if the economic chokehold forces her to walk away from her field of creation?

In view of so much decadence and such a crushing reality, how is it that we still find people studying Art? How come there are artists, researches and critics still living in the country? This is precisely because art has never been complacent. Its strength resides in human nature revealing and rebelling. It’s not a career we choose, it’s a passion we live by, whatever the cost.

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33 COMMENTS

  1. Ms. Silva, I am sure your report on the struggles of art students in Venezuela is accurate but hardly surprising in the midst of the collapse of the whole country. The art students are facing the same hardships that almost everyone else is facing. The sad part is that it is probably going to get worse, perhaps much worse. I hope you and your students realize that you have Chavez and his bus driver lackey to thank for all this. Not just Maduro…CHAVEZ and Maduro. Good luck to you and your students. You are going to need it I am afraid.

  2. “In other words, an artist is happy with her art, but—in Venezuelan lingo—she’s a pela bolas.”

    If it’s good art, it ain’t his or her art, to begin with.

    Now about her being a “pela bolas” or not, that’s an entirely different ball game.

  3. Yes…but he always had the option of ending his self imposed fasting even though he eventually died from it. Much different than a “government” intentionally starving it’s citizens.This is just murder in slow motion…genocide.

  4. “In view of so much decadence and such a crushing reality, how is it that we still find people studying Art? How come there are artists, researches and critics still living in the country? This is precisely because art has never been complacent. Its strength resides in human nature revealing and rebelling. It’s not a career we choose, it’s a passion we live by, whatever the costs or rewards.”

    Indeed.

    • Also, artists tend to fly over any “realities”, crushing as they may be, since they aren’t much more than temporary illusions.

  5. Ms. Silva, your last paragraph says it all. Art is more than a career, it is life. I hum a tune. Sometimes under my breath If I am near others. Not because I am a professional musician, but because I can’t help myself.

    Good luck to you.

  6. Ms Silva, I wonder how many Art students were Chavista supporters but have since changed their political views. The arts when free of political control enhance our

    • That’s a question we can’t sardonically ask about art students.

      You have to ask it about every Venzuelan, regardless of status.

      We know the ultra poor went Chavismo. VZ’s tragedy is that so many middle and upper middle class did as well

  7. Arts is not a study career. Have you ever seen any of the modern art ”graduating” as an artist? Take a Banski more famous contemporary painter, or like most famous modern Picasso, Pollock or Warhol, our own Soto, Cruz-Diez (hint: airport floor), etc.

    If the Art students are suffering with hyper-inflation then how much suffering the other students of Engineering, Architecture or Medicine, Microbiology, Geology, Metallurgy and so on. The same arithmetic applies.

    Poeta Criollo uses a great expression ”pela-bolas”. Even in the most sophisticated universities in the US, students that take Liberal Arts/Design/Photography/Illustration/Etc do not produce art-makers regardless of the economics. In general those are the students that don’t want to be challenged and preferably those who will support Bernie Sanders, a pseudo-communist. And precisely those who want free tuition and free everything. Most liberal arts students end up teaching a kindergarten class, earning little money, will be pela-bolas forever.

    Saying all the negative stuff, I wish I could be a pianist composer or a painter like my father (RIP)

    • The only narrow definition of art ALWAYS comes from an authoritarian regime. ALWAYS. Art either reflects society or leads society. There’s nothing else out there.

      • One of our neighbors is an excellent painter aka artist. He mostly paints pictures of scenery. I consider them to be paintings of the scenery (e.g., ocean with cliffs), which neither reflects nor leads society. Unless, of course, you believe the scenery reflects society. Sometimes he paints pictures of people in the scenery. I’ll give you “society” if you like.

  8. “Arts is not a study career” – That is BS

    In 1892 the family moved to La Coruna, and a year after that Picasso was accepted into the school of Fine and Applied Arts there.

    In 1930, at age 18, Pollock moved to New York City to live with his brother, Charles. He soon began studying with Charles’s art teacher, representational regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, at the Art Students League

    When he graduated from college with his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1949, Warhol moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist

    Yes, art is a passion, but I’d bet that 99% of the great ones, studied every aspect of there craft

    • Dude, try and get a BA of Arts in Cambridge or La Sorbonne, or UCV, and any decent 4 year college aprentiship, and then sigue rebuznando, animalito. Some of the good artists, btw, have a better life and/or make more freaking money than will will ever see.

    • Arts is one of THE most honorable College fields of study and “career”, and then possible
      work endeavor/lifestyle any human being could choose. Or you can become a lawyer or a dentist, and buy lots of Picassos that you don’t even like, then trade them for money. Like many miserable “business men” do. Get yourself a Dali, after 30 years working for a bank. And then sell it after your wife divorces you. Meanwhile, enjoy lots of crap tv, whatever movies the industry feeds you, plus empty vacations in Paris with the rest of the herd.

  9. Art meets Function – An aside.

    The Bridge Designer Morandi whose bridge just collasped in Milan, built 2 other very similar Bridges.
    One in Libya, and the other…….

    The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge, built from 1958 to 1962, crosses the mouth of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela

    These bridges are highly susceptible to corrosion.

    • “These bridges are highly susceptible to corrosion.”

      You mean “highly susceptible to sabotage”. Anything that breaks down or goes wrong due to lack of maintenance in Venezuela was in fact sabotaged by Borges and his band of highly trained Colombian lizards, financed by “Miami”.

  10. I don’t know what “study career” means, but I can’t draw a straight line using a computer (or using a ruler in older times). Differential equations were easier for me (not easy for me – just easier than drawing). Maybe if I “studied” art I could get better, but would still suck compared with people that have talent.

    Sort of like athletics. Hard work matters. Natural talent matters. But the best of them have extreme talent and work extremely hard at it.

    • “Study career” simply means you dedicate years in highschool and college, plus your active life toi earn a living doing art. Instead of building concrete buildings, selling plastic, watching tv or playing tennis and golf.

  11. Poeta criollo: use an argument not an insult. You have a very thin skin. Only insults that you’re an artist at that. ”Animalito, etc.” Whatever.

    Poeta Criollo also needs an education: UCV is no longer recognized by international institutions that deliver equivalency diplomas. Where is in La Sorbonne is that you can get a BS in Arts?

    I tell you where: in Paris 1 – Pantron. The old « maitrise » is now called Master as the American word sounds better: https://www.pantheonsorbonne.fr/ws/ws.php?_cmd=getFormation&_oid=UP1-PROG47928&_redirect=voir_presentation_diplome&_lang=fr-FR

    In fact where in the world you do a BS in Arts. In the US at least you have to do a Bachelor in Arts (BA), etc.

    I checked again, would you please point out to my spelling errors? Thanks.

    So Poeta Criollo, if you want to argue with me, you better use a decent language and an argument.

    I most reformulate: not every graduate from an Art School (call it UCV or La Sorbonne or Harvard) is an artist, much less a recognized worldwide individual. On the opposite side some of the real ones, not all by a long shot, the true geniuses like Picasso have attended an art conservatory to fine-tune their techniques, improve knowledge of materials, etc. Picasso’s talent wasn’t the result of an Art School. And I agree this is debatable. Just like Warhol. Banski on the other hand is the great mystery of the arts.

    My point is that this article drives the same idea if we talk about real professional careers, engineering or medicine, law, etc. I don’t see what’s so special about the Arts.

    I bet Poeta Criollo is not able to articulate two sentences without swearing. And he might represent the hope of recovery of Venezuela, wow!!

    • No time for your crap Jose. Loyola College, bachelor of Arts, 1987. Eat some arepa and get a life. Maternelle-Bac au Lycee Francais a Campo Claro, Caracas. Bac B mention passable, (too much weed, bad at math) 1983.

      You want decent language? Vas te faire voire et relis ce que j’ai bien ecrit. I meant it and it’s correct.

  12. I’m more interested in a discussion regarding the fact that there are very few “masters” left in the country to lead the ever increasing youth of creatives. Right now, Mérida and Caracas are the two artistic hotspots in the country, both because of the amount of working galleries and the artists that seek representation and exposure of their work within said cities. Art education, just as any education, is going through a lamentable but rather obvious crisis. But this isn’t stopping the driving force of people to create and present their work. The few galleries that are left still actively look for new works and there’s a pretty stablished niche abroad for Venezuelan art, where artists are making anywhere between $500 to $5000 with international sales. I think understanding inflation it’s easy to grasp how much money that is when exchanged to the local currency: These artists are part of the new elite in Venezuela, but they are really young and often times uneducated in terms of art history, epistemological concepts and lack historical conscience.

    What I fear of this situation isn’t so much the lack of access of arts education; what’s happening is merely a predictable shift from a general artistic participation of the population regardless of economic means and into the good old elitist domination of the arts. But the key problematics arises: What happens when this new elite isn’t ready to lead? Nor isn’t properly educated? When it’s trapped within a commercial bubble that turns Venezuelan art into a predictable niche of decorative work with a cap in worth (i.e. Venezuelan art can only sell for so much within Venezuela) then a self-serving market takes hold within galleries that can thrive selling the work of the artists who can be inserted into this merely economic relationship. They are simply exploiting a newfound demand for art produced here but there’s no involvement with the masses for how this art is being produced, the driving force and conceptual process of its production, or even the social recognition of the artists. In other words, Venezuela has artists producing work that’s is selling and thriving, but we don’t actually know them and reaching them seems like an obstacle more than an opportunity.

    Artistic pursuit will always take place regardless of money and politics. But the current state of artistic production and education is taking a dent not because of universities and their void in resources but because galleries and artists working for them aren’t interested in participating in communities and spreading knowledge; and even if they were interested in doing so, it is my personal opinion that they wouldn’t be able to impart so much in the matter because they lack direction and thorough preparation. I know of a few artists who are doing what they can teaching what they know to new generations, but they are not nearly enough to cover the demand for artistic education.

  13. Dear Mario, your detailed analysis is impressive and clarifies the concern with clarity and objectivity. Thanks again,

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