Photo provided by the author
“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.
Photos provided by the author
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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