Mike Cloud is a Brooklyn-based painter. His upcoming solo exhibition, “The Myth of Education,” offers shaped canvases and collages that blend iconography and abstraction in order to address various myths in the art worldfrom the dichotomy between representation and abstraction to what he calls the “myth of greatness.” Here, Cloud reflects on his teachers and how ideas are passed through generations of artists. The show is on view at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in Chicago from January 26 through March 22, 2018.
YOU CAN BREAK art education down into a series of stories. Your teachers might tell you about how Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear, or how Richard Serra could be killed by his work, or how Bas Jan Ader died in the making of a piece. We have a large swath of stories. I think there’s actually a metahistory underneath them: the myth of educationthat your professors are actually creating you as a colleague.
I consider my work to be a form of returning. One of my teachers was the abstract painter Peter Halley. My paintings are a critical take on his geometric abstraction. And also on Jessica Stockholder’s work, and on Kerry James Marshall’s, and all these people that were my professors. My goal as a student was not to adopt what they taught me, but to gain critical distance from it and then come back to them with what I thought was an addition.
In the past twenty years or so, art has been deeply connected to education. Halley once said that he saw a greater sense of continuity as a teacher than he did as an artist in the art world. When I was in art school you’d have Kehinde Wiley and Mel Bochner and Byron Kim all sitting in the same room, whereas, in the art world, they wouldn’t all go to the same café or some place like that.
That connection between art and academia moves us away from older ideas about the artist being discovered after death. Instead, my colleagues can actually affect the work I do next. So, the myth that the artist makes a body of work in the studio alone and then we find the art after they die has not been the dominant art myth of late. Although, as a teacher I do think that art’s relationship to academia is beginning to wane. Emerging artists are finding other ways to promote their work online. More and more, artists are looking for new modes for community and interaction.
When I’m teaching undergrads, I always notice the moment when they realize that pleasing their parents with their art is not a goal anymore. To be an artist, you have to sacrifice your financial stability, social standing, personal relationships, and all sorts of things to make your work. The goal is not something immediate or material. It’s not even something that you know you will experience in your lifetime. That’s where the myth of greatness comes to the artist in the studio.