PRINT March 2001


Ronald Jones

ASKED TO DESCRIBE the curriculum he's devising as Pasadena's Art Center College of Design's new (and first) provost, Ronald Jones chooses the term “transdisciplinary” over “interdisciplinary.” “Trans,” after all, implies permeation and specifies an approach that Jones says best reflects today's fluid culture.

“What we're beginning to look at very seriously at Art Center is what Greenberg suggested in 'Avant-Garde and Kitsch': that art will be absorbed into entertainment,” says Jones. And what better place to contemplate the sunny manifestations of Greenberg's dark prophecy than Southern California? Jones's Greater Los Angeles coordinates, far from his previous appointments at Columbia, Yale, and RED, bring him to what's lately been deemed the land of the powerhouse art schools, dominated by Art Center, UCLA, and CalArts. But Jones would rather not talk about East Coast versus West Coast pedagogical rivalries. “I'm veering away from generalized distinction between the two. . . . I'm more interested in talking to leaders at Ford, Boeing, and NASA to see if we can bring cultural xenography into art education—which, might I add, could only happen at a design school.”

Art Center is an appropriate setting for Jones's Bauhaus-style vision. Founded in 1930 by Edward A. Adams, an advertising executive who sought to fill an educational gap by preparing designers for the commercial world, the school has been likened to a research and development center by its current president, Richard Koshalek. The formula must be working: The institution cultivates M.F.A. candidates who can quote Julia Kristeva with ease and at the same time currently produces more than half of America's car designers.

Jones is particularly well equipped to honor the balance between art for function's and art for art's sake. His credits as an artist include numerous international one-person shows In addition to group exhibitions such as last year's “Aussendienst,” for which he designed a public garden in Hamburg. His byline as a critic has graced the pages of this and many other magazines, and he headed the Interactive Design Lab at Columbla University. Oh, and he holds an M.F.A. in sculpture and a Ph.D in art history. So Jones should know a thing or two about the “transdisciplinary”—and how to put it into practice.

Reena Jana is a New York-based arts journalist.