Curatorial Statement (Part 3)

by Jack Murphy

 

This exhibition, Part 3 of the Golden Age of New Paltz (1968 – 1971), brings the decade of the Sixties to a rip roaring close.  As I attempted to show by the work that was exhibited in Parts 1 and 2 of this show, the level of professionalism, the technical skills and expertise, and the interest in exploring more and varied avenues of expression were being embraced by many artists and art students by the mid-1960’s.  For these students, and established artists, the work being produced started to display more pointed messages.  Personal expressions of strongly held beliefs were pushing images of bowls of fruits and bucolic landscapes aside.  Art, and particularly a new era of protest art, entered the fray.

By 1967, events in the United States and the World began to have a greater impact on the general public. Television brought the War in Viet Nam, the Draft, Civil Rights, Equal Rights for Women, and growing student unrest on campus into the public debate.  People protested on both sides of the issues. To many, freedom, and the right to express your views, became essential, for others, it represented a lawless anarchy, an attack on the status quo.  This was how the Sixties ended, and change was everywhere.

 

New Paltz, and the local art scene, was not immune. 

 

As the war dragged on, posters and banners produced by art students were evident at protest marches and campus strikes. Political cartoons were appearing in the student newspaper, The Oracle, and in the local “underground papers,” the Gargoyle and Hudson Valley Encounter. And increasingly, the art displayed in the area became more controversial, more politically inspired, and aimed more at hated isms: capitalism; imperialism; racism; sexism; and more. The artists were finding their voice, and their work became a weapon for their cause. They were becoming stronger, more focused, more opinionated, and were looking for more respect and value for their work.

 

On campus, the number of art students was growing.  Art Education was still a popular career choice, and guidance counselors all over the state were suggesting high school seniors who were interested in art to apply to either the State University College at New Paltz or at Buffalo. Yet, as the enrollment of art students grew, there seemed to be more interest in “fine” art, than art education, and a trend to shy away from earning teacher’s certification, and, instead, concentrate on studio classes in pursuit of becoming an artist, was increasing.  A small, but growing, number of colleges and universities began offering degrees in the Fine Arts.  Within the art building, two student groups, the Student Art Guild and Kappa Pi, an honorary art fraternity, were changing from what had been mostly two separate social groups, to one politically active organization, operating under the umbrella of the Student Art Guild. The recruiting of student members and mobilizing them for change, was a prime goal.  By 1969, art students at New Paltz were asking for representation on what had been strictly faculty committees, such as Budget, Curriculum and Planning, and Tenure and Promotion.  The students wanted a say in their education, and with the arrival of a new department chair, Dr. Henry Raleigh, those requests were granted.  At that point, the Student Art Guild initiated the process of pushing the College to draw up a proposal and petition Albany to approve the Bachelor of Arts degree, with concentrations in print making, painting, sculpture, gold and silversmithing, ceramics, and photography.  It took a few years for all the studio options to be approved, but by the first few years of the 1970’s, New Paltz was awarding BFA degrees, the first in the SUNY system, as a direct result of the quality of instruction offered by the faculty, along with their interest and dedication to their students. The desire of the students for a fine art education, along with the high quality of work produced, played an equal part convincing Albany of the justification in offering the BFA program.  It is easy to say that the decade the 1960’s laid the foundation for today’s art department at SUNY New Paltz, and today’s students are benefitting from the changes the faculty and students of that decade brought about.

 

The 1960’s saw the growth of arts in media and general culture (pop art, op art, psychedelia, happenings, music, writing, poetry, movies, etc.) through the visionary work of people like, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Stanley Kubrick, and Peter Max and many others. More and more art museums and galleries opened.  Art became big business.  The number of collectors grew, and the demand for art increased. The Art World was on a roll.  And the artists represented in these three Golden Age of New Paltz shows were there.  They were a part of it, and contributed to it. They truly created New Paltz’ Golden Age.  Everything before them was just the prologue, it set the stage.  And everything that the SUNY New Paltz Fine Arts program became, owes a debt of gratitude to these artists who were active during the 1960’s , and are celebrated  in this exhibition.

- Jack Murphy

(Information about the history of the State University of New York at New Paltz was found on the History of the Campus page, in the About New Paltz section of the website.

 

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