The latest Martin Center column from Richard Bledsoe examines university programs’ impact on the arts.

I spent the early 1990s in art school. Little did I know that one of most negative experiences I had there was a harbinger for the direction of college art programs.

We didn’t have much opportunity to expose our work to the larger public. But once a year the university held a juried, month-long exhibit of student work in its gallery. It was a beautiful space, three stories of classic white box showrooms, with soaring ceilings and gleaming floors. It was an honor to be selected.

Along with practically everyone else in the art school, I brought work to the gallery for consideration. No one knew much about the jurors the school imported that year, just that they were two women, academicians from another eastern university. It ended up being a fateful choice on the part of the school.

The day they announced the results, the bad news spread rapidly. Instead of going with an inclusive representation of student artwork, the jurors had only selected a few pieces for the show, and all were pieces that had some blatant political ax to grind. Feminist themes dominated the display, represented by art showing crudely rendered anguished figures and accusatory scribbles.

So little work fit their partisan bent that the gallery was left largely empty.

During the student show, for the first time in memory, the third floor of the gallery went dark. The other two floors featured a sparse sprinkling of inferior art. I remember the work selected featured lots of canvases and sculptures that just acted as surfaces to present words and writing. Not able to communicate effectively with images, the political artists resorted to slogans. It was a truly puny exhibit. Not many students were making obvious propaganda pieces…yet.