Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The New School

by Drew Martin

The other day I was walking around 14th Street and Fifth Avenue for the first time in quite awhile and noticed that my graduate school, The New School for Social Research, was gone; a hole in the sky and a crater in the ground. It was an odd feeling, not a tragic, sad loss like the Twin Towers but one of good riddance. What was there before was a cruddy building so I am glad the students and teachers/staff will get something decent, even though there has been a lot of criticism about the new design (pictured left).

Seeing the sun shining through the void, reminded me of how I once spoke of my Masters experience:

The facilities were horrible, the teachers OK, and the students fantastic.

I had classes in three different buildings but spent most of my time in the one that was demolished. The more inspiring original building, a few blocks away, by Joseph Urban is the school's landmark building, not to mention that is houses an Orozco mural (detail, pictured below, right). Perhaps it's no coincidence that one of my favorite professors, Richard Lorber, held classes there.

In the now-razed building, my teachers were not great. One instructor had not even finished her own Masters yet and should not have been teaching. The other adjunct, who I liked a lot, lost control of our thesis tutorial class and even asked me if I could return (after I handed in my thesis early) in order to bring peace to the sparring students. That the students were at each other's throats, was what I liked about the school. They were high-spirited, intelligent kids from an array of countries whose ideas often clashed for the good of the academic banter.

The construction site on this unloved corner of Manhattan also reminded me that one of my favorite classes had nothing to do with an edifice. I went to The New School because instead of getting an MFA elsewhere, I wanted to focus on theory and broaden my background of the arts to media studies. None-the-less, it was required to take a couple practical classes so for one of them I chose an audio course, which was conducted entirely online.

The teacher was invisibly up in Boston and the students were chiming in from all over the world. It was really great and oddly enough, it was my most intimate class. All of our projects were audio posts, including our introductions to one another. There was something about just hearing each other's voices and sound projects on our own terms that was much more intriguing and liberating than meeting at a set hour in windowless room, in a poorly built building.