Back when they were first dating, Dana and Yori Seeger would dream, over beers, about exactly what they would do if they won the lottery. The answer: Open an art school, of course.
But not like the schools they’d attended—where they’d experienced complacent faculty, parochial politics and an education lacking connection to the outside world. How can artists create a business for themselves? Who are they in the context of their community, and really, in society? With a winning lottery ticket, the Seegers’ school would answer all these questions.
But the lottery is a notoriously fickle financial strategy. So the Seegers figured: let’s just go for it. “We dove into the deep end to see if we could swim,” Yori says.
The School of Visual Philosophy is tucked into a former auto glass installation shop in Delmas Park, a neighborhood itself squeezed between a tangle of freeways. It isn’t easy to stumble across, but drivers cutting through to 280 might catch a flash of the statue fronting the high windows of the school’s workshop—a bearded man emerging from something like a shipwreck.
The high-ceilinged space is home to worktables sided with wooden riprap; private artists’ studios hug the perimeter; and a brass foundry is stationed out back. As long as the studios are rented out, the school stays open. They’ve managed to survive their first year, the Seegers say, but mere survival is not the goal.
The Seegers have no qualms about expounding on the current state of art and art education. “Everyone scratches each other’s backs,” Dana says of many MFA faculty. “There’s no accountability.” Later, Yori adds: “So many artists are just doodling. But we’re not in a time and place where there’s nothing to say.”
The couple imagine a new kind of MFA at the school: five years, in-depth and tuition free. The first two years students would choose one of several shops, like the foundry or the print studio, then jump into creating a product the school can sell to the community. This would familiarize students with the tools and process, and pay for their education. The next two years would be more intensive study, and in the fifth year the students would begin to teach as well.
“If you say you have an MFA, it should be a professional degree. People should think, ‘Oh they worked their ass off for that,'” Dana says.
This is the long term plan. For now, The School of Visual Philosophy wants to be challenged by the community within its walls, and in wider San Jose.
What is a school? the Seegers ask. What can we be?