Another favorite rant: Art education and what needs to be said.

So I’ve been away for a while. But I’m ba-a-a-a-ck! 😀 I’ve been doing a lot of painting and studying. I’ll be posting some new paintings shortly and talking about all kinds of stuff. But first I have to post more about art education. It’s a continuation of this bit of pontification from the main site.

Let’s start out with this graphic which is going around Facebook:

Very typical, I must say. (Click on image to see a larger version of it.) NOTE: The artwork on the right (and presumably on the left) is by artist Travis Seymour.

Before I go any farther, let me say that I’m certainly not against getting an art education, or an art degree. I went to Otis, a very good art school in Los Angeles. I count my time at Otis as one of the happiest eras of my life. So, it’s not that the concept of schooling, or that the art degree are bad, it’s what they’ve often become. 

Yes, the graphic I show above is what’s often happening nowadays. I see a lot of it. I saw a lot of it when I was going to Otis. (In case you don’t know what an atelier is, it’s a small, more affordable private school that focuses on traditional, classic art skills. Here’s a web page which lists some well-known ateliers.)

It’s usually coming from the Fine Art Department. The message seems to be, that skill is a bad thing. Skill is something to be looked down on, as lowly, as “competent.” (At Otis I had a Fine Art student sneer that word—competent—at me, like she’d said something dirty or profane.) Skill is something that “if you decide it’s important,” you can “learn on your own.” Or, you’re supposed to “bring it with you” when you enter a degree program, because they sure as heck aren’t going to teach it to you!

Oh, but no, I’m not bitter! LOL! Actually, I dodged a bullet because I didn’t go through a hugely expensive art program only to not gain any skills. By the time I went to art school, I knew what I wanted, and there was no way the school was going to steer me away from it. I was fortunate enough to have my parents pay for a lot of my education (this was years ago, when an art education wasn’t quite as expensive as it is now). There was no way my middle-class parents were paying for that kind of nonsense.

What I saw then, and what I still see now, is lowered expectations when it comes to technical skills. Students who seem to have no idea that there is so much more they should learn. Artists who appear satisfied and content with where they are, having apparently no awareness of what else should be before them. In other words, some measure of delusional.

Now again I’ll add the caveat that we all are, in some respect, delusional. I certainly am. I look at the artwork I did ten years ago and some of it makes me cringe. And no doubt the artwork I do now will make me cringe just as much in a few years down the road. Most of us are a little delusional, because without that, we’d fully comprehend exactly how much we suck, and we’d be so despondent we’d give up! 😉

But there’s a heightened level of delusional that goes beyond that, and I think many art schools and colleges reinforce it, even introduce it.

And the above graphic (showing three YEARS of college vs. three MONTHS of an atelier) really demonstrates that.

There’s no excuse for this. You go to an art school, and you have a sincere interest in realistic, traditional art, many colleges will work very hard to steer you away from that, offer limited opportunities for you to improve yourself in that area, and insist that mediocre results are good enough. Congratulations, you have an art degree, “proving” that you are an artist, but you can’t draw or paint worth a darn! And maybe you don’t even know how much you don’t know, and you believe that things are just as they should be, and no more should be expected of you. It’s the “new normal.” It’s not right.

Now if you aren’t interested in what I’d call “traditional, realistic” art, then this doesn’t apply to you. There are other styles of art and I’m not equipped to judge whether or not the current norm in many art schools are adequately serving these other styles. All I do know is that many (not all) art schools and universities are doing a pathetic job of giving students the traditional skills, even though these skills are something that some students WANT. They go to school in large part to learn that, and they’re being cheated. Some realize that they’re being lied to and are dissatisfied with the skills they have by the end. Others don’t seem to recognize that they’ve been had and honestly believe that they possess a “good enough” set of skills to compete with others who focus on traditional realistic styles, even when they clearly don’t have those skills yet, because their school cheated them out of the opportunity.

And all I can say is, again, that it’s not right. We’re being had. We’re being bilked. We shouldn’t put up with it. We’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid, and it’s time to stop.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll have more posts on this in the future.

In conclusion I’ll leave you with this link:

Don’t go to art school.

And this is a doozy and illustrates JUST what I’m talking about!

Is ‘deskilling’ killing you?


2 thoughts on “Another favorite rant: Art education and what needs to be said.”

  1. Good article,
    The image in question is heavily skewed toward atelier teaching, an over simplification. The two artists producing those works I would gaurantee went into those 3 months with different ability levels.
    If an artist choosing between the two already knows what they want to do then an atelier is a great option especially if the artists wants to create classical art. Art schools are also designed to be catered for a wider audience, not all of whom know which area of ‘art’ they want to focus on and some who want to go into more contemporary, modern or experimental art fields.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Joe! The image is, I believe, meant to show the same artist. The first image on the left is what he could produce after three years of instruction in a mainstream college. Then, three months after switching to an atelier, his skills skyrocketed to what is seen on the right. (I cannot verify that this is the same artist doing both works; however, I assumed that it was what the premise was. I could be mistaken, though.) Basically, the image is saying that if you want to draw and paint realistically, a regular art school may not be for you.

      As far art schools vs. ateliers, another issue that I was adressing is that many (not all) art schools discourage certain student preferences and will steer them in a particular direction. I saw this firsthand, as did others I know. An example would be a student who wants to draw accurately and realistically but isn’t “there” yet. They are praised by their teacher and told that their less-than-accurate drawings are great and perfect. The student thinks this means that their drawings are accurate. When told that in fact they are not and they go to their teacher in disappointment and confusion, their teacher insists that they should not want to draw realistically anyway. (I witnessed this firsthand.)

      The article I linked to before from Huffington Post gives more examples. I have no problem with artists seeking whatever path they desire. I do have a problem with those who want to study a realistic, classic style being denigrated or lied to and steered in other directions. This is clearly happening in some colleges.

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