Never Stop Learning

6 Nov 2009

Some of my artist friends regret that they never attended an art college or university. It might surprise some of you to know that I majored in art at a large university and have a bachelor's degree in fine-art education.

Little Long Pond, Acadia by Lori Woodward, acrylic painting on linen, 10 x 15.
Little Long Pond, Acadia by Lori Woodward, acrylic painting on linen, 10 x 15.
Being able to share my experiences on blogs allows me to be more frank with my readers, so here it goes. The truth is, I learned very little of what I now know while at college. My professors did not understand or teach the basic academic principles of light, color, drawing, or edges. In one of my figure-drawing classes, I was chastised for actually drawing the model. Apparently, I would have gotten a better grade if I had translated the model's image into an unrecognizable abstract design. In one semester-long class, the only student who walked away with an A on her report card drew two little square boxes on a huge sheet of newsprint—I could understand this if she had drawn boxes that somehow related to the figure, but they were just a couple of poorly drawn squares.

That was in my junior year, and I admit that I lost all interest in continuing my studies at that point. I was on a full scholarship, but my grades took and hit, and I barely kept those grades high enough to continue. After college, I worked for a computer company and hardly touched my art supplies. I guess one could say I was burned-out on art.

Thankfully, in 1990, my desire to pursue art rose to the surface again. I began to study with a local watercolor teacher and took workshops with major instructors. It was at this point that I started getting the education I had always hoped for, and I've continued to study with masterful painters until this day.

This blog's purpose is not to put down the education system but to highlight the fact that we artists have opportunities to get an art education as we have never had before. There's nothing stopping us! Even if you can't afford workshops or classes, there are great videos, books, and magazines to teach you—I can honestly state that one issue of Workshop <$> magazine offers so much more than I learned in four years of college. No, I don't get a kickback if you buy the magazine, but I do wholeheartedly recommend it.

Even today, I seek to improve both my understanding and skill set in the arena of representational art. (I do enjoy looking at good abstract art but don't enjoy making it). I can't thank my mentors and instructors enough for their contributions to the world of artists. I am so thankful that I am an artist at this time in history when opportunities to learn from the best abound.


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Comments

Sujatha2 wrote
on 6 Nov 2009 6:34 AM

Thank you for this article, Lori. My greatest regret  has been not going to art school and I have been wondering if classes and workshops are enough to learn. Sometimes, it seems to me I never graduate beyond being a student, I dont know if I can call myself an artist while still at the learning process. Your article is so encouraging and gives me hope.

on 6 Nov 2009 6:46 AM

You're welcome Sujatha.

We are all always students seeking to get better. I was a beginning watercolorist not too long ago - I remember the struggle, and even though I knew how to draw, it took years for me to finally get control of the medium. It was worth it!

We are living in a time where opportunities to learn the essentials of art-making are more available then ever before in history. Go for it, and never regret a lack of college degree.

Denis Byrd wrote
on 6 Nov 2009 9:06 AM

Thank you thats a great blog. Unfortunately thats my same experience, I learned very little in art school. I'm glad to hear others sharing the same opinion.

Denis Byrd

www.denisbyrd.com

on 6 Nov 2009 9:34 AM

This post was mentioned on Twitter by Loriwords: Never stop learning - why a college degree is not necessary for artists http://bit.ly/4EmaW

on 6 Nov 2009 9:40 AM

Lori.  Thanks for sharing this information.  I'm one of those who didn't do art school (I'm a retired attorney).  I've been concerned about how to get what I need to advance my skills.  I agree with Sujatha.  You give us hope.

ChrisC13 wrote
on 6 Nov 2009 2:32 PM

I often kid that in my middle age I am giving myself the art education I always wanted. I do that by taking classes & workshops with a variety of teachers, learning to use my materials well and trying a variety of styles. I got an Art History degree and always wished I had studied painting while I was in art school. I ran into someone who had gone to the same school and told me that I didn't miss anything by not studying painting while I was were. His experience was much like yours and he thought the painting department was terrible and cliquey. I was glad to hear that but I still wish I could have started painting much earlier so that maybe by now I would have been more knowledge and more confident. C'est la guerre. I've just found your blog and I am looking forward to learning more from you too.

Kisu wrote
on 6 Nov 2009 5:02 PM

I must have had a very unusual experience, since some of the best art experiences I had *were* in the classrooms.  I received everything from life drawing, to color theory, composition fundamentals, perspective, basic classical drawing skills (comparative, not sight-size), art history, and anatomy, all at a community college, an art school and a university.  You just can't get some of these things in quite the same way, or access the same kinds of resources, out on your own or even studying at an atelier (as ateliers currently exist).  My most valuable training, however, inadvertently came from my physical anthropology courses in osteology and primate anatomy and evolution.  There is nothing like seeing how the primate skeleton evolves from one taxon to another and across time, and how that relates to motion, activity and environment.  There is nothing like learning about the human skeleton from the histological level up to the gross, whole organismal level.   We learned to identify human versus animal bones based on *touch,* as the lab practicals included a 'black box' section where you had to distinguish human bones from animal bones and inanimate objects by reaching into the opaque box and feeling the items within.  I also think one can get a lot from looking at art, whether it's in person, through books and magazines, or online.  And just working every day is equally important.  So take what you can from wherever you can find it!

on 7 Nov 2009 5:27 AM

Thank you Thank you Thank you for writing this! LOL.

When I was in art school I often felt like the only one that could see the eperor had no clothes on!

Your honesty is much appreciated!

on 7 Nov 2009 6:31 AM

Kisu, you were fortunate to have attended schools where they taught you the fundamentals, but it sounds like you're intelligent too - which helped you to get something out of your other courses and add it to your art knowledge.

Thanks for your input.

on 7 Nov 2009 6:43 AM

Juliana, my sentiments exactly... "no clothes". My three D class' professor hardly ever showed up, but he had tenure. One of the students complained and got some of us to sign a petition. That student was expelled from the college. I guess he pointed out that the emperor had not clothes.

Most of my professional artist friends who make six figures do not have an art degree. Some attended art school in Los Angeles, Students Art League, etc. but most learned by taking workshops. One learned entirely from copying paintings out of her books and then she developed her own style.

So if you don't have an art degree, don't worry about it - get on with your art and get the best education you can through other means. Let nothing hold you back! and... if you can't afford workshops, search online, buy books or videos which you can watch again and again. If you're a beginner, I suggest spending a lot of time drawing - understanding values, and how light on objects works. Even in college, I took a year of drawing before I was able to take a painting course - the administration knew drawing came first.

Kisu wrote
on 7 Nov 2009 7:59 AM

Lori, I would recommend to people who are considering  taking college or university art courses to go and investigate and observe before signing up.  Talk to the instructors and ask very specific questions about the methods used and the content of the classes, look at the student galleries and faculty work first to see what's being generated.  That's probably the best thing to do so that you don't find yourself enmeshed in a program that isn't right for you.  

on 7 Nov 2009 8:26 AM

Kisu, good recommendation. Seems your advice would be useful for any educational venue.

amyimann wrote
on 7 Nov 2009 12:54 PM

just curious - where did you go to art school, and when did you graduate?

on 7 Nov 2009 4:22 PM

University of Arizona... 1974-1978 Bachelor's degree in Fine Art Education. I had a friend who went to RISD who had the same experience... was the norm for the times. But the UofA still seems bent toward abstract expressionism.

Worked at Digital Equipment corporation (NH) - release engineer 1981-1989

Watercolor classes: Albuquerque with Dorothy Vorhees: 1992-1994

Summer workshops with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal: 1995-1999

Other workshops: Irving Shapiro, Clayton Beck, Dennis Sheehan, Richard Schmid, Nancy Guzik, Diane Rath, Donald Demers.

Favorite videos: Richard Schmid (June), Morgan Weistling, Jay Moore.

that about covers it ;-)

Kisu wrote
on 7 Nov 2009 7:12 PM

Lori, Irving Shapiro was the director of the American Academy of Art when I attended, but I really can't say I remember all that much about him other than my initial interview which is a fuzzy memory now.  Too many years have gone by!

on 8 Nov 2009 5:09 AM

Kisu, my very first workshop was with Irving Shapiro when he came to Albuquerque - I think in 1992. He died shortly thereafter. Clayton Beck says he studied with Irving at the Academy. He painted with watercolors like they were oils - scrubbing sometime with a bristle brush. The thing that caught my attention is that during the workshop he always worked from a value sketch done in charcoal - not directly from a photograph.

Paw2 wrote
on 8 Nov 2009 9:25 AM

Thank you Lori,

This was a very enlightening  to hear. I was always feeling less since I did not attend art school or held a degree of higher learning. Now I see many artist share that  "I wish I had attended art school" . Maybe now I can put that to rest and continue to develope and grow.

Thank you again and thank  all of you who shared your comments.

Paw

Kisu wrote
on 8 Nov 2009 10:31 AM

Lori, I wish now that I'd had the chance to get to know Shapiro some, but I was very young at the time (sigh!) and I was commuting 3 hours round trip each day to get to the Academy.  We were in class from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., so during the day we were pretty much occupied in the classroom, except for a couple short breaks and lunch.  Seems like another lifetime ago!  The entire morning was devoted to life drawing each day, and among a variety of exercises we did simple still lifes in the afternoon fundamentals class, starting with carbon pencil, moving to a monochromatic watercolor, and then ending with a full color rendering.  The emphasis was, like you mention, on getting correct values more than anything, so I can see that deriving directly from his approach.   There were a couple students that gathered every day after all the classes were over to do portraits from volunteer models, usually students they recruited to stay after school.  I was asked to sit for them one time and forgot to tell my dad who was waiting at the train station at the usual time to pick me up...and I didn't show.  Needless to say, my parents were very upset, thinking something had happened to me in the big city, and I got into a lot of trouble for not letting them know that I'd be late!   Duh!  This was way before cell phones and text messaging.!

on 9 Nov 2009 12:34 PM

Lori, WOW that's a sad story about that non conforming student being expelled....kind of ironic isn't it? He got expelled for not just blindly following a teacher that had no rules himself.

After reading all of the comments from people It occurred to me that many would benefit from reading " Vincent van Gogh : a self-portrait in art and letters"

It's an amazing collection of the letters that Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother . He wrote over 700 letters!

Vincent Van Gogh taught himself to first draw and then paint. He talks about the process in his letters and you see his work improve as the book goes along.

The man had an amazing work ethic.  It also shows how intelligent and clear minded he once was. - Not just the crazy guy that cut off his ear.

- Juliana

Antonin2 wrote
on 10 Nov 2009 10:28 AM

I totally agree ! The best is to be friend with a better and older artist than yours. If you don't their is the workshops but nothing can beat a personal relationship with an other artist. That is why I found the forum of Artist daily so priceless. I wish tough we were sharing more practical stuff but it is not easy on a forum.

By the way Workshop magazine is a gold mine ! Thank you so much for this magazine !

Robin11 wrote
on 10 Nov 2009 2:35 PM

I would echo what Kisu said.  Here in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has a very structured first 2 years that starts with drawing and the fundamentals.  It was featured in Drawing magazine a year or so ago.

They also offer community classes which I intend to take in the spring.  I'd love to jump in and take the 4 years but it's really intense!  One at a time might work better for me.

laji wrote
on 11 Nov 2009 10:23 AM

Thank you for the article!! I had a much different experience as an art student (some 15 years ago!). I did have several instructors that were very helpful to my knowledge as an artist (although I do admit that there were several who were there to teach to paint or draw in their style instead of helping us find our own individual style).

One of my favorite instructors stated on the very first day of class that "...there is nothing I can teach you that you can't teach yourselves...it would just take you a little longer..."

I still think it takes awhile to process what others teach...and then you have to decide what will help you as an artist, and what to toss!!

rhoustons wrote
on 11 Nov 2009 2:04 PM

My experience sounds somewhat similar to yours Lori. I actually fell into computers after graduation. I can relate to the burn-out. I attended a university and majored in fine art and some of the professors did not touch on the basics very much. About the only course I did not take was painting. That was due to the fact that the individual teaching the course had a deep interest in  Picasso. Not that there's anything wrong with Picasso, he was very talented artist, but I didn't want to spend a semester learning how to be Picasso. Not much freedom in that course to explore you own style. But on the flip side I thoroughly enjoyed his drawing course.

An area in which I believe schools came up short when I was attending was the business side of art. We luckily had one art marketing course that was offered. It helped some but there should have been more.

But overall I'm glad I attended college and acquire a degree in art. If I had it to do over again I would have possibly spent my summers attending a painting workshop.

I'm also finding Workshop magazine to be very helpful.

Thanks for the great article.

on 11 Nov 2009 2:25 PM

Robert, thanks for your comment. What I'm gathering is that art academies were fairly good at delivering an academic education in art, while universities were bent towards teaching abstract expressionism. Many students really liked that, but I was born to be a representational painter. I agree, Picasso was good, but not the only way to go.

Fortunately for artists today, there are so many places to get a good education. I'm trying to play catchup, but what a great opportunity for younger artists who are just getting started. They can zoom right in on whom they want to study with or where they can get a good dose of the academics.

on 11 Nov 2009 5:08 PM

Thanks for the great blog! I do not have a degree in art from a university but have studied with some of the best teachers in drawing and watercolor throughout the years. I found that concentrating on one aspect of art a year strengthens that particular area. One aspect builds on the other. Soon I will be ready for abstract art but I don't think you can "go there" until you have basic skills under your belt. Learning is a continuous process and your art matures as you do.

Kisu wrote
on 11 Nov 2009 5:50 PM

I'm not trying to be contrary, but it's in my science training to find and test the holes or weaknesses in a given perspective or position, so here goes:  isn't  there an equal chance that students who attend workshops with prominent personalities can become clones of that instructor, similar to the complaint that many university art professors seem to pressure their students to go in a certain direction?  I know of some artists who have taken workshops and have come out of it assimilating the instructor's technical tricks and stylistic idiosyncrasies.  Have they improved?  Sure, but they also acquired some mimicry which hopefully over time they should work to move past, but not always.  

on 11 Nov 2009 6:26 PM

Kisu, You are absolutely right - some teachers are apt to make clones while others just teach concepts. But then again, some students are more apt to be clones than others... and some never develop their own way of working.

I paint along side of Richard Schmid throughout the year and while I can paint like he can (although not as well), I do not really like to paint in his style. I more prefer to emulate Nancy Guzik if anyone. It's nearly impossible to study with an instructor and not end up letting some of his or her techniques or approaches creep into your work. Having said that, students have learned by copying from their masters throughout the centuries. The students who take what they've learned and take it a step further by developing their own visual statements and styles are the ones who become the new masters... then a whole new school copies them.

I believe that no matter where one learns skills - from a school, atelier, university or workshop instructor, the artist who develops an individual way of working that's from the heart and not merely just "cloning" is the artist who will achieve greatness.

I may never be great, but one thing is for sure... I'm as stubborn as they get. I take what I've learned and paint the way I want to. Artists are more than technicians... they are engineers with paint.

railartist wrote
on 15 Nov 2009 6:10 AM

I totally agree with your statements regarding university-level art classes. I also, was chastized for rendering the figure as I saw it, now as amorphous blobs and shapes on the paper. I also got taken to task for painting blue when I saw blue, or crimson when I saw crimson......... the instructor du jour wanted me to put down ANYTHING but what I saw on the model/still life/landscape. It was no wonder that I said the heck with it and struck off on my own...... a decision that hold no regrets with me. A lot depends upon the instructors as well as the tides of artistic sentiment that are running at the time. Nope, happy with my decision to become a realist.

on 16 Nov 2009 4:06 PM

Yes, yes, yes.  My moto is I always want to learn!  It's one of lifes most precious gifts, to have have been given a brain and to have the capacity to learn so much more.  Learning is one of the most stimulating things in life.  It's challenging, it's not easy, but is it great!

on 2 Aug 2013 9:16 AM

It's now 2013! I think some art schools have improved on their academic education... especially in the area of illustration - an artist must learn how to draw accurately when illustrating.

There are many ateliers available as well. However, since the Internet Revolution, there is so much free advice online and inexpensive tutorials/modules and schools that it's changing the way education can be attained in many fields. In my life, having an art degree never helped sell a painting. Now I teach workshops at Scottsdale Artist School on occasion, and none of the students care whether I have an art degree - what they want is for me to have beautiful work and excellent teaching skills.

I have to say that the skills I have today - from studying with Sondra Freckelton for watercolor, Richard Schmid, Nancy Guzik, Donald Demers, and Daniel Keys for oils. In fact, medium doesn't so much matter - because all these artists have taught me time honored principles which apply for any representational painting - no matter the medium.

It's a new world for art education! Find an artist whose work you like and learn from that artist. A degree will only help you if you want to teach in public schools or a university. (you have to have your masters though for that).

My mentor, Richard Schmid never went to an art school - he studied with Bill Mosby in Chicago, but he has no degree. As a youngster, he learned from "The Famous Artists' School" through the mail system. He got a great start by studying with the illustrators who taught through that school.

ViH@3 wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 11:20 AM

i went to art school. i loved it, as it was a time of total submersion learning.

however one of my teachers said to us (and boy was she right)

that once we got out of school our true learning would begin

so to me while it was a help having gone to art school....(the foundation year alone was definitely worth the price of admission)

it really wasn't necessary

i had to teach myself watercolor! we didn't have a watercolor course back then (late 1970s)

art done right is a life long learning anyway

so either way is good

real artists are artists because they make art and grow with their art

not because they went to art school

KelleyD wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 11:31 AM

I can't believe that this question is being posed in this way.  

There's a lot of dialogue about whether real women have curves or if they don't.  The fact is that real women are exactly what they are.  

Same thing with artists, artists are exactly what they are, regardless of schooling and education and sometimes despite it.  

They learn.  They work in their media.   An art school or university can't change that.  But it can break an artist with abusive critiques from teachers and peers alike.  It can break an artist with ruminations about the nature of art, art vs. craft, and other nonsensical philosophical musings, that for me, killed alot of my creativity with uselss existentialist inquiry.

The most important thing I learned in art at a university was DO THE WORK.  That's it.  If you do that, you are an artist, whether you paint on huge canvases like Clifford Stihl or dots like Suerat and Rothenberg, went to the Sorbonne, the local university or just spent the first twenty years painting on scrap lumber with the buck cans of latex in the hardware store out in the country.  Even if everyone says that your work is ***.  Look at Van Gogh.  (There's a great Dr Who episode with Van Gogh that is a wonderful salve to the artist's soul that I recommend to all.  "Vincent and the Doctor" on Netflix)

If you are doing the work, you are an artist.  

davidbscc wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 11:56 AM

I have studied in private art schools and in college, but I believe that I learned more about what goes into the making of fine art as an Art History major than I did in studio classes.

trista7510 wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 12:07 PM

I'm so glad you reposted this. I didn't go to art school or college until later. And I received my assoc. in fine art. Part of a community that I hang out in is full of educators in the form of teachers , professors, and others seeking their masters in various areas. How important is the highest degree got them. I was an older student in college, it didn't matter how well I did, the younger students would get passed on for scholarships and such. Even though I was making the grades. 3.9 average. Anyway I left college thinking less of myself. But learned more on my own. Thank you for allowing me to call myself artist. In fact everyone is creative and an artist in their own way.

on 24 Aug 2013 12:34 PM

This is a lovely very honest blog, there is such snobbery about Art Degree's yet so many leave with one and never paint or create, and so many who do not have degree's work hard all their life gaining skills and knowledge.  Thank you for sharing this honesty.

maryl630 wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 12:59 PM

Thank you for the article.  I, too, majored in art at a nearby university.  My experience was similar to yours.  I've spent many hours reading art books and watching DVDs learning how to make representational art.  

Before enrolling in an art school, it is important to learn the school's philosophy on art.  Do they teach using a traditional approach or do they prefer a more contemporary one?

maryl630 wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 12:59 PM

Thank you for the article.  I, too, majored in art at a nearby university.  My experience was similar to yours.  I've spent many hours reading art books and watching DVDs learning how to make representational art.  

Before enrolling in an art school, it is important to learn the school's philosophy on art.  Do they teach using a traditional approach or do they prefer a more contemporary one?

sketchz101 wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 12:59 PM

tripe

riman wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 1:38 PM

Thank you for your inspiring article, Lori. I took one year art fundamental course in 2008. Now I am taking correspondence course, because I have to work, so I cannot afford to take full time course, but I enjoy my course. I also like to copy George Bridgman's drawings almost everyday. I am still hoping that one day I can go to an atelier to study academic drawing and painting. I love classical realism.

riman wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 1:38 PM

Thank you for your inspiring article, Lori. I took one year art fundamental course in 2008. Now I am taking correspondence course, because I have to work, so I cannot afford to take full time course, but I enjoy my course. I also like to copy George Bridgman's drawings almost everyday. I am still hoping that one day I can go to an atelier to study academic drawing and painting. I love classical realism.

Eden Maxwell wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 1:53 PM

This is an important topic.

Art School Confidential

The subject of art school came up again.

Art school can teach art history, materials, and technique. Art school cannot instruct you on how to be an artist for one simple reason. No one can teach you how to be original.

This is easy to understand yet for many, difficult to believe, or own.

The true artist will always find a way.

www.edensart.com

An Artist Empowered / Eden's latest book.

mloupe wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 2:11 PM

I attended California University at Long Beach in 1971. Graduated with a BFA in drawing and painting. The instructors were excellent and were highly regarded by students and graduates. I did "Not" get my education with a major in ART EDUCATION but went to Dominguez for my education classes and credential.  From my experience "Most" who received an Art Education Degree did Not get adequate education in the arts and I taught for 32 years.  Degrees in Fine Art in the 70's and 80's were highly sought.  Wen you graduated from CSULB you knew how to draw  and had strong skills in printmaking,painting,drawing,illustration and anatomy.  Degrees are essential MFA if you desire to teach at a university level or join a high end gallery for the most part.  Many artist I know never sought a degree and have done quite well for themselves.  Education is a must but a degree ?

on 24 Aug 2013 2:29 PM

I just checked my email this afternoon. Lo and behold, there are a bunch of new comments on this blog I wrote back in 2009. Judging from the comments today, this topic  still resonates with artists. Thanks for taking the time to contribute your experiences and thoughts.

Lori

on 24 Aug 2013 2:31 PM

Your article and comments ring very true. I was fortunate to have gone to art college and qualified (???) for what it's worth. A true artist paints what he/she sees and what comes from the heart and the mind! All art is a personal statement by the artist and the artist alone! Considering all artists are individuals, no tutor in this world can tell what we feel inside or what we see, making them unable to judge a piece of work created by the artist in response to a personal statement. A painting is similar to writing your life story. Who better than yourself can judge what is put down is exactly as you see it!

 The reason I say I was fortunate to go to art college is for the fact that I could paint or draw all day and receive a grant for it! Students in fact choose to go to a college based on it's reputation not on the reputation of the tutors there.

 Anyone that regrets not going to college should remember that a qualification does not make the artist, but rather than time patience and practise does!  

rdorwin wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 2:38 PM

I feel very fortunate to have received a BFA but I agree with many of the previous comments.  However, had I not majored in art in college I would have never developed the skills I have today - the instructors/professors and my fellow students really pushed me to be as creative as I could possibly be!

MuseGimm wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 2:43 PM

Thank you so much for this I allowed myself to be "hurt" really hurt by an instructor who at community college, I had developed a great repoire' with and I guess I felt betrayed, after taking 2 classes with this instructor back to back, the latter being colour theory, I missed my final exam due to a late arrival of public transit, the instructor had the opportunity to give me a chance to take the exam over, since it only took 10 min as I was made aware of by the adjacent class and instructor !, but she refused, and told me how I had so much, family my own home, children and I should consider taking classes for the rest of my life ? the instructor offered to fail me so that I could take it over or I could take a grade much lower than ( I truly deserved), I would like to acquire a Master's in Fine Art, but it is true I've learned more on my own than that instructor could ever teach me most of all loyalty, humility, kindness, honesty !!! and I'm 55 !

MuseGimm wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 2:46 PM

Thank you so much for this I allowed myself to be "hurt" really hurt by an instructor who at community college, I had developed a great repoire' with and I guess I felt betrayed, after taking 2 classes with this instructor back to back, the latter being colour theory, I missed my final exam due to a late arrival of public transit, the instructor had the opportunity to give me a chance to take the exam over, since it only took 10 min as I was made aware of by the adjacent class and instructor !, but she refused, and told me how I had so much, family my own home, children and I should consider taking classes for the rest of my life ? the instructor offered to fail me so that I could take it over or I could take a grade much lower than ( I truly deserved), I would like to acquire a Master's in Fine Art, but it is true I've learned more on my own than that instructor could ever teach me most of all loyalty, humility, kindness, honesty !!! and I'm 55 !

johnansel wrote
on 24 Aug 2013 7:11 PM

Lori,

I am so very sorry for your experience in college.

I have read similar stories before. I have seen them for 35 years or so in the major popular art magazines. Often alongside the articles that style try to fight the mid 20th C "Realism" vs Abstraction" battles. In my career as an artist I have met folks who have written and edited those stories.

I was lucky, my  art instruction began several years before college ... studying drawing, painting, and the classically (Greek & Renaissance) based design concepts known as dynamic symmetry. (By the way, those design principles were/are often used by some of the best artist in the modernist and abstractionist movements ... artists like Richard Diebenkorn.).

35 years ago, my college art program included instructors that were traditionalists, modernists, and even a few blooming post-modernists. We learned to cope with all of them ... to take from them what we could and "store" the rest for later digestion.

I had the privilege teaching college as a full time artist professor for thirty years. I have met so many professors from all over the country ... every state, every kind of school. While I have known a few that were jerks or burned out ... I have never met one (much less a whole program) that is as bad as you describe.

My daughter, a budding illustrator, studied at a highly ranked state school. She had an instructor who has only one rigid vision for how drawing anatomy can be done, one rigid vision for how to teach drawing anatomy can be done. The "classic" system he learned in an old European academy. The academy was in Soviet era Russia. My daughter knows from my colleagues and museums ... that there is wore than one way to draw.

She also knows the old adage ... when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

As I said, I am truly sorry for your experience in college. And while I am sincere about my apology ... I must take to task your statement that ... "one issue of Workshop magazine offers so much more than I learned in four years of college. Really? I have read lots of magazines and books from the popular art press, collected and saved many (from Watson-Guptil, Northlight, Workshop, American Artist, Artist, Drawing, Plein Air etc.) I have both loved/treasured and railed against many things I have read in those. I have learned a great deal.

But four years worth? You and that art department were a poor fit. It could have been all them, all you, or more likely it was not the right time for you to learn what they had to teach.

Thanks for your post, John

johnahancock.com

on 24 Aug 2013 8:48 PM

John, it's late where I live, so I may spend more time answering tomorrow. Yes, my college experience was not good. I had one very good teacher for figure drawing and watercolor. He retired in my junior year.

I think the most difficult part was that I couldn't get a good grade because my work was fairly realistic, and I was pretty good with anatomy and representational drawing - if I had just doodled more, I would've gotten a better grade. I also would have gotten the type of education I preferred, If I had majored in illustration.

I returned to college for a 5th year and took science courses for nursing school. I did

very well, getting a 3.9 average. I needed to be able to study for exams... Something I could get graded on in a less subjective way.

Yeah, my four years had no demos or descriptions of how to use our tools. Perhaps I feel lime I got more from Workshop Magazine because I wrote form that publication on occasion, which enabled me to attend, record, and write about the step by step demos.

I wrote this blog awhile ago. I'm still learning and improving my technical skills and developing my style... Even of we do get a great college art education, we never stop learning anyway. Today, there are many, many ways for artists to learn... Online, in schools, workshops, etc. Most of what's available today didn't exist when I was young.

Not sure if I mentioned this in the blog, but I loved going to college in general. I made lifelong friends, lived in a dorm all 4 years, and worked part time. I wouldn't have changed that for anything.

Gaynor Dore wrote
on 25 Aug 2013 5:08 AM

I only picked up my brushes just over 3 years ago never having painted before. I am completely self taught and read and research art wherever I can ( including your very inspirational articles). I started in watercolours and progressed to acrylics, I just love the versatility of the medium. I paint from instinct and am very much of the 'realism' type and love fine detail. I have sold and shipped 2 paintings to America this year purely from a photograpgh they saw online. I am at this moment working on a commission for a large painting , this is for England where I live. My point being that sometimes it is not necessary to go to an art school. I am by the way 68 so age isnt an issue either. I am going to exhibit next year at a large art show if I can paint and retain enough pictures. Gaynor Dore'

rcxkid wrote
on 25 Aug 2013 10:14 AM

This topic is relevant to me at this point in my life. I live in England and we have a few excellent Art Schools in the UK.

I'm a computer programmer by profession, but an artist in my heart. I did not go to University, and now at 55 I could apply to take a Fine Art degree; indeed I've been contemplating doing so for almost 1 year.

This discussion is enlightening, but also raises one of my fears that it may cost me a lot to learn a little; and it seems like playing the lottery. Even if I research the establishment, will it stay the same over the duration? Will I get a tutor that has a dislike of the very subjects I need to learn about?

The main reason I want take an Art degree is to learn. My day job is mostly exhausting and my art does not get the time and space it needs. Going to University will allow me to devote 3 uninterrupted years to learning, and that is very attractive to me. I am a good oil painter but I 'know' very little.

From reading the posts here though it is clear to me that self teaching is a very worthwhile alternative, more so when accompanied by input from one or more professionals.

My challenge, if I went down that route, would be convincing friends and family that I'm not taking a 3 year break from work to enjoy myself, but that I'm truly investing in my future. It is neither practical or commercially sensible for me to still be programming in 10-15 years time. The brain slows (or we get more careful) with age and there are less stressful ways of earning a living at my age.

I just thought I'd share this. There may be others who are facing the same or similar decisions. Please fell free to ask questions or comment.

nicky6 wrote
on 26 Aug 2013 12:52 PM

Thank you for posting this article! I have always felt at a deficit because I didn't get the education I chose way back when. I have been taking classes with different talented instructors over the past few years, but still felt behind, as I am surrounded by many talented Art School Grads amongst my peers. This does resolve some of the self doubt that I'm sure lingers for many of us. Thank you again!

nicky6 wrote
on 26 Aug 2013 12:52 PM

Thank you for posting this article! I have always felt at a deficit because I didn't get the education I chose way back when. I have been taking classes with different talented instructors over the past few years, but still felt behind, as I am surrounded by many talented Art School Grads amongst my peers. This does resolve some of the self doubt that I'm sure lingers for many of us. Thank you again!

artsybeck wrote
on 26 Aug 2013 4:17 PM

I painted and drew for years, and my friends and relatives applauded my work.  I was proud of the fact that I never had any art classes.  However, I decided that I wanted an art degree.  Toward the end of my schooling, I returned with some canvases to show my relatives, and my aunt said, "You've improved!"  Then she hugged me and looked at me and said, "You were always good, but YOU HAVE IMPROVED!  Don't let the experience of another person hold you back from attending art school.  It was such a joy for me!  I learned so much.  I would still be in art school if I had the time and money to keep attending.  If you find the right school, you will be surrounded by like minded students.  Those were some of the happiest years of my life.

on 27 Aug 2013 1:17 PM

My experiences were similar to Lori Woodward's. I wanted to be a Pre-Raphaelite in a school nearly filled to the brim with Abstract Expressionists. Since my financial resources were very limited, the college I went to was my only option if I wanted any kind of college education so I stuck it out and got the degree. I feel like a self taught artist with a BFA in Art Studio which really should be a degree in Art Politics as little to no technique was ever taught. It seemed being able to verbally defend your work was more important than the work itself. From talking to fellow artists who went to school in the United States between 1960-1990, this was hardly unique. I went in the early to mid 1980s and saw no point in graduate school at the time.

Since so often what goes around comes around, art schools that teach the very things I wanted to learn back then are now popping up everywhere, I found a way to take these classes online and chose New Masters Academy to supplement my Artist's Magazine subscription and all of those Watson-Guptill and North Light books I've bought over the years. In some respects, spending time with other artists taught me the most.

The older I get, the more I think there should be a statute of limitations on how long someone can bemoan what "The art department did to us" back in the day and do something about it. I'm just glad I stuck it out long enough to see the art pendulum swing back this way.

Can you be a "true" artist without going to art school? Definitely. But having some really good classes can go a long way towards getting the artist where he or she wants to be.

www.beautifulpast.net

Tor Husby wrote
on 27 Aug 2013 3:36 PM

I must admit that I miss having an accademical degree in fine art. Why? Because in Norway there is almost impossible to be accepted as an artist without a degree. Officially using the term artist means having an art degree. There is an art society for independent artists. There it is possible to appy for membership without a degree after being aubject for a jury of artists with accademical degrees. Several og the members of the jury do have accademical posts at an accademy of fine art. In this way it is possible to be allowed to use the term artist even if you don't have a degree, but very few of those who appy for membership is accepted. So the term artist is not a term you just can use of one self after having some practise and having some privat education. I have decided to try to be accepted, but it is as hard as taking an bachelor degree of fine art.

I have entered a private art school for four years, Nydalen art school which is specialised on painting. This school starts with a modern approach and is then undertaking classical education integrated with teaching a modern approach. I am glad I have this experience because I do not see a neccesary conflict between these two aproaches. What I did experience as best was how modern intuitive painting was combined with a classical studio approach. The art director of the school did the last year giving an intimate teaching for only eight students each years. That year was the most revarding one. Learning to se art both from our present time, history and the deeper prinsipally level was a fantastic experience. The phiosophy was based on an integral understanding.

What is sad is that although several artists reccognise the quallity of this shool, it does not help because I am at the galleries in Norway first asked about my degree even before they are intereted to see my work. I have experienced better understanding from foreign gallerists.

Tor.