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Thread: Observations from art schools. Somewhat rambling.

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    Observations from art schools. Somewhat rambling.

    I have recently been studying to become a teacher and have spent some time at various art schools observing and doing some teaching of my own. I would like to share some of my thoughts here. I'm sure these subjects have been mulled over in one form or another on this forum yet I find it interesting to discus these matters. I apologise if these kinds of discussions have been done to death already.

    My observations lead me to question whether or not there is any place for one such as myself at these art schools. I get the impression that not many schools are interested in the kind of art teaching that I would like to offer. My main concern is that a lot of schools seem to focus on cultivating some kind of abstract artistic quality rather then giving the students a solid understanding of the basic techniques in art (how to paint, draw, sculpt and so on). I have yet to meet someone who can really describe this abstract quality so it can be understood. I had a discussion with one teacher who claimed to be uninterested in such things as composition, perspective, colour theory (and so on) but instead wanted to teach some kind of creative thinking that couldn't really be explained. Skills like composition were refereed to as being shallow and boring. I also noticed that often during reviews of student work not one word was said about the technical execution or how they could improve their craft. It was all more or less philosophical talk about “this shade of green means this and that..”. Such discussions can be interesting but I find it problematic when they become the be all and end all of art education.

    Some teachers appear to harbor some resentment towards representational art. For example I have observed teachers speak negatively and almost hostile to students that strive to create realistic representational art. They say things like “your art is shallow. You should paint more abstract” or “Why are you sculpting a horse? Oh, because you like horses? That's not exceptable. This is ugly and boring.” Some I spoke with expressed the view that they did not need to learn to paint “properly” because that would hinder them from investing real emotion and meaning into their art.

    For some it seems that one must chose between being a more abstract “free” artist and creating “real “ art that says something or being someone who just paints still life all day. I think that one can (and should) be something in-between. Technical skills without imagination and interesting ideas can be boring yes but interesting ideas without the skill and experience to realise them is no better.

    Of course I have not visited every art school there is. And only some here in Sweden. I have heard tough that this style of teaching and view of art is fairly common.I realise that my own preferences in art play a large part in how I interpret my experiences. I try to view things from other peoples perspective too.

    So, what is there to discuss? I guess if anyone agrees, disagrees or has experience of being a art teacher/student under similar conditions it would be interesting to hear about.
    Last edited by Bergulf; March 19th, 2010 at 07:32 PM.
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    I don't know about art schools but I hear this all the time from my friends and relatives about public schools in America from kindergarten through college level . Representational skills are frowned upon and derided by those teaching.
    I have about 40 nieces and nephews and some of them have children now and because I'm an artist they have an interest in art. They tell me that their art teachers are horrible. It is all about agenda art so if you are in a minority group your art is supposed to be something other than realist academic style art. Somehow you are a traitor if you don't agree.
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    Opposite experience in community college in Prescott Arizona, so my field of view is extremely limited. The classes I'm taking so far have been focused almost exclusively on representational art from a commercial art and a fine arts standpoint. In two semesters I only have 1 assignment that will explore abstract art. Otherwise my instructors and the general art program have all been geared toward the fundamentals which I've been happy with.

    Shrill anti realism and shrill anti abstraction have no place in art education as far as I'm concerned. The art teacher is there to teach students how to make better art in accordance to that student's goals, not pass on bias.

    From what I've been reading here and there it seems like you're not alone with this problem in Europe. I've seen other Europeans post that they're annoyed with their art school's attitude toward realism. I'm not sure how prevalent the attitude is in the states.
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    Art education is a huge industry in America and most of it is rubbish, especially in university art departments. And the vast majority of art teachers are rubbish, because they are the product of university art departments. However, just playing the percentages, there are a lot of really good people out there as well. Also, because the American commercial art market is so large, traditional training remained available for illustration even as it fell out of favor in the fine art world. The situation in Europe is more difficult because there are so many fewer options in most countries.

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    Hmm, I don't know what it's like in Europe, but it seems to me that in the U.S. the art schools that focus on commercial art generally have a lot of practical classes (anatomy, perspective, life drawing, learning to use different media and software, etc.) Whereas a lot of art schools and courses that focus on "fine art" are mostly fuzzy theory without much practical method. Universities seem to have especially impractical, fuzzy-wuzzy art courses, from what I've seen.

    "Trade" schools, i.e. art schools specializing in commercial art, often have teachers who make a living as artists and only teach part-time. This helps keep the classes at those schools grounded in reality (in my school it was mandatory for teachers to be currently working in the field. Or at least it was when I was there.) This is also true of community colleges - I've had some decent classes at community colleges, and so have other people I know... (Although with community colleges the quality of classes and teachers varies a lot, so there's no guarantee.)
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    I hope you're not saying that you are giving up on teaching because there are a lot of bad teachers out there. I would think that might be reason to pursue teaching, if you really want to do it, so you can contribute in some way to something you believe in. I am a university professor and really enjoy it. Yes there are bad profs around but we also have faculty dedicated to a strong foundation in drawing and formal issues. If you perceive a problem and truly want to teach then be one of those teachers who teach with passion and work with passion contributing to both the academic and professional worlds.

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    I do wonder if it is a regional thing because I'll have to commemorate with what other's have said: I've had the exact opposite experience at the Academy of Art University which is located in San Francisco. That is, everything that is taught here is entirely technical, all fundamentals.

    If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that teaching the abstract side of art is a common view? Are you serious? Are you absolutely positive about that statement? Because, well...okay, I don't know if this is a regional thing, but I find that to be an extremely strange statement. I'd be amazed and rather disgusted if what you're saying is the common teaching style. Honestly, I don't know of any serious art schools here in California that teaches like that and the only ones that I think probably would would be schools where the art class is simply an elective for fun.
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    In representational art, and in basic drawing classes, I think there are grounds that separate "right" art from "wrong" art. I had a wonderful art teacher in high school that taught us that. I'm in my first year of college and I felt bad for some of the people in our Drawing I class. The teacher praised almost every drawing she saw in that class. Bad habits and mistakes that could have been improved on were suddenly artistic expression and exploring creativity. I don't blame the school, though. Our teacher was new and I saw other classes working from a more traditional setting i.e. still life, perspective, live models, etc. I was glad I had such a good high school teacher or else I wouldn't have learned anything but bad habits.

    Yes, I do believe discovering your style and exploring different methods of art are great.... Great for someone who has a grasp on the basics of drawing. I think you have to have an understanding of light and shadow, basic color theory, perspective, anatomy, and the like in order to move on to greater challenges. And I think a lot of art teachers forget where good art habits begin. I'm terrible at teaching but I'm almost compelled to teach at a college level much later in life so at least someone gets better training than drawing what you feel like in a fundamental art class.
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    I've had the exact opposite experience at the Academy of Art University which is located in San Francisco. That is, everything that is taught here is entirely technical, all fundamentals.
    I wonder if there's something about "academies"... From what I can tell, the National Academy here is also strict about fundamentals and seems to focus heavily on traditional approaches (judging by the student work, anyway...) But they're a very old-school institution.

    When I was applying for art schools, though, all the art departments at universities looked pretty flaky, and so did the "fine art" departments in a lot of the art schools. The "fine art" department in my own alma mater was a bit of a joke, in contrast to the commercial art departments, which were excellent. (This was Parsons School of Design.) I roomed with some of the fine art majors, and their homework consisted mostly of coming up with what they were going to SAY about their art. Making art was totally secondary.
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    Thanks for the replies. It is interesting to hear others opinions/experiences. It appears that there is a wider selection of art schools with different focus in America. It stands to reason that smaller countries would have lesser options and a more homogeneous art community.

    To bcarman: I'm not one to give up so easily. I have enjoyed what little teaching I have done so far and I'm sure I will continue with it one way or another. Yet I think I would need to find a school where the teaching is geared in a direction that I understand and can agree with. I think there needs to be a clearer distinction between schools. Some focus on the more abstract and experimental and that's fine if the students want that. Currently it appears to be quite hazy though. Its hard to tell what the school really teaches unless one has been there. I think many students end up in places that wont/cant offer what they want.

    To daeyeth: I have gotten the impression that a more abstract focus is fairly common here in Sweden yes. I have also heard from other teachers with a lot of experience that this is the case here and in other places like the UK.

    As I stated earlier I have not been to every art school. I am sure there are exceptions. Actually I am aware of a few that focus solely on representational art. Like http://www.atelierstockholm.se/ for example. These schools are rare but possibly this style will have a revival.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 6 Sided View Post
    Yes, I do believe discovering your style and exploring different methods of art are great.... Great for someone who has a grasp on the basics of drawing. I think you have to have an understanding of light and shadow, basic color theory, perspective, anatomy, and the like in order to move on to greater challenges.
    My sentiments exactly.
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    Yeah, this is indeed what it's like in sweden, pretty sucky. The art classes I took in three different schools were all more or less aimed at expressing your ideas or feelings rather than actually handling anatomy and the like. I actually ended up with a lower grade than my friends because I wouldn't be as abstract as them during some assignments (and probably because I expressed that I wasn't exactly learning alot from painting random colors and gluing objects to the canvas...).

    I remember one teacher in particular who would always talk about his own ideas and how awesome they were - and then he'd show us some of his work - one time it being a little wooden house filled with old markers. Such were his brilliant ideas and such art was the art we learned. Makes me pretty angry thinking back on it, it's actually not until now that I started attending gamedesign at university level that we have truly gotten to learn perspective, composition, anatomy and the like - and where it has been approven of. Feels like many many hours of wasted time up until now.
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    I wonder if there are fewer commercial art-oriented instructors because they have developed some strange set of skills that allows them to find employment opportunities beyond being an art teacher.
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