Hi. This is kinda intriguing.
You remember those commercials about "have you ever wanted to draw? do you like to doodle? take our take-home art test by drawing a pirate or a turtle and send it in and we'll evaluate it and turn you into a real live artist!"
they've been on forever and are the commercials for an art correspondence course called the Art Instruction Schools. well, last year my sister (one of the many people in my family concerned about me sitting around loafing all the time, despite my artistic aspirations) decided to apply for the thing for me via online or some such one afternoon. (no drawing was necessary, apparently, which is odd.)
she mentioned it to me and i went "oh ok." and nothing really happened from it. this was last may perhaps. i've gone on drawing infrequently and without focus, posting art, then even did a stint teaching art (since i've got a minor in drawing from college) at a local muslim private jr. high alongside some english i was teaching there.
but enough about me. today, i get a call from a guy out of the blue saying he is from the Art Instruction Schools, his name is Randy, he is from Tampa and he is in the area over the weekend meeting with art school applicants. My name is on his list, so he calls.
Now, Randy seems to be going through a somewhat regular rigmaroll for himself and is nice enough even to let me go freshen up a bit (go to the can) and call back in a few minutes. But y'know, the questions he's asking, out of the blue, first thing i wake up, are SO nice! He seems just, out of the blue, interested in my art. How often do I draw? Do I want to bring my skills up to a professional level? Who encourages my art? Do I want a career in it? There is some mention of a free art course. He wants to come over to my house, see whatever I have in terms of drawing to assess it, and give me a 90-minute presentation on the course to see if I'd be interested.
Well, once my sleep-haze has worn off a bit (the call came at 10 am on a Saturday), I'm pretty into it, though I'm wordly enough now to not fall for any quick sales pitches and my journalistic anti-scam radar is well in effect. But, hey why not. After all, I've been having trouble getting my art-head together and i'm recently free of my teaching responsiblities and gainfully in-between work, loafing at home for a bit, trying to gear myself up for my as-yet-going-pretty-slow-cause-i'm-a-loafer journalism career, so...
As I said, I'm like, "hey sure, why not." So, he'll be over at 11 tomorrow. But, Randy also said something a bit fishy, said I'd have to have a checking account or some sort of proof of financial something or other to show I've got money. Said it a couple times. But he seemed to loosen up a bit as I got up from my sleep-fog and put some more "serious" in my voice. But don't worry, I stayed aloof though earnest. Didn't sound like a sucker, I don't think.
Anyway, I get off the phone, he seems convinced I'm worth his drive over (he says he has trouble with the mapquest sometimes), leaves me an 800 number to get back in touch with him if needs be. (Which i will soon call to see if it's actually a working number.)
And I go, "hm." Apparently, Randy is an artist from Tampa, he drives down to South Florida once in a while to recruit. He visits with people who've drawn the pirate or the turtle, sees their drawings, also--wierdly? asked that anyone interested in my future art success be onhand as well. and anyone else who might be interested in such a program--decides who gets the free art course, goes back to tampa and teaches from there.
Oh, he also mentions--like the commercials do, I remember--that Charles M. Schulz, of Peanuts, was an alumnus and that it's been around for 80s years.
So I get off the phone, and I go online to look this thing up, and in the past half hour of digging around this is what i've found.
It's a correspondence art school based in minneapolis, minnesota, originally founded in 1914 as the "Federal School", and changes its name at some point to "Art Instruction Schools." As such it did indeed garner a number of noteworthy artists as alumni, mostly, apparently, at the very start of their art careers, as the only option available to them, or a stepping stone into more serious study.
As Randy mentioned on the phone, the school has an artist in each state who travels about teaching students for that area. Or at least meeting them and then teaching by correspondence. You do it in your spare time and get professional level skills, they say.
The school's first intro-to-art/drawing course seems to be the free one, with a general overview or drawing/art with a focus on illustration/cartooning. Particularly interesting to me that they throw in some color-wheel and design elements apparently, and use of professional materials. Text books are sent with each lesson, it says. Randy said a number of times that it would be a completely free course. But, I think it's clear that's just the first course.
The artists mentioned/linked on the company's website are all very accomplished masters in their area, but there isn't anyone who seems to be very accomplished in recent times.
A number of the other hits you get online are of kids who've taken the course and their art isn't too great. Hobby enthusiast level.
So in that regard it reminds me of one of those aren't-worth-the-paper-their-printed-on academic awards people try to get you to pay for near the end of high school nowadays, where you get to put it on your college resume but no one takes it seriously. But that's too quick a judgement, and after all, in this case there is an actual course and not just paper.
Another troubling thing is that very quickly in the websearch, which doesn't produce as many hits as I would have liked, the word "scam" is used. One person describes a salesman coming to their home (presumably, Randy in this case) pitched them on the free course, but then revealed that the applicant wasn't qualified enough and then asked them to write out a big check for the paid version of the course. Well, we'll see about that. Another person online writes that they applied once when they were young, like many people taken in by the tv ad, but that once the school realized he was a kid of 13 with no money to get out of him they cut it off.
Well, for my purpose, I don't mind if they're only after people interested in art education on the side who have money to spare for it. Because that's what I am, basically. But the question of more importance for me is "how good is the art education in question?" and how honest are you about your effort being--like ALL school's efforts are, brick and mortar or not--in part about making a profit for you and providing a service for me?
There also seems to be some nostalgic defense of the school here or there where there's criticism, saying "hey, to each his own, you may not have liked it, but this correspondence course worked for person x that i knew, or i had my niece do it and she liked it." something to that effect.
So, this is my experience so far on this groggy Saturday morning.
What I'm wondering now is what you all know about this place, what your experiences are, if you have any information or reviews, if it's a scam or just a sort of quirky and perhaps silly-to-many-more-serious-and-focused-art-students way of getting some extra art ed on the side. also, i'm wondering if it'll be worth whatever amount of money they eventually try to hit me up for.
i'm thinking best case scenario: i "qualify" for the free intro art correspondence course, finish it easy, get at least a few skills polished up that way (since i haven't really been able to find the focus to apply to an art school), maybe get to learn a bit from this art teacher if his work/style's any good, and then see if i want to take any of the other courses they offer.
there is, shadily, no course catalogue or mention of prices on their website, but a few of the disparate people who mention online having taking classes with them seem to mention there being photoshop classes and the like. one person says they finished two courses with them, another says three.
What intrigues me also a bit is this person, Randy. It seems like an interesting life, doesn't it? Drawing in one town for a living and then on the side going around the state to look up(/hit up for money, perhaps) potential art students as a sort of door-to-door art instructor.
It mentions on the Charles Schulz website that a poor, young Schulz growing up in Minneapolis (home of the school itself) took the correspondence course in his senior year of high school, got a C+ in one, then got sent off to war where he honed his art drawing strips on G.I.'s letters back home.
But he had such a good experience with the place, or perhaps such a fond place for it in his heart, that after the war when he'd started cartooning some, he took a side job as one of the school's traveling art teachers.
It should be interesting to see what this thing is tomorrow.
But yeah, sorry for the super-long shpiel there. If anyone's got any info on this thing, please let me know. Would appreciate it. I'm actually trying to go into it pretty optimistic. See what's what. It's kinda fun knowing it might be bubkis in advance. and if not? well, allright then.
their online shpiel: http://www.artinstructionschools.com/