Yesterday we noticed 25 new subscribers who all had the same zip code. Richard Thompson went to the U.S. Postal Service website and determined that they were all from Stevens Point, Wisconsin. That’s where the University of Wisconsin is located. We can only guess that a professor of art or a painting instructor said to a class: “Here’s a guy in the real world who struggles with art every day. He writes this letter and gives tips. Subscribe — you might get something out of it.”
As a product of an art school I have a pretty good idea what art students are facing. I’ve noticed they can be divided into two camps — those who would be artistically literate — and those who would be artists. My letter and its connections are mainly for the artists. It’s my sincere wish that you do get something out of it.
Of the thousands who read this letter, we think that about 69% are professional or semi-professional artists. Most are pretty busy. It actually surprises us that they have time to open their emails. To those students who will make a life of art — and the 69% will back me up — you can look forward to this: The really big learning will begin when you finish school. You will grow increasingly frustrated and increasingly in love with your job. You will have the lifetime joy of working harder than most of your working friends. Further, you will have to discover some sort of inner strength — some ego-based willfulness that will — almost like a religion — keep you flying.
“The world’s engagement of beauty is my bible,
and Art is my religion.
I come to it as a child,
and I add all the grown wisdom I can gather.
Creativity is my salvation.
My easel is the altar.
My paints are the sacraments.
My brush is my soul’s movement,
And to do poorly, or not to work, is a sin.”
PS: “No matter how good the school; education is in your own hands. Education must be self-education.” (Robert Henri)
Esoterica: I wrote that little “artist’s prayer,” quoted above, when I was a student at Art Center School in Los Angeles. I’m looking at it right now on my studio wall. It still seems to work.
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.
Let Art be the Guide
Indeed the real learning takes place outside art school, and the heights of your success, and the depths of your failure are in your own hands. I live just south of Pasadena, down the 110. I went to Otis (then Otis/Parsons), and as a student visited Art Center dozens of times. I still do, but now as a professional, and now I’m visiting friends who teach there. The best experiences and journeys art takes me on happens when I let art be the guide. I’ve traveled this far. It’s good to hear from others in the field.
Better day tomorrow>
Monica, Ohio, USA
Art has been the love/hate relationship that gets me out of bed in the morning, drives me to the depths of despair, and still gives me hope, that tomorrow in my studio will be a better day.
Changing technology in printmaking
Barbara Mason, Aloha, Oregon, USA
You learn it all after school is over. I am a printmaker and struggle in the studio is ongoing. The other thing that makes life exciting is that in the printmaking field the technology is changing while I write this. Everyone is moving away from toxic materials. The internet and national printmaking meetings are explosive with new processes mixed with the old — with digital imagery thrown in. It’s an amazing time to be a printmaker, we are running in place to keep up and spending our money on Halide exposure units and plastic plates you can draw on and then print with little or no toxic chemicals involved. Also we are still buying handmade paper from Japan and keeping our supply of woodblocks and tools ready. So we bounce back and forth from the oldest of traditional processes to the newest. I think most printmakers will admit to being process junkies as well as artists.
The hardest thing student’s face after graduating is balancing their lives. Time for art, time for a job, time for a social life, eventually time for husband/wife and kids and still time for art. It is an ongoing fight, finding balance in our life and time for all we want to do. It would be so much easier if we just went into the studio every day and worked 10 hours and then went to bed, but as any artist knows, this is not often the reality.
It’s in the details
Charles Harrington, Professor, Louisiana Tech University, USA
I’ve used acrylics for over 25 years in my own painting, in teaching water media painting at Louisiana Tech University, and in architectural illustration. Perhaps I am just getting bored, but I have decided to resolve some of the limitation issues that I have just lived with for all these years. The most troublesome of these issues include blending and edges in the opaque mode. I’ve never really been satisfied with what I’ve been able to do in acrylics. I tried oils and I don’t like the slow drying time. I’ve always painted on paper, probably a hangover from my watercolor days, and because it qualifies in exhibitions such as American Watercolor Society. I am now trying other options. I learned a long time ago that I could try to reinvent the wheel or I could keep my eyes and ears open and learn from other artist’s experiences.
(RG note) Charles Harrington’s work can be found at http://charlesharrington.com
Gifted to do more
P. Irwin, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Art schools can be dangerous places. They can lure you into thinking that knowing how to do things is what’s important. The truth is doing things is what’s important. That’s why so many of today’s successful artists never went to formal schools at all — they worked in sign shops, advertising agencies, print shops. When you do a lot of things under your own steam you become gifted to do more.
Am I crazy?
I attend a local college and am enrolled in an advanced painting class. I enjoy it for the most part. A guest presenter was brought in and she displayed her art over the years of her career. I watched the show… with mixed feelings. She told of her “feelings” and emotions… Some of it was simply grotesque and… awful. I had an urge to go home, gather up all my paints, brushes and other supplies and head for the dumpster. If that is art — then I must be from Venus of wherever is popular today. I see things around me that I love, something that struck me as beautiful because of the way the light hit it or its color or its shape… or whatever. I want to record that sort of thing in my work. I do so and am pleased with my results. I would sell any of it and have many a friend hint that that painting would look just right in the bedroom… but no one wants to buy them… This is typical, right? I do my art because I love it and really I feel that I must do it. I just don’t know what to think after seeing the works of that college art department head. She went into detail about her satire and underlying meanings. I don’t want people to require a manual to enjoy my art work. It is there for all to see and enjoy, it requires no explanation. Am I crazy?
Your prayer is impressive, but it is your prayer. All artists must learn to build on their own strengths and capabilities, and have their own prayers. It is that unique thing that we see in ourselves, our own way of approaching our lives and our work that forms into an individual artist’s style. This is style in the larger sense, and it may be intimidating and even offensive to some observers. As well as having character, great artists should have great style.
Better with age
David Lloyd Glover, Beverly Hills, California, USA
The joy of being a painter is that we get better with age. As years go by and I review my library of over nine hundred 4 x 5s I clearly see the progression. Earlier tighter works have given way to more economical brushwork in current works. Maturity and surety of hand is the wonderful byproduct of years of growth. Think of other professions and the sorry result of their path of learning and experience. You are rendered outdated and irrelevant. Not so painters! I think it is the road to perfection that we travel is far greater than the actual arrival. Hopefully we never reach the destination where improvement is no longer. Art school graduates must understand that the real journey begins now. Free of the confines of academia you discover your own vision.
It’s like they had a cooking school where they talked all the time about eating. They showed you how to open a can of beans, a can of ravioli, and how to make Jell-O. After a few years of this they said, “That’s what cooking’s all about. Here’s yer diploma. Go for it.”
P.S. “Oh, and by the way, come back and teach here sometime.”
Best years of our lives
In art school, even though I suffered a great deal of anxiety, I now realize they were the most wonderful four years of my life. Every day something new, something new to learn. Attempting techniques, testing the limits of personal accomplishment, and a total opening to new ways of seeing and doing by passionate and committed instructors. None of this was available down on the farm where the attitude was stultifying to me. I found out in art school what I could and could not do, and I found the field of art history where I continue to have great interest.
You may be interested to know that artists from 72 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001. That includes some guys who unsubscribed.