A new school has been started up in Houston, Texas. Known as the KIPP 3D Academy, the idea is to give a fresh start to disadvantaged inner-city kids. Underway for six years, KIPP stands for “Knowledge Is Power Program.” The three D’s are Desire, Discipline and Dedication. The results of this experiment, the brainchild of principal Dan Caezar and educator Mike Feinberg, have been remarkable — so much so that similar schools have been started elsewhere. Literacy rates shoot up as kids cut out their anti-social behavior and actually become “nice.” Marks move toward college entry levels. At KIPP 3D schools there are uniforms, rules, goal-setting and lots of one-on-one help. Students, parents and teachers sign a Commitment of Excellence. “What you get is energy — what you get is creativity,” says Dan Caezar. While educators of all disciplines are watching these schools, even self-starters can benefit from KIPP ideas. Excellence seems to come from personal initiative coupled with loving guidance in a safe and “turned-on” environment. You can practice KIPP in your own studio.
Desire: Motivation occurs when you see the possibilities. Put yourself in touch with others who are where you want to be. Clarify the value-added qualities you can give to your family, community, and your life. Dump the time-wasters, the angry, and the unimportant. When you start to work on something, make sure you have the desire to complete. Doing your desires makes you desire more doing.
Discipline: To the casual observer art is a fluky, flaky business with the added injustice of the starving majority. Minimal effort is the norm and often gets the press. But when study and application are brought in, proficiency flows and a pure kind of success happens. With self-discipline, competence turns to flourishing. Excellence is the result. Excellent workers are seldom unemployed.
Dedication: As it says on the walls of the KIPP schools: “There are no shortcuts.” The student is dedicated to the full round of knowledge that is required to bring off a winning result. Curiosity-drive and structural learning become the norm. Thinking becomes its own joy. It’s this understanding that you can “take something a bit further” that leads to new levels of accomplishment. If disadvantaged kids can do it, so can artists.
PS: “There’s no prize for winning the race, but there’s a prize for what you know at the end. Knowledge, skills, and character give amazing opportunities.” (KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg)
Esoterica: Life is a school. In this school we are given tests. If we pass a test we are given yet another test. If we fail a test we will have to wait for another time to take the same test again. Our studios are also schools. They are constantly presenting us with tests. When we fail the tests we stay mired and inert. When we pass the tests we go onto yet another — thus does our capability rise.
3 D’s and Harry Potter
by Sandra Chantry, Loughborough, UK
This same practice is promoted in the latest Harry Potter book. There the 3 D’s are Destination — concentration on where you want to be; Determination — visualize yourself achieving your goal; and Deliberation — work on making it a reality. This is, so I am told, the secret of “apparating,” the art of transporting yourself from one place to another as if by magical means.
Like an onion
by Mary Timme, Aurora, CO, USA
I was so impressed with your “Life is a school” observation as it fits right in with one of my guiding principles that I call the onion principle. Life is lived in layers. Sometimes it is easy to go down through the layers; sometimes it isn’t. I’ve heard many times when people say, “I’ve dealt with that.” And I smile inside and think: “For now you have.” Wait and you deal with it again in another layer, hopefully a deeper layer. You also hear people say: I thought I’d dealt with that. And I think, you did the best you could with what you knew at the time. When you know more you do better. Perhaps it explains why life is the same old problem again and again in a different guise.
‘Talent’ is perseverance
by Dorit Pittman, Shreveport, LA, USA (until New Orleans opens)
I used to teach art. I would tell students that to be successful you have to persevere and eventually you will get what you want. One percent inspiration, 99% perspiration. When I am asked what is ‘talent’ I reply that it is that nebulous thing that keeps you persevering. It is not magical, it’s learning how to “see” and to keep working until you get the desired results.
Not trying to do everything
by Sally Born, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I think it is fantastic that creativity can be nurtured and seen as such a positive influence on the learning experience for children in the KIPP 3D schools. I received my first formal training in Art Education and I really do believe that ‘creativity cannot be bought’. I have raised our kids with that credence and am so impressed to see it being put to work in the current educational system. I have just closed my basement studio. I am an extreme multi-tasker. My new path will be a change of life for me, which involves building me a ‘real studio’ — my first that isn’t in a basement or garage. We are not retiring — just making a mid-life shift in the course of life which involves everyone being more focused on what is important to us and that we shouldn’t try to do ‘everything.’
Finding the ‘dream job’
by Carol Hama Chang, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Your comments regarding the application of the principles of the 3D’s to artists are so true. These past few months I have seriously doubted my involvement and commitments to visual arts. So I took a three day intensive course on Career Selection. At first the course material seemed irrelevant, but after another day I began to realize where all those “psychological” classifications of “people characteristics” was leading. It was leading to: establishing DESIRE — by asking “Am I suited for the type of work I am doing now?” and “What sort of things interest me the most?” and “What job do I consider to be my Dream Job?” and most importantly, “How much do I love my Dream Job?” and DISCIPLINE — “What sort of personality am I?” “How well am I suited for my Dream Job?” and “How do I keep reminding myself that my goals are attainable only if I persevere and attain it one step at a time and that these things take time but the rewards are great!?” How can I keep myself motivated to work in this singular direction?” “How much do I want this Dream Job?” and DEDICATION — “Do I really love my Dream Job enough to keep on track and work at it?” and “Have I explored all the possibilities? Perhaps there is another aspect of this job that I really love more than others and don’t realize it yet?” and “How do I set goals that will further my career in my Dream Job?”
I found out that I am, personality-wise, well suited for my Dream Job and I am in the right place, so now I can work full steam ahead and concentrate on making art instead of trying to find other non-painting ways of earning that proverbial bacon that I can lay on the table. The desire is already instilled! The rest will fall in place automatically.
Too good to be true
by Kirk Wassell, Chino Hills, CA, USA
It almost sounds too good to be true. Although I hate to sound somewhat negative, I wonder. I am currently enrolled in school. From my perspective, learning is all about your inner experience, not what you look like or sound like, but who you are. On the surface those three “D’s” sound wonderful. But to me learning is not about what you learn, as much as about why you learn it, and most of all how it effects who you are. I strongly feel that the teacher as facilitator is such a key part of the process, and the subject matter is such a minor part of the process. By that I mean information cannot teach values, or respect, or compassion. The teacher, if skilled, can do something more important than any volume of information they can “Inspire.” To be inspired is the most powerful feeling I have ever experienced, but it did not come from a book, it came from my experience of what learning is all about, the fundamentals that build confidence in who we are, but never compared to anyone else. I see so many traps when education is too much about information and not enough about what makes us who we are. In closing I am not opposed to schools who focus upon improving the individual’s self worth, only question the overall effect upon the inner self. I hope there is a component that nurtures the loving aspect of the individuals.
The four D’s
by Sheila Parsons, Conway, AR, USA
I was interested in today’s letter from you because I use the 4 Ds in teaching my workshop students. I tell them that with the 4 Ds they can become fine artists, not merely competent craftsmen. Those Ds are:
Desire: Everyone says to you, “Oh, I wish I could do what you do, I would love to be an artist.. etc. Many people desire it, but few are willing to do the necessary work to gain excellence or to deal with the insecurity and doubt of that decision. Which leads us to:
Decision: You have to decide that making art (or writing, or weaving, or sculpting, etc) is what you want to do with this lifetime, with your allotment of days on this earth.
Determination: Because it is hard to gain excellence in anything. There are very few excellent painters when you consider all the folks who swing a brush. You fall down, you get rejected, a bad review, don’t quit. Get mad, not sad, if necessary. Get back in front of that canvas or clay and start making art. Be determined to just show him or her what you can do. (My main college professor told me when I was 19 to, “Just give it up. You will never make an artist.” Can you even imagine a worse teacher? I cried, I told my artist mother. She said, “Well, you just show that bitch.” (And mama didn’t talk that way — she was mad!)
Discipline: The real bugaboo. The tough part, when you are tired or discouraged or distracted to keep going into your studio or outside to paint.. to keep reading and taking classes and looking, looking, looking.
With these four Ds you can become an excellent artist. There is no wasted effort!
Analysis of ‘What’s wrong’
by Ron Sanders, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Among the responses regarding your letter What’s wrong was Cora Jane Glasser’s “accusation” that I had mastered all the marketing to a fault and to an extreme. Apparently she came to that conclusion based solely on my website, since that was all the marketing that I had done. If anything, my continued focus on gaining knowledge of my craft, and skill in application, at the expense of the business side (leaving that to my galleries) has been my downfall.
Others criticized the variety in my work (as did you), suggesting that it was an attempt to chase the market and was (or appeared) insincere. Though one person suggested that variety was an expression of my true nature. I used to date a girl who was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. She told me she liked spending time with me because, “you have as much variety in one of you as I have in ten of me… and you can switch just as fast.” Variety is essential to my personality and is an honest expression of who I am. The thought of doing the same thing all the time is enough to make me contemplate death! But you’re right, marketing a single look and subject is easier, especially when getting started.
Of course, if I were really just an illustrator chasing the market, then I would be painting such subjects as still life and cityscapes, or wide eyed children with kittens. They’re easy sellers, but I can’t stand to paint them, so I don’t. In the early ’90s I was advised to paint cowboys because that market was hot. But I had never been West and had no experience from which to draw, so I didn’t do Western paintings. My recent work in that genre came not from market forces, but from a long succession of experiences and travel that led to a desire to depict the West, its landscape and history. So much so that I am trying to sell my house so that I can move to Phoenix, AZ.
The biggest thing that I still face is the criticism that I am technically masterful, but my work lacks emotion. I am often told to go home and paint from my heart. I always find this insulting, since I have never not painted from my heart. How can anyone paint something that they have no feeling for? Apparently what lights my fires just isn’t what ignites the rest of the world. I’m not sure if I’m from the wrong planet or just the wrong century.
Of course what people in the art world mean by “paint from your heart” is that I should paint thick and loose, with bravura, in order to create a more emotional response in the viewer. In pursuit of quality of edges, color, etc. I have painted more from life and have studied direct wet-in-wet painting methods which have lead to a greater painterliness in my work recently (a bad back and inability to paint the detail of the past also played a part). But what I have found is a “school of thought” that is followed by so many that it becomes a herd mentality based upon rules of the school and digresses into formulas more than sincere observation. There is more abstraction, manipulation and outright perversion of reality in the name of this philosophy than any sincere emotional response to nature. And so, in trying to find a more passionate manner of painting, I have only found the overwhelming power of the market working toward conformity among my creative brethren.
A case in point was a couple of years ago. I produced a self-portrait from life as a study of this methodology. I followed all the rules of the school of thought. The piece turned out nicely and I entered it into a show. I received my highest award ever (two awards actually). The painting is now a part of the permanent collection of the Indiana State Museum.
All of this is why I think I need to find some other means of income because #1: I’ll never make big bucks if I don’t follow what the galleries want to sell and I’ll never make money at my art if I too closely copy what everyone else is doing (a catch 22?) and #2: The only way to really take risks and determine what I most want to paint and how I want to paint it is to be totally free of market forces and financial needs (one doesn’t have to sell out to the market to feel the pressures of it).
As for the website, I think it got more complex with the latest update (January 2005) when I decided to feature a bit of everything as I was trying to re-ignite my commercial and commission work to pay the bills. I suppose I’ll eventually trim it back down to just the fine art oil painting section and maybe the tutorials (the illustration market is dead for traditional artists and I’m really sick of commissions).
I did appreciate your comments against advising my gallery to liquidate past works. This is a unique situation, however. The gallery is in the Virgin Islands and I can’t afford the return shipping. And I was informed by other artists who show there that they have been unable to get the gallery to pay anything toward the return of their work (they are from London, England). Since the gallery has been showing the same work for a number of years without a single sale and the work is all outdated and really not worth getting back, it seemed best to have them try to sell it by any means possible. It seems more likely that I will get paid from a sale (even a discounted sale) than for return shipping. Otherwise my only remedy is simply to count the work as a loss.
Thanks to you and your readers for the comments. You always keep me thinking.
Time to varnish oils
by Heddy Breuer Abramowitz, Jerusalem, Israel
As most artists find, there is a difference between colleagues who are essentially your competitors and people who can give you objective advice without baggage. Painting is an isolating venture as it is, so your site has opened my artistic community considerably. For this I thank you. I would like some guidance as to when to varnish oil paintings and when not to. I have been given conflicting advice from teachers in the past — all of whom are successful gallery-represented artists.
(RG note) Thanks, Heddy. The safe zone for most medium-impasto oils using linseed oil as medium is one week for retouch varnish, and two months for final varnish. Contrary to popular belief there is no difference for dryer, desert-like environments. Longer times may be needed if stand oil or other slow drying oils are used. Painters who wish to get work to market in a timely fashion might consider putting a note on the back that says: Painting requires final varnish around (date) Please contact dealer or artist. There is no charge for this service. Thank you.
by Marie Louise Tesch, Black Hills, SD, USA
A couple of builder friends came over to make an adjustment to my easel before I started painting. They wondered about the work (an abstract landscape in yellow and green) that was on the easel and I said, “Oh, that’s just a Schnauzer that I am going to paint over.” They both stared at the work, then Mike approached it and turned it on its side and asked, “Is this the way it goes?” “Oh, yes,” I replied, “the original was a horizontal, but I am going to paint a vertical today.” They were both quiet and gazed politely at it again. Finally, Steve hesitantly said, “I don’t see the Schnauzer.” I had fun explaining what a Schnauzer is.
(RG note) Thanks, Marie. For more input on the value of Schnauzers please see Re-priming used canvases.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Kevin Flynn of Cedar Key, Florida who wrote, “I live out on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. It is an old fishing village on the edge of being found. My soul’s voice cries: ‘Calmly in the precious present, be a light for love and wisdom in the window on your world.’ ”
And also Jody Ray Murphy who wrote, “Several years ago, KIPP 3D was all over the media. I’ve not forgotten it, and know of several schools that have put it into action. However, not enough. Such a shame! As artists, we apply ourselves this way every day.”
And also Deena Welde Peschek who wrote, “I’m a special education teacher and most of my students are ‘disadvantaged.’ In my classroom, my motto is ‘Learning is an art, and all students are artists.’ ”
And also Tim Johnson who wrote, “Purge, emerge and flourish. It’s natural. I consider my failures to be the compost that feeds the better and best that is on its way.”