The arrival of the MOOCs

Dear Artist, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. Respectable institutions like Harvard, Stanford and MIT have signed on. The benefits of traditional classrooms are being sacrificed, say some educators, and many in academia don’t like the MOOC’s profit motives. This argument sounds funny coming from tenured professors.

Are traditional classrooms going from full to empty?

The big MOOC players right now are Udacity, Coursera and edX. A recent introductory course offered by Stanford University attracted 160,000 students from 190 countries. Of the 248 who got a perfect score, none were Stanford students. Makes you think, doesn’t it? The big benefit of MOOCs is that a world of eager students get to sit in with the best communicators in the most refined and cutting-edge courses. Artists have been using disc and online learning for several decades. Art is particularly suited to the system. Bridled with entitlement, rugged individualism and a sense of free will, artists can choose for themselves the instructor with the most to give, in what discipline, and on what path. Most of us would agree with Robert Henri‘s dictum, “All education is self-education.” Professional online art courses offer hard-won insider info that permits students to add their own direction and audacity. For a career in art, it’s not the degree at the end, it’s the knowledge along the way. Over the past few months, we’ve looked at about thirty online art courses of various sorts. When unsure as to value, I asked for an assessment by respected colleagues. We’re still looking seriously at everything that comes our way. Color Foundation for the Painter by Stephen Quiller is an eight-hour tutorial in 13 chapters that beats everything we’ve seen to date. At 100 bucks it’s a bargain. If you happen to be looking for an in-depth understanding of colour–theory, mixing, application, as well as psychological and esthetic effects beautifully presented by one of today’s top colourists, this is the course for you. FYI, today we’re introducing a new Painter’s Keys page, called Bob’s Best, with my personal choices of educational downloads and CDs. Stephen Quiller’s new colour course is at the top of my list. Best regards, Robert PS: “Value and intensity determine the mood you desire.” (Stephen Quiller) Esoterica: With online or disc learning, you stop and proceed in your own sweet time. Unlike the pressure of a classroom or even a workshop, you move on only when you’ve grasped a point. This is particularly valuable when trying to master a hands-on activity like painting. No generation before has owned the miracle of an education by button. I watched the Quiller video out of the corner of my eye, off and on while painting over a four-day period. Stephen’s approach is both personal and universal; the information flows in an effortless and timely way. In my case, learning and relearning often takes place by “osmosis.” I slowed down (and painted better) while watching, listening and learning.   Stephen Quiller

“View of Commodore #5”
watercolour painting


“Falls Off Pole Creek”
watercolour painting


“Autumn Patterns Near Sunnyside #2” acrylic painting


“Ridge Light at Bachelor Crest” acrylic painting


“Snow Patterns Off Bachelor Road” acrylic painting


“Late Light on Stump Trail”
watercolor & casein painting

            The writing on the wall by Anonymous   The greatest resistance to MOOCs is coming from the faculty and boards of many ivy league universities and colleges. And some big art schools don’t like the idea, either. The reason is easy to see. Stanford, MIT and Harvard, institutions you mention, are pioneers because they can see the writing on the wall. Many educators have priced themselves so high so that not all young people can afford to attend. And the traditional idea of a degree is losing favor. A degree often counts for little, particularly in the area of fine art I’m afraid. As an instructor in higher education, I am most aware of these changing trends.   Problems with live workshops by Kathryn Ikeda, Lafayette, CA, USA  

original painting
by Kathryn Ikeda

In general I welcome online and DVD instruction as I find workshops are becoming too expensive, particularly if one adds in the travel costs and accommodations. And not just monetarily, but also time wise. It’s difficult to find a large block of time to leave when there are other obligations that just don’t go away. I try to find local instructors if at all possible, but sometimes the type of technique that I wish to observe firsthand is just not available locally. I certainly don’t begrudge the instructors their fees, either. I think they work too long and hard not to charge a reasonable amount for their expertise. I was wondering if you had heard of the Daniel Edmondson Studio. He has a series of online and DVD painting lessons. I have been receiving numerous emails from his website, but have not been able to find any reviews on his teaching. (RG note) Thanks Kathryn. And thanks to all who sent in queries and recommendations for online tuition and DVD connectivity. We’re looking into every one of them and will perhaps be adding further recommendations to Bob’s Best. There are 2 comments for Problems with live workshops by Kathryn Ikeda
From: Anonymous — Mar 21, 2013
From: Anonymous — Mar 22, 2013

A really great video would be one that teaches the fundaments of art. Such as linear perspective, colour perspective, aerial perspective, drawing, drawing and more drawing. One that teaches all the basic rules and then allows the artist to break those rules with intelligence. The videos that I have seen are based on the presumption that the purchaser already knows the basics and that is not so in many cases.

  Tail wagging the dog by H Margret, Santa Fe, NM, USA  

“Dark Stallion”
acrylic painting
by H Margret

Count me as one who watches those using color systems create uniform, predictable work. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, if that is what you want to do. I choose the excitement of the masters such as Kandinsky (see his surprising & brilliant use of viridian green), Matisse and Turner, to name a few. Rigid systems are used in successful manufacturing because the volumes are so high and so is capital outlay. Artists need to be leaders. The Impressionists changed color use for over a century. For artists to use a color wheel as a template is to have the tail wagging the dog. Of course, it’s much easier to be a factory with factory tools, and sheer production is usually the point today for artists. There are 2 comments for Tail wagging the dog by H Margret
From: Liz Reday — Mar 22, 2013

“Uniform predictable work” That is what I see in most of the instructional popular painter books out there these days. Your words are true and your work has the freshness and originality that is rarely seen amidst the paintings shown in most “how-to” painting books. Most of the workshop instruction I’m seeing looks like illustrations for eighth grade history books. Factory artist/teachers showing hapless students how to paint like everyone else.

From: Anonymous — Mar 22, 2013

Since times immemorial people have been learning by being shown how to do stuff. And just as long people have been appreciative of recommendations from friends.

  Nuts and Bolts by Ann Waisbrot, St. Germain, WI, USA  

“Waiting for the weekend”
original painting
by Ann Waisbrot

I just purchased the DVD, Nuts and Bolts, by Quang Ho. It’s excellent and inspiring. I don’t drop $150 easily, but feel this was an excellent investment. I have taken workshops with some very good painters but this DVD reminded me and reinforced information I should already know, and has introduced some new ways of seeing and thinking. I viewed it with a friend who is just beginning to paint and she, too, has gained some valuable insights. Although he is a representational painter, he has an understanding and appreciation of abstract and non representational art as well. (I have cancelled subscriptions to magazines where editors think classical or some other style is the only way to go and everything else is the Emperor’s New Clothes.) I also appreciate that I can load it on my studio computer and go back to it time and time again. (RG note) Thanks Ann. Another one we’re studying for Bob’s Best. There is 1 comment for Nuts and Bolts by Ann Waisbrot
From: Mary Aslin — Mar 23, 2013

I also have this DVD and it is well worth the money. His way of presenting different compositional approaches is really outstanding.

  What about the hearing impaired? by Stefanie Graves, Paducah, KY, USA  

“Blue Winter”
watercolour, 10 x 6.5 inches
by Stefanie Graves

I think it’s great that there are more online courses for art being offered and commend you for showcasing the ones you think are some of the best. I would like to draw your attention, however, to the need for captioning on these videos. I am one of the 6 million deaf or hearing impaired Americans, and I rely on captioning to fully comprehend any kind of visual media, including TV, movies, or videos. While I have cochlear implants (and previously hearing aids), those do not completely correct my hearing deficit. To really follow what is going on, people such as myself need captions. So far, the beta captioning on YouTube is woefully inadequate, and unfortunately most artists who do instructional videos do not make them with captioning. (RG note) Thanks, Stefanie. Quality online and DVD art tutorials are in their infancy. It’s my opinion that the really great art videos are yet to be produced. Certainly captioning needs to be included. The visual arts are too wonderful to overlook, particularly for the hearing impaired. There are 2 comments for What about the hearing impaired? by Stefanie Graves
From: Odette Venuti — Mar 21, 2013

Couldn’t agree more with the need for captions on tutorials and any DVD’s.

From: George Stewart-Hunter, Alberta Canada. — Mar 27, 2013

I agree entirely with Stefanie and Odette about captioning. The world seems to think that being deaf equals being dumb. So think of Beethoven! I would love to add to my stock of learning units of all sorts, but will not buy any, no way of knowing if they are captioned.

  A great book on colour by Joy Halsted, Gloucester, MA, USA  

“Sunset, Chincoteague”
acrylic painting, 12 x 16 inches
by Joy Halsted

As an adjunct to online colour courses, there is a book, Color–A natural history of the Palette, by Victoria Finlay. It’s simply terrific. Her explorations/travels around the world to find the source and history of many, if not most, colors in their original state is great reading and erudition. (RG note) Thanks, Joy. I loved the book so much I wrote a twice-weekly letter about it here. A passionate and brilliantly curious young woman, Victoria, in one of many colour-seeking adventures, rickshaws out to the village of Monghyr, near Patna in Bihar State, India, to try to find why the ancient cows died young. (Yellow) It’s available on Amazon here. There is 1 comment for A great book on colour by Joy Halsted
From: Tatjana — Mar 22, 2013

Loved that book! I still think about the unsolved mystery of the Greek white pigment. She found the place where they have an ancient storage of it, but nobody knows it’s source. Once the supply is used up, there will be no more. There are many good stories about pigments in that book.

  Self-discipline these days by Mark D. Gottsegen, Greensboro, NC, USA  

“4th of July MD”
encaustic painting
by Mark D. Gottsegen

We artists have always been free to go to a museum and learn, even to go there and copy, paint, to learn. The problem is really self-discipline, isn’t it? Who would make him/herself go to a museum and study paintings and maybe copy a few, or at least draw? Remember Kimon Nicolaides, The Natural Way to Draw? I used to show my students that book and say it was great, if you followed all the directions. Then I’d pick one (making this up, but you get the point): Draw 5 geometric forms for 3 hours. Do 60 drawings. My students would gasp. “But,” I would say, “that’s the way to learn to draw.” The point is that if you have the self-discipline, you can do it. Who has that, today? There is 1 comment for Self-discipline these days by Mark D. Gottsegen
From: Liz Reday — Mar 22, 2013

I agree with the museum study route. There are too many popular artists producing how-to books on painting of questionable merit these days. Buyer beware. Better to go outside and paint every day for 100 days, and when it rains, go to the museum. Ones own individual creativity is preferable to the second rate painting instruction i see in bookstores these days. Some of the workshops are even worse!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The arrival of the MOOCs

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Mar 19, 2013
From: ReneW — Mar 19, 2013

I’ve always been a life long learner. With that said, MOOC is the latest in a long list of methods to help people learn new things without having to sit in a classroom or attend a workshop. The Internet is changing all of that and at a reasonable price.

From: Valerie Berkely — Mar 19, 2013
From: Edie G — Mar 19, 2013
From: Anonymous — Mar 19, 2013

The greatest resistance to the MOOCs is coming from the faculty and boards of many, not all, ivy league universities and colleges. Some big art schools don’t like the idea either. It doesn’t take a great deal of thinking to see why. The institutions you mention are pioneers because they can see the writing on the wall. So many educators have priced themselves too high so that not all young persons can afford to attend. Further, there is diminishing value in the traditional idea of a degree. Particularly in the area of fine art a degree counts for little I’m afraid. As an instructor in higher education I am most aware of these changing trends.

From: Frank — Mar 19, 2013
From: Adrienne Moore — Mar 19, 2013
From: Ed Mallory — Mar 19, 2013

In any university there will be perhaps ten professors teaching first year English. One will be a very poor teacher, one will be a very good teacher, and the rest will be fair to middling. With MOOC’s the student gets to evaluate the teacher before beginning with him or her. In the University situation, unless in extreme circumstances, the student has no choice. This luck of the draw can determine a lifetime’s attitude to English.

From: Marion A Brown — Mar 19, 2013

I have just read your article about MOOCs. I have done 2 courses with Coursera and thoroughly enjoyed them. These were both science subjects but I am signed up for an art course Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques which is being offered by Pennsylvania State University. It sounds interesting in that it includes some art history and some practical art so I am looking forward to it. I hope they offer more such courses in the future.

From: Marta Quiller — Mar 19, 2013
From: Thomas Wallner — Mar 19, 2013

I just received your first letter and am so glad I found your site. I appreciate the effort you are giving and look forward to reading more and having such good information and links available. Sending all good wishes.

From: Gordon Dill — Mar 19, 2013

The most important thing is to choose a teacher who knows what he or she is doing. Study the work carefully and ask questions before you sign up for a DVD or workshop.

From: Maggie — Mar 19, 2013
From: j seymour — Mar 20, 2013
From: Pat Wagner — Mar 20, 2013
From: Jane Ross — Mar 20, 2013

Well, you really hit the nail on the head this time – I’m fascinated by your alignment here of MOOCs and art traditions. By the way, I took a course last year on how to teach 10,000 people at a time – I haven’t done it, but essentially I know the techniques. Thanks for keeping so current … and spreading it around.

From: Jane Mitchell — Mar 20, 2013

You rock! I enjoy your newsletters so much. I’m a “wish-I-was” who hasn’t even gotten started painting….my Mom was the painter, she passed away 4 years ago, I inherited her painting stuff… I’m a horse trainer and horsemanship coach, the art space for me is in collage/bricolage…but your newsletters are so generous, supportive and encouraging they inspire me. I’ll continue to enjoy them whether I never paint anything besides the chairs.

From: Mike Barr — Mar 21, 2013

Some artists I know rely on teaching as their main income and hardly sell any art. The interesting thing is though, no artist would teach or produce teaching DVDs if they thought for one moment that they would be producing artists that could paint like they do. They know that the best a budding artist can hope for is that they can pick up some tips along the way. The best art is produced by artist that paint – a lot!

From: George Sarkis — Mar 21, 2013

More and more, with the likes of Ted Talks and even the spoken and demoed material that is free on YouTube, we are becoming more discriminatory of those who we have time to listen to. Some are communicators and others are not. The reckoning is on its way.

From: Jacob Switzer — Mar 21, 2013
From: Jackie Knott — Mar 21, 2013

The Internet is arguably the single most important vehicle to advance knowledge since Gutenberg’s printing press. I am thrilled not only with the quality of the information that is available but so much of it is free to anyone with a desire to learn … dear God, how powerful is that? Civilization has made quantum leaps in education; private, public, the anguish of the self taught, the pure hunger of a curious mind … in the end, it is about spreading knowledge. Art is a peculiar skill and we are recipients of those who want to stimulate individual expertise – teachers.

From: Hil FAISON — Mar 22, 2013

How about a PhD in Painting offered online by any of the universities? Been searching for sometime now. Great read on “The arrival of the MOOCs”. Thanks.

From: Bobbie Wieber — Mar 22, 2013
From: Liz Reday — Mar 22, 2013

I am appalled at all this shameless advertising of “how to” painting systems of questionable merit. I realize Bob’s friend is Quiller, but using his forum to advertise – and this isn’t the first time – well, the guy has to make a buck….but artists! Wake up! There’s a million ways to become a better artist. You could start by drawing and painting every day. Set up a still life of your own personal objects & favorite flowers, draw your children, paint the view out the window. Go to the art store and look at the colors. Instead of buying yet another ‘how-to” book, spend the money on art supplies! Check books from the library on major artists that you like. I see folks signing up for workshops like sheep, and yet they can’t go out and paint by themselves, which is where the real discovery begins. Read the latest book on Cezanne. He was out there in all weathers, painting “sur le motif”. Study the biographies of the great artists and do what they do. Be original!

From: Richard Incontro — Mar 22, 2013
From: Jeremy — Mar 22, 2013

What Liz wrote sounds intriguing (although unfair to this awesome web site), but the fact is that being original isn’t very rewarding. There is more happiness in learning than in reinventing a substandard wheel, at least for most people.

     Featured Workshop: Graham Scholes
Graham Scholes workshops
Held in Florence, Italy   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Flowers in a bowl

acrylic painting by Nora Camps, Toronto, ON, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Edie G who wrote, “For students of university age, trying to choose their field, wondering whether they can do the work, struggling with new ways of thinking, MOOCs would be a very poor substitute for a teacher in class who knows them and interacts with them.” And also Pesach Ben Levi of Fayetteville, NY, USA, who supplied us with the following:

comic strip


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