The most challenging profession


Dear Artist,

The other day Joe Blodgett and I were discussing what we might have done with our lives. We both thought if we’d become medical doctors we might have been of greater service to mankind. We agreed that putting out oil-well fires, blowing up buildings, and engineering underground sanitary sites were not for us. Joe took his usual stance that the job of teacher is so difficult that it shouldn’t be left to teachers. I told him I wouldn’t have minded being one.

“The problem,” said Joe, “is that teachers are often security hounds — they’re not like artists — they need the safety of unions, regularity of hours, and decent pensions. In the meantime, some of them burn out.”

I pointed out that artists burn out too. I agreed that sustaining a high level of quality instruction is exhausting. I told Joe that those who do it well need to be paid more, and knighted.

My role model was my attendance at Art Center College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Many of the faculty were, and still are, professional artists, illustrators, industrial or fashion designers, etc. Many were only part-time teachers. Also, in L.A., it was relatively easy to bring in creative celebrities for demos, discussions or group crits. Art Center was mighty enriching. It still is.

Both Joe and I have recent BFAs and MFAs among our close friends. Many arts grads arrive on earth like Martians stepping from a strange saucer. They are fresh from a culture of artistic literacy, sometimes brilliant, but not necessarily artistic competency. Many fine arts graduates have little or no idea of time-honoured academic procedures or processes. Many schools, many universities and many teachers just don’t see it as important any more. Countries like Russia and China think it still is. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before North Americans will be getting most of their art from Asia.

Joe took off and took my bottle with him. I noted three points we had agreed were worthwhile for current students who might seek a life in art:

— Consider workshops and seminars with professional artists.

— Know that some skills are going to be hard won but totally worth the effort.

— Take time for private study and work. At some point in your life you’re going to have to go to your room.

Best regards,


PS: “A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using and tiring it, just in the same way he can wear out the elbows of his coat.” (Winston Churchill)

Esoterica: Art teachers and professors often endure unnatural pressures from administrators who may have idealistic, political or theoretical sensibilities. It seems to me that independent adjudicators might be brought from time to time to monitor teacher capabilities. Students themselves need to have some vehicle for instructor evaluation. Further, post-grad evaluations would be really useful. In my case, it took several years to realize just how valuable some of those Art Center teachers really were. By then I was in the real world. “I began my education at a very early age — in fact, right after I left college.” (Winston Churchill)


The magic of empowering kids
by Anita Hunt, Upland, CA, USA

Security hounds? Regular hours? The safety of unions? Seems to me that Joe is laboring under the stereotypical vision of what “teachers” and “artists” must be. Actually, as a high school art teacher I saw myself more like a magician but instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat I was usually pulling students out of the dark and teaching them to see the world beyond their video games and cellphones. My other great trick was finding time to do my own art — I had to give that one up because my doctor said sleep deprivation was bad for my health. However, every now and then, some vaguely familiar adult will stop me and say, “Remember how you said after taking your class we would see the world in a whole new way? Ge-e-e-ze, how right you were! Thank you.” I didn’t get to push much paint around but I did enable a lot of kids to “look” at art for more than the usual 3 second pass at museums, and who knows, maybe some of them have stopped to observe Joe’s work. Now I am becoming the artist I had always hoped to be, provided I don’t burn out first.


Finding our own voice
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA


“Bridge Mix”
mixed media painting
by Liz Reday

Even though I went to art school in London and got an MFA, my learning really didn’t kick in until much, much later. Supporting myself as an artist was not conducive to learning and discovering new art practice. Going to my room (studio) and spending several hours or more every day without distraction has brought about a learning curve that goes on and on. I do need to drag my work out of there and show it in a gallery from time to time, which is also a great learning experience, if only because the work looks different in another space. The reactions of observers can be both re-assuring and funny; still, they give me an idea of how to improve, change and explore. Selling a painting is gratifying, but can bring about the feeling that you have to keep going in that direction, and if money is the teacher, I won’t go far. It’s only in the solitary confines of the studio that work, play, experimentation, discovery and serious mojo from the muse goes down. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” said somebody. Or was it “Physician, heal thyself”? Anyway, my point being, that after all the art school and workshops, there comes a time when we artists just need to get by ourselves and find our own voice, uninfluenced by the multitudes of workshops and “how to” art videos, not to mention the avalanche of images we get bombarded with daily on the Internet, TV, art magazines, museums and galleries.

There are 4 comments for Finding our own voice by Liz Reday

From: Stephanie — Apr 25, 2011

Amen to that!

From: Debra LePage — Apr 26, 2011

This is very true.

From: Sarah — Apr 26, 2011

What a witty title for your engaging painting.

From: Kathleen lambert — Apr 26, 2011

Very insightful. I find that my best work appears when I get out of my own way. I also like to have at least three paintings going at once which allows me to continually look at each piece with fresh eyes.


Invest in real training
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA


“The Artist”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

There are many new art grad students out there teaching and they have little idea what the real world is like. This troubles me. So many things are wrong with our teaching/learning process. I put in years of figure drawing and anatomy study before I considered passing this information on to others as a teacher. But I find most don’t care, don’t have the time or just plain aren’t interested, even though they crave to paint the figure or do portraits. It breaks my heart. I see new painters struggling, in the dark, trying to paint with excruciatingly bad results and I can’t say a thing, unless they decide to take my class. Not to say I am a genius. I deal with this head on every day.

I have learned that if you teach, you have to overcome the fact every student you get will not know how to draw. Period. I audit drawing workshops and watch people making these little tiny figure drawings from a live model and the instructor critiquing the work. What can you learn doing tiny drawings? How do you articulate the bones and muscles on a drawing that you can barely see? The émigré Chinese here are kicking our proverbial asses with the training they receive and until we wake up and realize drawing and painting are worthwhile endeavors for our youth and invest in real training, western art students are in for a very hard, disappointing time.

There are 8 comments for Invest in real training by Rick Rotante

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 25, 2011

RE Anita – I wasn’t even thinking about kids. God help them. I don’t teach anyone under age eighteen for that very reason. When I was a child, without video and palm pilots, I was distracted by other games. Not to bore everyone by Churchhill was on the money with his statement. I started to really learn after graduation.

From: Chris MacLeod — Apr 25, 2011

As a retired elementary teacher who retired after 35 years in the classroom I have to agree that a teacher must be well trained in subject content to teach. The trend has become to be more and more directly trained in pedagogy. This has lead to a situation in art where teachers who will say –I can’t draw a straight line– are teaching children to draw and paint. Can you imagine the uproar if we had teachers who couldn’t read trying to teach children to read?

From: Helen Howes — Apr 26, 2011

I have met many Maths teachers with no grasp of number….

From: Gwen Fox — Apr 26, 2011

Rick…love your painting and can see the many years of study.

From: Jan Ross — Apr 26, 2011

Rick, your painting is wonderful and demonstrates your dedication to learning all that’s necessary to produce a fine portrait! I couldn’t agree more with your statements about the ‘tiny drawings’! In the ‘dark ages’ my life drawing instructors insisted we fill the entire newsprint paper with our drawing. No hiding there!

From: Janet Blair — Apr 26, 2011

WELLsaid, drawing is the skeletal structure of my painting.I had an excellent teacher whose lessons I have never forgotten.

From: Darla — Apr 27, 2011

I was extremely lucky to have had a high school art teacher who had us all do lots and lots of 5 minute and longer figure drawings (the students took turns posing). There is just no substitute for figure drawing from life. I think I learned as much from him as I did in all of my college classes in the ’70’s. It’s something just about anyone can learn with practice.

From: Marie Tesch — Apr 27, 2011

When is the next class that adults can sign up for? You sound like the guy I’ve been looking for.


It’s a wonderful life
by Gwen Fox, Colorado Springs, CO, USA


original painting
by Gwen Fox

I feel that we, as artists, are the luckiest people in the world. We constantly challenge ourselves to learn, develop our technique, understand the nuances of our chosen medium and along the way the true value of being an artist reveals itself. To be a truly good artist our goal is to continually peel away the layers of our psyche, like the skin on an onion, in order to discover the real “Me.” Painting has a way of breaking down the walls we have resurrected for ourselves to protect our insecurities.

As teachers we are constantly stimulated to become better, hone our communication skills while learning and relearning the art of listening. There is nothing like watching the world open in a student’s mind and heart. When they realize they have chosen the right path, and they were destined to create, and have discovered the door that was once shut tight in their mind’s eye is now wide open, it is amazing.


Like pleasant cows munching
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA


“Cleek Road, Evening “
pastel painting
by Paul DeMarrais

I’ve thought recently that, as a workshop instructor, I’m enjoying the best of all possible worlds. No one manages my curriculum. There are no tests to ascertain if my students are learning anything. There are no observers, no evaluators, no paperwork demands, no peer reviewers, no meetings to attend, no departmental politics to worry about. My students run this democracy. If I don’t perform, I am done. Perhaps I won’t even know I have been ‘fired’ but I’ll no longer have a pulpit to expound on my artistic theories, no tiny theater to perform in. This is the freedom that artists both enjoy and fear. We have no tenure and no job security. All depends on our performance and our luck. What if all employees faced this situation at their job? I bet productivity would soar! Artists can’t avoid being philosophers and facing the fact that we aren’t really doing anything all that important compared to doctors and solar energy experts and the myriads of software designers that change our lives in little and big ways. Artists aren’t really harmful, though. We are like pleasant cows munching in our pastures, while the modern world speeds by. I’ve always thought cows were cool. They really seem to enjoy life!

There are 4 comments for Like pleasant cows munching by Paul deMarrais

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 25, 2011

Your attitude about artists “doing nothing important” is just the attitude we DON’T need. If this is the way you see you contribution, give it up now Paul and make room the those who know they contribute. geez!

From: Cheryl O — Apr 26, 2011

I also teach independent art classes not associated with any school, and have also appreciated the independence and challenges that this entails. You are right, it’s up to the students if these continue. Rick’s comment seemed a bit harsh, although it’s true that art is too easily undervalued in North America.

From: Gwen Fox — Apr 26, 2011

Paul…I like your statement about workshop instructors having the best of all possible worlds. But I have to take you to task on your thought that “we as artists aren’t doing anything important compared to doctors, software designers,etc”. I understand your point but let’s look at it from a different angle. Art touches peoples lives because it reaches deep into the soul. When we create from that place of reverence we give birth to ourselves and then share this gift to others. We make the world a better place to live. We change peoples lives.

As for the cows…I think they are way cool!

From: Billy Smythe — Apr 27, 2011

I guess we should throw the baby out with the bath water. What about muscians, opera singer, writers of fiction and all the other arts. I guess they don’t change our lives one bit either. Off with their heads.


Thrilled for freedom
by Casey Craig, Wimberley, TX, USA


“Seeing Reds II”
mixed media painting
by Casey Craig

This is well-timed as I have been invited to be a speaker next week at the local Eighth Grade Career Day and talk about a career as an artist. Your suggestions for current students will be passed along. I’ll either inspire them to follow their creative bliss or scare them off to the nearest business school.

As for teachers, I was very lucky in high school to have a fantastic art teacher. She was slightly nutty as all good art teachers are. By the time I was a junior she would let me use the class like an independent study. While the rest of the class would have an assignment, I would tell her what I wanted to try whether it was, paper maché, batik, wood carving, stained glass or metal. She would give me a list for each project and point me to the nearest supplier and I was thrilled to be able to do what I wanted.


Confessions of a security hound
by Beth Beam, Little Rock, AR, USA


“Forrest Gump”
by Beth Beam

I am currently in my senior year at UALR finishing my BA in Art Education — closely approaching the burnout line, already. If I thought that I could make a living as just an artist, and it would enable me to feed my children (single parent), I would build the dream studio and go for it. Money has a weird way of crushing dreams, as the dream is always pounding away at the back of my mind. I try to find ways to avoid money’s manipulation of my life. Sadly, it tends to win. I’ve had the pleasure of selling a piece here and there in Little Rock. It always comes with perfect timing (car note due, rent, etc). I do agree, somewhat, with Joe’s comment, “Teachers are often security hounds.” However, I’m not a teacher yet. I’m first an artist. Yep, I’m both. And, my idea of teaching art is not all about the elements of art and principles of design. It’s also about teaching them to dig deep into their creative self and use it to do whatever they want in life. If I can instill that, they won’t end up like me trying to worry about the next meal, car being repossessed, being evicted, etc. You know, being a security hound — and not living my dream. If students are taught how to employ their creativity toward their ultimate goal, their future will be met with a life of security and fulfillment, allowing them to be artists and not security hounds.


Quandary of an artist
by Jamillah Ausby, Brooklyn, NY, USA

I want to thank you Robert for writing about my husband, Ellsworth Ausby. I am also a teacher, a sculptor, a painter and printmaker. I work in the Board of Education and certain colleges, but I am not going back. In a way, I don’t want to teach any more. Then I received a call from a College in New York and they want me to teach this class, “Exploring the Arts in N.Y.C.” I taught this class last summer and I was not going to do this class again but I told the director I would teach this class as it’s only for four weekends in August. I get to go to art museums, see a Broadway play, take students to a yoga class, a dance class, and concerts at Lincoln Center. But at the present time and in my heart I just want to devote more time to painting, sculpture and cleaning out my husband’s studio.


‘What am I doing here?’
by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA


Jim Bush””
oil painting
by Jackie Knott

I quit college after two years, partially because the more I immersed myself in the academic process of producing artists, I realized there were lots of art degrees walking around who still couldn’t paint. I had a few fine professors who loved teaching and sincerely wanted to impart their considerable knowledge. Others bewildered me. What am I doing here? I was learning more problem-solving on my own and personal study. I found some professional artists I admired and took their workshops and learned more in a weekend than I did in semester of school.

Considering the exorbitant costs of college today, one might consider establishing or sending our children to an atelier education. College is absolutely necessary for many professions. It is a fine thing for general knowledge for an artist but don’t expect to perfect your craft; that will take a lifetime. From the letters that appear here, marketing or business might be a more useful degree pursuit. Even then, does the same principle apply? We must acknowledge the uniqueness of our profession.

There are 2 comments for ‘What am I doing here?’ by Jackie Knott

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 25, 2011

Most in this profession know its a worthy one. You are right though. Artists don’t need college, they need an art education and college is all about a degree to make money when you realize you can’t paint.

If we think so little of ourselves, how can we expect others to show us respect.

From: Kay Christopher — Apr 26, 2011

Wonderful painting. What a joyful face. Looks like you did a superb job of capturing his essence.


Missing knowledge
by Barry John Raybould, UK/USA/China/Italy


oil painting
by Barry John Raybould

I do not envy today’s art students who are looking to get a comprehensive foundation in painting — they have a difficult task ahead. Many young students now are starting to reject the contemporary art establishment thinking that creativity is all that is needed and the basic foundation or building blocks of the trade are not important.

The problem, though, is where can a student get that foundation today? Some small ateliers have started once more to teach the time-honored academic procedures and processes, but many of these ateliers limit their teaching to the knowledge taught in the 19th century. Hence the existence today of many artists basically copying the classical realism style and ignoring modern developments in painting.

Painting does not evolve by revolution but by evolution. Knowledge of painting increases with each generation. Although there was a period from the early 20th century until recent times in which much of the hard-earned knowledge from the previous 1000-plus years was ignored, this does not mean that in the 20th century there were no important developments in the art of painting. There were: brushwork, color, concept, realism — all these ideas were further developed in the 20th century, particularly ideas and developments relating to abstract design. The abstract design of painting is what transforms realism and illustration from a mere recording to a work of art. Schools that limit their instruction to just the 19th century processes and procedures omit this important source of knowledge.

Some of this knowledge can be gleaned from other sources such as design-specific courses in some of the art schools, but these are often focused on abstract art, decorative art or advertising, leaving the student who is interested in representational painting to work out how to integrate the ideas themselves.

Further complicating the learning process is the ‘missing knowledge.’ Shortly after the French Impressionists started to investigate new ideas on how we see color in nature in the late 19th and early 20th century, the new fashion for modernism effectively stopped any mainstream further developments in this field.

A few maverick painters, however, defied modernism, stuck to their own principles and continued to further develop ideas in color and in brushwork. Joaquin Sorolla was one of them, as well as many of the California Impressionists and artists in other impressionist movements throughout Europe and Russia. These artists produced some of the most exciting paintings the art world has ever seen.

Many of the these new discoveries in painting took place in Soviet Russia where painters had the advantage of continued government support for the academic training in art, plus time on their own to pursue more personal and ‘informal’ paintings. In their spare time these Russian artists explored these new ideas in color and brushwork. Unfortunately for today’s students, since realism was out of fashion at the time, this knowledge never reached the art schools, and is still absent from academic teaching today.

A few private teachers defied the general trend in art education and taught these developments to their students in private schools, amongst them Frank Reilly (1906-1967), Henry Hensche (1899 – 1992) and Sergei Bongart (1918-1985). Unfortunately none of these artist teachers documented their knowledge in any structured and organized way and the knowledge they passed on can only be pieced together by combining multiple second-hand sources. Some knowledge exists in notes made by students who studied with these teachers, and other knowledge has been passed on by word of mouth to successive generations of artists and teachers. (I personally spent many years to track some of this information down to help develop my own painting).

Some of the academic knowledge of the Russian was exported to China, and as you rightly say these skills are today held in great respect in Chinese art schools. This accounts for the quality of art from China and the increasing numbers of new talented artists coming from that part of the world. An interesting twist on this is that the Chinese have always considered brushwork and calligraphy as a key element in painting. Combining this tradition going back thousands of years with ideas from the Russians with their taste for bravura brushwork has again resulted in many exciting new ideas and developments in painting.

A profession in which the current knowledge is not comprehensively documented or taught systematically in any regular academic institution is indeed the most ‘Challenging Profession.’

There are 6 comments for Missing knowledge by Barry John Raybould

From: Anonymous — Apr 25, 2011

I don’t agree about your point on the Chinese artists. I believe they are “perfecting” the Russian style and moving it forward. But they take the time to learn the lessons of the past. We need to know about what came before the create what is to come, effectively. Otherwise we are painting in the dark and reinventing the wheel. New Russian painters are not even painting like the Chinese, the old guard “Wanderers.” What made Russian art “effective” and powerful was the fact it was connected to the era, sort of like Rock and Roll in the sixties, if you will accept the analogy. If you were to ask why students want to paint today I wonder at the answer. Why do it all? Sadly, serious art (and I know I’m thin ice here)has no context anymore. It doesn’t move us. It doesn’t uplift, it doesn’t answer any questions and it no longer makes a personal statement on the here and now by the artist. And most of it is badly done by those without a strong art education. I know many will say art just is. It doesn’t have to say anything, But I believe most art throughout history commented on its time. Every “ism” that has come before was a statement if not on its time than an the previous time.

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 25, 2011

Sorry I didn’t mean to be anonymous. Was that Freudian??

From: Anonymous — Apr 28, 2011
From: Barry John Raybould — Apr 28, 2011

sorry, like Rick I forgot to add my name. That last comment was from Barry.

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 28, 2011

By the way I forgot, twice to say I love your painting.

From: Anonymous — May 01, 2011

Thank you. The title is “A Rainy Day in Venice”, I forgot to add it. I had a studio there for a couple of years.


An anaplastologist responds
by Paul Fayard, Clinton, MS, USA


Emma Grace””
original painting
by Paul Fayard

Your recent letter re: Ready-mades and nearly-dones reminded me of my experiences in the Blackfeet Nation years ago. I spent about four hours alone with my large format camera on top of a foothill within a sacred circle watching a storm roll in from the west. Witnessing the power and beauty of that place at that time will always be with me. I have never felt more connected to the world. On John Muir’s birthday it seems apropos to quote him: “We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”

Re: your letter Just for fun? I was intrigued by your mentioning human prosthetics. What did you use? I am an artist, art educator and prostheses artist. The ten dollar word for my profession is anaplastologist. When I first started college I didn’t even know there was such a job much less imagined that I would be doing it professionally. I love what I do and feel very fortunate to be able to use my skills as an artist to change people’s lives. Over the years I have met many people with degrees in art who do not ‘use’ them directly in their line of work.

There is 1 comment for An anaplastologist responds by Paul Fayard

From: Jan Ross — Apr 26, 2011

Paul, ‘Emma Grace’ could not be a more touching, perfect painting! Mothers worldwide salute you!



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The most challenging profession



From: Doug MacBean — Apr 21, 2011

I do not comprehend how art schools choose who their instructors should be. If they, themselves, are not talented artists, how can they judge who can bring value to their art students?

From: Marsha Connell — Apr 21, 2011

I do believe that art saves lives!

From: Faith — Apr 21, 2011

I was brought up with the adage – probably coined by Joe Blogs: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach, which is not exactly flattering for those who actually want to teach, enjoy teaching and – most importantly – actually CAN teach (these are by no means a prerequisite for becoming a teacher). I think part of the problem is that it has become customary for academic grades to take precedence over actual practical ability and experience. In the old days a young boy (I’d don’t know how many little girls were given a chance) were apprenticed to a master who ran the local school of painting, where artworks were produced on a cooperative basis (whereby there still are a number of modern, high earning artists who don’t do the tedious work of wielding a paintbrush themselves). The learner started right at the bottom of the ladder, grinding pigments, bleaching oil, cleaning brushes etc, imbibed the atmosphere of his artistic surroundings, and gradually worked through the stages of became a qualified artist in the school of….. The same method was applied to musicians, many of whom started as apprentice singers – the apprenticeship for a singer was 9 years, contracted to a composer’s household, living in, and doing general household chores as well as learning the job. Most, if not all of them were male, of course, and a steady supply of high voices was maintained by castrating the most promising sopranos! (Apprentice painters were fortnuate not to have to be mutilated for their art). There are still places where it is still considered necessary to go through a long period of strict practical training e.g. in St. Petersburg, but our modern idea of education has brought forth academic footballers, so why not theoretical painters?

I could go on……

From: Sandi — Apr 22, 2011

I have returned part-time to university in my fifties for a long-coveted Fine Art degree. I returned with the idea in mind that I would have the opportunity to study under the direction of professionals who would be able to help hone my skills to a level of excellence. I have had this dream since I was a teenager. I made the assumption that it would be all about getting a superb grounding in the basics – not so. It is very process focused with happenstance coaching in technique and materials. Through engagement in process, a student will discover their own style, their own technique and their individuality will spring forth hopefully to result in appreciation in the public realm. We are encouraged to seek knowledge in technique and materials from other students and to engage in ‘our process’ through each assignment. I have success in other university encounters, in another professional career and in previous art endeavours. Thus, I have the experience to stand my ground on each assignment and choose a personal mastery goal for such things as figurative painting. The goals I choose are not necessarily in the flow of the contemporary ideal or what the prof wants, and thus my art is out of step quite often. Again, I have the luxury of engaging in this pursuit with decades of experience and success as I look towards retirement. Yet I find myself at the end of six months questionning my own abilities and also wondering what I have learned really. I am too close to it at the moment to provide a reasonable analysis except to say that it is a concrete example of some of what you are discussing about the nature of university art instruction and to validate and support the advice to grads that you will need some tutelage from professional artists if you really want to do this as a profession. I want to add that I always learn something and that I am deeply deeply grateful to have this experience in my life and to engage with the young people that I do. I feel blessed from an experiential perspective. I have made the observation at the same time that those with Master’s degrees really do achieve a level of excellence. One reason I was offered for this is that if you can achieve 10,000 hours of engagement (Malcom Gladwell theory) then you cannot help but be excellent. More of the same then? Just keep doing it? Is that what happens? Irrespective of where you are or what you are doing, as many others have noted, we know that you have to just keep doing it. This leads us right back to the original musing – what place has this type of instruction?

From: Dwight — Apr 22, 2011

When seeking an art education do not ignore the other parts of the real world, history, psychology, philosophy and several other “ologys” that will, in the long run, make you a better artist and keep you from burning out as “merely” an artist. Too much so-called education these days has the singular aim at some kind of job or profession and only that, ignoring real education.

From: R Redus — Apr 22, 2011

Sandi, I too returned to school for a degree in fine art “later in life”. I received a Bfa when I was 50 and like you, I thought I’d be “getting a superb grounding in the basics” when in reality I found academia was nothing more than a large portion of complacent instructors who used teaching as a way to remain attached to the art world. I did find one professor who was brilliant and mentored me along the way yet only because we were close in age and shared many things in common.

I thought initially that in order for me to “get” painting I’d have to learn from people who had already “got” painting and thought academia was where this was fostered, not exactly….Overall I am very glad I pursued the degree but have to say if I were doing it over again with what I know today, I would seek out the painters who are teaching what I want to learn, approach them and see about studying with them for as long as I felt necessary. I’d spend time studying art history and the makings of it all; find the exterior connections and the interdisciplinary links to art.

I live in the Southwest US and there are many retired art professors that teach seminars, short classes and programs designed for a small group of motivated artists. No doubt education is the tool for it all but learning sure can come in many different ways. Good luck…

From: Darla — Apr 22, 2011

When I went to school, in the ’70’s, there was very little basic art instruction to be found. It was all about “expressing yourself” and ways to generate ideas. So all these years since, I’ve been playing catch-up, trying to learn the basics of composition, effective painting technique, etc. One thing my college years did teach me is how to come up with interesting ideas. Other, more competent artists keep asking where I get my (strange) concepts. I’m tempted to say “Acme Idea Company”, but it’s just a matter of visual brainstorming.

If I had it to do over again, I would look harder to find a good basic art education instead of trusting that any college would have a good curriculum and teachers. A good teacher is a treasure beyond jewels.

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 22, 2011

I quit college after two years, partially because the more I immersed myself in the academic process of producing artists I realized there were lots of art degrees walking around who still couldn’t paint.

I had a few fine professors who loved teaching and sincerely wanted to impart their considerable knowledge. I had some others I was bewildered what they were trying to teach. What am I doing here? I was learning more problem solving on my own and personal study. I found some professional artists I admired and took their workshops and learned more in a weekend than I did in semester of school.

Considering the exorbitant costs of college today one might consider establishing or sending our children to an atelier education.

College is absolutely necessary for many professions. It is a fine thing for general knowledge for an artist but don’t expect to perfect your craft there … that will take a lifetime. From the letters that appear here marketing or business might be a more useful degree pursuit … even then, does the same principle apply?

We must acknowledge the uniqueness of our profession.

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Apr 22, 2011

The last true venue of art education was in Paris, 150 years ago.

We art “students” need a solid foundation in the craft. Original ideas and concepts are purely personal. After 40 years of painting, I’m still studying, researching and learning.

From: Allan Alcorn — Apr 22, 2011

It would be unfair to tar and feather all teachers as burn outs. As you point out, artists burn out too. But artists do not generally burn out at public expense. And, realistically, teacher effectiveness needs to be able to be examined and addressed. See Minnesota.

From: sarastar — Apr 22, 2011

Many students are dissatisfied with their education. Perhaps it is because so many students go to a school without thouroughly researching its curricula, professors, and outcomes.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. And I was a master complainer in college. But I realized looking back, that I knew nothing about the school I chose to attend. I lucked out though, I got a good solid education, much of it from my own efforts. Intellectual curiosity goes a long way. I am often surprised at how little effort students put into their own educations. How little extra reading or practice they do.

I am taking atelier style classes locally from excellent professional artists. Many of my classmates do not practice what they are learning outside of class.

Whatever school you go to, you have to make the effort to learn as well. Read any books the teacher mentions off hand, look for primary resources. Practice techniques you are learning in class at home and for goodness sakes don’t invest tens of thousands of dollars into a school you haven’t thouroughly investigated!

From: Brigitte Nowak — Apr 22, 2011

Interesting comments, especially Darla and Sandi. Some thoughts:

1) Many of those teaching art today in the colleges and universities are products of the institutions that Darla (and I) attended in the 1970’s. They (we) did not learn the mechanics of painting, so how can they be expected to pass this on to their own students, hence the limited emphasis on developing competence with materials and techniques.

2) In most professions, including most of the arts professions, such as dance or music, performing professionals would not dream of stepping on to the stage or into the orchestra pit without a solid grounding in the basics of their craft. For these professionals, artistic creativity (expressing oneself) is a bonus grafted onto excellence and experience. So why is this concept not a given in the field of visual arts? There are works in galleries and museums which clearly show, not only a lack of competence with one’s materials, but, by extension, a lack of respect for such competence. Hence the “anyone can be an artist” mantra, and the whining when the public either chooses work by artists trained in Russia or China, who overlay their creative vision on a sold foundation of skill and technique, or ignores the visual arts altogether as irrelevant, elitist and incompetent.

For Sandi, I hope you do not become disillusioned, and that you glean from your fine art education, the experience that you want, whether it be at the hands of your teachers, or through your own investigation and practise.

From: Alice Clements — Apr 22, 2011

Thanks, I needed this. I have an MFA from Art Center

From: Gloria D Lee — Apr 22, 2011

An art friend and I were talking the other day about art school and how we go to school to learn what to do and then graduate to spend years unlearning so we can pursue our way of painting and creating as well as all the problem solving.

From: Warren Criswell — Apr 22, 2011

“I began my education at a very early age — in fact, right after I left college.” (Winston Churchill)

Robert, I think in the end all real artists are self-taught.

From: Pesach Ben Levi — Apr 22, 2011

I think there is a lesson here for all the crybabies and whiners who send you teary eyed missives about the unfairness of it all.

From: Fleta Monaghan — Apr 22, 2011

I know many artists today who supplement their income by teaching, or sharing their experience and knowledge as I like to think of it. There is nothing like someone in the trenches, exhibiting work, dedicated to their creative output to show the way for aspiring artists of all ages. You were lucky to have that experience with the Art Center College of Art and Design. Teachers who get trapped in the Ivory Tower forget, or have never known what it is really like in the art world. A great benefit for artist/teachers is the networking possibilities teaching workshops provides. A name can be made by getting to know artists and art lovers in your community and around the globe.

From: John DeCuir — Apr 22, 2011

My Uncle went to Art Center and my Dad to Chouinard. Both died with a brush in their hand and a smile on their face.

From: Kathleen Lenshyn — Apr 22, 2011

Hi Robert: Artists and teachers of art are very important to those of us in the medical profession as they help us to wind down and show us that there is indeed beauty in creation, when the world of medicine gets too depressing for us. As a nurse, it has been an important part of my rehab for severe depression and burn-out.


From: Solette N. Gelberg — Apr 22, 2011

The job of being a good teacher is not so difficult. I know because I was one and the skills I learned there stood me in good stead when I became a senior executive in a large corporation. People are people !

Most teachers bring most of their difficulties on themselves and don’t understand that in any profession/job where you deal with other human beings, there will always be some difficult moments. Just ask a nurse, a police person, a clerk at Walmart, an accountant, the produce Manager at the local grocery, etc.

However, the advice in your column today is well put and should be required reading for all teachers and all their students as well.

From: Terry Rempel-Mroz — Apr 22, 2011
From: Steve Brown — Apr 22, 2011

And never stop learning

Artists who stop; die in their own dust and rubble.

From: Anne Drewry — Apr 22, 2011

*Consider workshops and seminars with professional artists.

*Know that some skills are going to be hard won but totally worth the effort.

*Take time for private study and work. At some point in your life you’re going to have to go to your room.

I truly believe that these three statements should be part of every artists life, whether a beginner or an experienced artist. Some of the best inspirations and ideas come from workshop teachers, one always has to strive to improve, and a little “private” or alone time is invaluable!

From: Penny Duncklee — Apr 22, 2011

Oh my gracious! I have been saying for several years in my artist’s statement: “My learning began when I got out of college.” I never knew anyone else had said it. Thanks for the twice a week letters. Always interesting; sometimes really important.

From: Tom Albano — Apr 22, 2011

Soooo, true Robert. As long as it’s a challenge to me, I’ll continue to draw & paint. I respect all art teachers.

From: Leslie Tejada — Apr 22, 2011

Robert, you ARE a teacher, and a very inspiring one. You teach in your letters.

From: Phil Lachapelle — Apr 23, 2011

This letter touched a special cord with me. I too am an Art Center Alumnus and the training there changed my life. Discipline, persistence and attention to detail were forced fed by the Ted Youngkins, Strother MacMinn, George Jergensen, Mr. King, the model shop staff and the art staff.

Before Art Center, I thought I knew what hard work was. I had no idea! All night sessions were commonplace prior to a presentation. High expectations were whittled down to the point where you left the critique with the chip from your shoulder nowhere to be found. The positive side is that what I learned there is embedded in my cranium forever. As a practicing artist I maintain that belief.

From: Lorrene Baum-Davis — Apr 24, 2011

Oh what a great post. I graduated from a fine trade school in S.F., the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts. During my stone setting intensive, one of my fellow students just received his Masters at a Texas university in Jewelrly studies. He had to come to our school to learn stone setting…?!… amazing. It is good that the higher learning centers are NOW having peeps from the ‘real world’ come in for additional classes.

That said, I found that whenever I teach or take a class I learn and share the ‘Tricks of the Trade’ that are never taught in the classroom. Also a lot of artists come into our world with no experience in a classroom situation and have no clue as to the copyright process. To them copying and selling their instructors work is okay. Go figure… hey that is another post for you. Sorry I went on so long.

From: Tory Darnell — Apr 24, 2011

The easiest way to get the hang of things is to hang out with active professionals.

From: Jo Bain — Apr 24, 2011
From: Kathy Sheetz — Apr 24, 2011

My husband’s neurosurgeon undergrad work was as a art student which I believe enhanced his giftedness as a surgeon. Alas, for his patient community he has retired early to give more time to his painting. He did painting part-part time during his surgical years. But I doubt if that will work. In reverse. Insurance companies don’t have a category for “neurosurgery dabbling”. Dr Keith Kattner will be missed in the medical field.

Bloomington, Illinois

From: Mary Aslin — Apr 25, 2011

*Consider workshops and seminars with professional artists.

*Know that some skills are going to be hard won but totally worth the effort.

*Take time for private study and work. At some point in your life you’re going to have to go to your room.

I think this last point is of utmost importance. Paintings (or sculpture or other art) are not produced by committee. The ability to be alone — for days, weeks, months — to problem solve and meet yourself and marry inspiration with well-honed skills is not for the faint of heart. It is where the real education begins and continues.

From: Ernst Lurker — Apr 25, 2011
From: Betty Boggs — Apr 25, 2011

I have had a huge loss in my life and if it wasn’t for Art I wouldn’t be able to survive. I can retreat in to it and gather a peace in no other way. It makes my dreary days exciting as through the grays I see the shapes and colors and it becomes exciting. Hope oozes through the crevices and corners and talks to me. There is a peace there.

From: Peter Daniels — Apr 25, 2011

Lately I have been traveling extensively. I was looking for my connections in a very serious fashion! I bumped into a Dali exhibit in Atlanta and then went to the Dali Museum in Figaro Spain…My eyes opened like a CHILD when I saw the playfulness of his museum…his attitude towards life was amazing!…He never took himself seriously and that was a great influence to the art world. After looking at Goyas and El Grecos until near depression, it was a breath of FRESH AIR to revisit DALI…What a major influence on bringing out the JOY in a person!

From: Gavin Logan — Apr 25, 2011
From: Sue Marzinske — Apr 25, 2011

I have to reply on behalf of my husband who was a middle school art teacher. He recently took early retirement because he could no long live with the frustration.

Over the years, he was the source of the first artistic training for many students who later became both professional artists and art-related professionals. Why? Because he taught the basics.

He believed that 12, 13, and 14 year olds were ready to learn the fundamentals of art. He started by first teaching them to draw. From there he taught them to see a world with perspective, and how to capture it on paper. He taught them the mechanics of thinking and creating three-dimensionally. And he taught them the basics of color theory.

The high school art department said they could always recognize students who came through his classes. They left middle school armed with the basic skills to actually begin doing quality art in high school. It was always such a joy to see their faces when they proudly showed of their work, amazed at what they were capable of creating by the time they graduated. I believe that is why many chose art related careers.

But as the years went by, the legalities and philosophies degraded the subject of art down to a class to where he was deemed a poor teacher BECAUSE he stressed fundamentals and artistic training. He was pressured to make it easy and fun for everyone, and that middle school art should be oriented towards craft projects and “play in with the paint” time, like elementary school.

He could not do it, so he quit teaching early.

Ironically, he was recently approached by local designer who wanted to hire him to teach her to draw, which was something she never learned to do in her high school and college art classes. If not when students are young, and not when they are older, then WHEN are the basics taught?

From: Kristine Fretheim — Apr 26, 2011

I think students need to learn from the very beginning that direct experience should be the most trusted teacher. I try to turn my students around, to look at themselves and what is happening between them and their brush, instead of watching other people paint. Getting to know their materials and the inevitable skills that build from that process is invaluable. But first and foremost is nurturing confidence and curiosity.

From: vivian Kapusta — Apr 26, 2011
From: DM — Apr 26, 2011

I am beginning to wonder if the art degree given by a typical college is worth the paper it is written on. When I received my M.A many many years ago. in painting at a local state college,{now a university}, I was fortunate to have taken several studio courses with an intelligent professor who was an excellent abstract artist. He made me think. I have a very good friend who is going on nearly 40 years at another nearby state university who also makes students think. He stresses the fundamentals. One of the many qualities that I admire about him not only as a friend but as a professor is that at this stage in his teaching career he would rather teach the basic fundamental courses than the advanced M.F.A. course that so may other professors nearing the end of their teaching career seem to prefer. He enjoys teaching those fundamental courses and finds it a challenge to structure the classes each semester in a way that will engage the students and himself.

It seems today that far too often many college art courses are concerned with the concept and not enough emphasis on the nuts & bolts. In other words they put the cart before the horse. A while back there was this TV show in which the next “great” artist was to selected. One participant was in her 60’s and I could what she thought of the whole business. The rest were younger and all of them seemed to be very nice but during one of the episodes they had a brief interlude were many of them were repeating the conceptual swill that their colleges feed them as students. Today if had a son or daughter who truly wanted to be an artist I would probably discourage them from taking art as a college major. I would strongly recommend that they study with a artist who knows their craft or at a school such as the Art Students League.I did just that except my “mistake” was not taking as many studio courses as my undergraduate college had at the time .I did study with two wonderful artists but if I had enrolled in as many college studio courses as I could have taken I probably would have been able to get an M.F.A. & maybe just maybe land a full-time spot at a college. It was easier to do this some thirty years ago then it is today. Although my M.A. did not allow me to teach on the college level except as an adjunct for a year I do not regret it. It did take me a while to decide to go for an advanced degree but it was an invaluable experience. I think there are way too many bachelor and masters in the fine arts with no were to go. Far too much emphasis has been placed, in my opinion, on your doing your own thing and not enough on learning what is needed to communicate with brush or pencil.



 Featured Workshop: Pacific NorthWest Art School
Pacific NorthWest Art School Workshops
The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 





Winter Light

oil painting, 20 x 24 inches
by Becky Joy, AZ, USA


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 Darla who wrote, “If I had it to do over again, I would look harder to find a good basic art education instead of trusting that any college would have a good curriculum and teachers. A good teacher is a treasure beyond jewels.”

And also Marvin Humphrey of Napa Valley, CA, USA, who wrote, “The last true venue of art education was in Paris, 150 years ago. We art “students” need a solid foundation in the craft. Original ideas and concepts are purely personal. After 40 years of painting, I’m still studying, researching and learning.”

And also Carol Reynolds of Hawaii, USA, who wrote, “I have never taught art as I have been too busy painting!”




Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.