Monday, April 27, 2009

High School Musical

Today I went to Ross High School in Hamilton to talk to the kids in the senior painting class. Mrs. Bender, the teacher of the class invited me to come talk to them about what I do, and as I love to talk about myself, I agreed. She is currently in both of my painting classes and is one of my best students.
Unfortunately, I had to be there at 7:30 am. Which is early for me, so I was a bit off my game, plus- young people frighten me.
Anyway, they seemed like a good group of kids. They all had their pants pulled up around their waist, which in my book is a good indication that they will grow up to be successful members of society. I meant to bring my camera to document the event, but I forgot it (did I mention it was very early).
Since I don't have a photo of the event I am posting a picture from the movie Breakfast Club where one of me talking to the class might go.

I talked about my schooling, the Boston School tradition in which I was trained, and showed a some of my paintings and illustrations using a fancy projector that they have in the classroom. I even used a lazer pointer.

I finished up by setting up a few objects and doing a little 5x7 lay in. I only had about 30 minutes to paint, so I did not get very far. My goal was just to demonstrate the idea of working from life, and how to think while painting, what questions to ask, and how the materials work. I ended up staying after the class bell rang signaling everyone to their next period. I talked to Mrs Bender and worked on the painting for another 30 or so minutes so it looked like something a bit more recognizable. I thought it was pretty successful for a start. I had it placed on the canvas and got the value and color down pretty well. Again, I did not shoot a photo, so here is a picture that gives you some idea of how it looked at the end of the hour. This in not really what I painted, it really doesn't look like what I had set up, in fact this is not even my painting (Chardin painted it a few hundred years ago), but you get the general idea of what I did for this class. As you can imagine they were very impressed. They did not really say so, but I could tell.

The tough thing I find in these kind of situations is telling the truth without sounding like an elitist jerk (please note, I am not denying the fact that I am in actuality an elitist jerk, I just try to not sound like one). A few of these students were planning on going to college to further their study in the arts. While I explained my experience in art college to be of little to no use in the kind of work I wanted to do, and am trying to do now, it is a tough thing to tell them that if they are at all interested in being painters, most colleges will be completely useless and inept in training them. I would go so far as to say that not only was most of the information in art school of little use, it was harmful to my ability to create truth and beauty on a canvas or piece of paper. I had to unlearn a tremendous amount of misinformation.
If you go to a music school, they teach you how to play the instrument, but in painting, not only do they not teach you how to draw, they tell you that you don't even need to.
I know many teachers think they are teaching drawing, but they are not. Most could not even give an adequate definition to the word "drawing" (I will talk about that in a later post). I have always said that your typical college fine arts department trains some of the cities best waiters and waitresses.
When I hear promising students mention that they are going to college to further their study, I want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them and scream, "For The Love of God! Nooooooooooo!"

College is great, but study something where you will learn a skill, like a business degree. Even a degree in German philosophy would be better. A stint at a trade school in plumbing would be preferred, for in the end, you would know just as much about how to make a picture.

My advice to high school students that want to be painters or sculptors; find someone that has mastered their craft, and go study with them. Most are art colleges leave you with huge dept without the skills to pay it off. I suggest you look at the list of studio schools on the Art Renewal Center site. They often are referred to as 'Ateliers', the French word for 'studio school'. I am partial to the Ingbretson studio. I looked around for a place to train, even dragging my wife to Italy to investigate. In my opinion, Paul Ingbretson is one of the best teachers out there. You have to find one that fits for you. There are plenty of painters out there giving good training for a fraction of the cost of most colleges.
Yes, I know there are some good painters teaching at colleges. There are even some colleges that have adequate art departments, but they still do not give the solid training one can get in a full time teaching studio.
If you want to just learn how take an object from one place, put it in another place (they call this placing something 'out of context'), then giving it a fancy, self indulgent title like "My Mother Once Spanked Me For Something My Brother Did", then by all means go spend $40,000 a year to learn how to think out of the box.
If you want to learn to draw and paint, look here:
Art Renewal Center.
One issue is that most of these teaching studios do not offer degrees, and if they do, I would argue they are not going to be as good- as this involves State involvement and the dumbing down of the whole system. If your parents insist on college, I agree that it is a good idea to get a degree in something- but if you insist it be art related, try to avoid drinking the punch.


Anonymous said...


I have heard far too many stories from fellow atelier students of mine years go who felt as if they'd wasted precious time and money on first going to "art school". They teach many things, some of them very useful. But if one's intent is to master the art of painting, and say something relevant in a contemporary representational mode, they rarely succeed. When they do, it is usually is because an individual student was naturally gifted and intellectually curious enough to pull it off. It was sad to hear those stories, but always wonderful to witness the joy and sense of triumphant discovery they had to have found a practicing master of their craft to now learn from.

Carl Samson

Richard J. Luschek II said...

It is interesting when someone comes out of that training able to create paintings worth looking at. We of course, know a few of them personally. I would say that when that happens, they have come out of "art school" with some abilities in spite of this so called training, not because of it. One might also get lucky and have a teacher with some skills that he or she can latch onto, but that is just not enough.

r garriott said...

I love your post and especially the part about colleges is SO TRUE. I recall a college drawing class, where the assignment was to "express our fellings" (gag!!!) and the young professor posed the question, 'Why doesn't anyone draw like Michaelangelo anymore?". Being a smartass literalist (then and now), I piped up with "Because no one knows how?", but was quickly corrected by said prof: "No, No, No; It's because we're BEYOND all that now."

Several 'real' art schools later, I am still teaching myself how to paint. Thanks for the chance to rant.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

R Garriot
Thanks, my blog is mostly rants with some humor thrown in. Occasional I show some of the work I am doing.
It is easier to say we are beyond that.
It is like the gesture drawings disasters that occur in your typical college art class. Doing a 2 minute sketch is a great way to capture emotion without any refinement or skill.
It has everyone fooled into thinking that the masters did there work in a similar time frame, only they were special somehow.
They were different, in that they actually had years of training that did not involve their feelings. That comes after you learn the craft. When you learn the violin, you have to make noise before you make music, and then you have to make music before you make art. Everyone will tell you it takes 10 years of serious study to learn to play the violin. I think painting is at least that difficult to master.

Teaching yourself is an option if you know where to look. If it is possible, find someone to study with. Essentially they will be teaching you how to see and to continue to teach yourself with your knew eyes. If you want some suggestions, I obviously have some opinions.