Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Art School

New Hampshire Barns, 2006, Oil on Panel, 12x16

Karl Zipser has recently written a number of posts, relating to whether art school is worthless or valuable, so that got me thinking a bit about my art school experience and its value to me.

I grew up in Rochester Minnesota. Most of the art there was wildlife art, something that I was NOT interested in. I don't think I ever visited a museum or a gallery until I went off to college. We had no art books, no paintings on the wall, no exposure to live performances, music or drama. The only art I recall seeing were illustrations in books, magazines and album covers. Despite not having any knowledge about any kind of art, I always felt that I wanted to be an artist. I was always the kid in school who was good at drawing and eventually everyone assumed I would be rich and famous someday as an artist. ha. Even a few friends wrote words to that effect in my yearbooks.

By high school though, I had other things going on. I had lived in several foster homes as a teen and finally after my junior year of high school I moved out on my own. This meant I had to have a job, or two even. One of my favorite jobs was working as a teacher's aide in a special needs classroom. I was good at working with handicapped children and I received a lot of encouragement to pursue that avenue. And I was tempted. A fairly decent steady salary and benefits sounded good to me at that point. But I felt this magnetic pull to go to art school, to work and live as an artist and so when I was accepted to the Minneapolis School of Art and Design, I went. I recall that while the people that knew me well, family and friends and my mom especially, were supportive of this, other adults were not. My guidance counselor suggested that I attend the local community college for a few years and then reevaluate my interests. That sounded like code to me: get the life and ambition sucked out of me, then settle for a job and spend the rest of my life regretting those decisions. Practical, yes and maybe the most he thought a kid with my background could hope for, but that suggestion really spurred me on to get to art school. So perhaps I should thank him.

Anyway, art school was so amazing. I met people that were so different from myself, people who were so strange, quirky and so creative. I had to struggle to keep up and found that just having a good eye wasn't enough. But I finally felt that for the first time I fit in somewhere, a little bit at least, even if it was with a bunch of other misfits. I learned about art history, religion, and creative writing. I learned to express myself, not to just express what I could see. I learned how to work with different mediums, and I especially enjoyed working with the figure, both in drawing and painting as well as 3-dimensionally. I was exposed to a different way of life and boy did I screw up a lot! But I always could see a sliver of a better life ahead so I kept going. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to major in illustration and after seriously considering the Art Center in Pasadena, CA I decided to transfer to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. There I really found my way, artistically at least (alas, I was still making poor personal decisions). I had much more exposure to seeing art at museums and galleries and my world really expanded. My technical skills improved further and there were many more art related opportunities for me in Philadelphia. I would have liked to have majored in painting all along but I was never very interested in the particular programs offered at that time. So I felt illustration was right for me, I could be expressive and painterly but still keep that realistic aspect of myself in the imagery.

I knew many kids who didn't last to the end off freshman year or for even a month for that matter. I had a roommate in Minneapolis who stopped attending classes after a few weeks, slept and listened to loud music for the rest of the semester then got pregnant and moved back home to Boston. And I also know adults who wish they had resisted advice to not attend art college and have spent their whole lives trying to get back to the art that is so important to their soul. Art school can be valuable or not, based on any number of reasons. For me though, having several years of being almost completely immersed in art was of incredible value to me and I have to say that attending art school is a decision that I have never once regretted.


Katherine said...

Tracy - what a really great post - well done you!

I love the colours in your oil painting.

James Wolanin said...

Not a day goes by when I don't think about art school, what I learned of course and all the different people and what they are doing. When I'm painting or sketching, I still have the voices of some of my old instructors in my head. I think they were talking about art students when they came up with the saying, "he marches to the beat of a different drummer."

I think art school is very important. Without an art education, if you want a career in art, the odds are against you. There are exceptions, but very few. If you want to become a doctor, would you skip medical school? Of course not, so why would you not want to get formal training to become an artist.

Lisa Call said...

As someone that has no formal art education I pretty much agree with James. And Tracy your experience sounds very beneficial.

I do have a formal computer science education and work with people with out that educational advantage and you can tell. They don't know the theory and fundamentals. Sure they know some quick hacks and practical how-to but they tend to miss the big picture and cause more problems than they solve in the long run (unfortunately large corporations care about today and not tomorrow so these people have no problem getting jobs). I feel quite fortunate from 9-5 that I have the education I have as it makes my job pretty easy.

But when in my studio it's another matter. I am completely lacking the fundamentals of art and art theory and the solid foundation of formal drawing and technique classes. I believe they are important.

Although I do believe I can make a living as an artist without them and fully intend to make it happen inspite of the lack of education.

I do have an incredible desire to learn art history and theory and to learn to draw. So I read books and do some drawing but I know it's not the same thing - I'm missing the big picture - someone to pull it all together in a fantastic wonderful view of what it's all about. Even if I might not agree there is a lot of value to listening to instructor ramble on.

But I believe I have the drive and ambition to make it work anyway. Sure an art degree would have been great, but lack of it is not going to stop me.

Tracy said...

Thanks, Katherine!

Jim, you are right, such characters in art schools! And yes, while you certainly can be a artist without going to art school, having that education sure helps if you want an actual career.

Lisa, Interesting that you can make that comparison with your day job as well and your point about how an education really ties everything together. I am impressed with your determination to learn though and you must be doing a good job of it as your work is beautiful (and gets accepted into juried shows!).

Anonymous said...

I only attended art school for two years and learnt so much during that time that I don't regret it either. If you are young and are deciding whether or not to go I say go for it, if you work hard and get through it you will be better for it. I regret not finishing my degree (had kids instead) but have gone to far now to even bother going back to finish it. You can build a career as an artist without a degree too, but I believe you learn more quickly with one.

Lesly said...

Hi Tracy ... interesting post. I started out at art school at the age of 16 years but, due to various family reasons, only studied there for 6 months or so.

I did not really worry too much about it at the time and later on I studied to become a nurse. However, now that I am seriously trying to be an artist I really regret not having a good grounding in art history, theory and practice.

I think that art school would have changed my life in many ways, not least by helping me to develop as an artist without stumbling so often!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracy,
I love your painting.
It has a certain mysterious and serene atmosphere.

Tracy said...

Lauren, It's pretty easy o get sidetracked from art, especially once you start a family! Glad you have kept working though.

Lesly, Your other life experiences have certainly affected your art for the good, I am sure, and it is always possible to go back and learn the theories, history and technical aspects of art.

Hi Luisa, Thanks for the compliment about my work and for the link on your blog. I love some of the images and paintings you have posted-wish I could read the text:-)

Iin said...

Hi, so you think to be an artist, at least a good one and have good technical abilities, we have to attend art school? and do you think if you can't afford to go to an art school, you would never be a good artist? Please, I am confuse...