Feb. 18, 2022

note to my students

A message I sent my students in my Continuing Education class at The Cleveland Institute of Art.

Hello Artists.

Why don't you paint small paintings that can be sold, like everybody else, asks my milkman.

"Look after your cows, I said. You know something about that." - Edvard Munch [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edvard_Munch ]

That exchange between the artist Much and his milkman took place later in his life when he had achieved recognition as one of the most important artists at that time. Unfortunately being an artist is one of those professions in which people who know nothing about art, feel no hesitation about giving their opinion about art and doing art. I bring this up because in one of my past classes a student who was a beginner wrote in tiny letters on their drawing a note to me ..Why are we doing this? This puzzled me because if the student had a question they could have just asked me. It brings to mind something. When my wife and I lived in Seattle I was a CE instructor at North Seattle College. To get there I had to get off my bus at one point and wait a while for my connecting bus to the college. The bus stop was in front of a pricey gym. Almost every time I was waiting there I saw someone with their personal trainer leave the place and do various timed running exercises under the supervision of that trainer. So to get back to the tiny question the beginner student had, I am like your own personal trainer for your development as an artist. I don't follow the pattern of a lesson plan as you would see in a K-12 teaching situation. You are adults taking a continuing education course at the Cleveland Institute of Art, one of the most distinguished private art institutions in the country. I am a graduate of Cooper School of Art, I have a MFA from CIA where I graduated with honors, I have a MFA from Kent State University, and I have a K-12 teaching certificate from CSU. You have to trust your instructor and that he knows what he is doing. If you do, you will learn as an artist. I never once saw someone arguing with a personal trainer.

    One more point concerning.... Likes. When I was a student at CIA one of my instructors was Moe Booker who just last week passed away [ https://www.culturetype.com/2022/01/23/lives-moe-brooker-81-artist-educator-and-prominent-figure-in-philadelphia-arts-community-has-died/ ]. He had an issue with the word Like. His point, and it was a point that he said he got from the distinguished artist Josef Albers [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Albers ] who was his instructor at Yale University, was ...I don't care if you like a work or not ( in students discussing the artwork in a class ). What I want to know is does the drawing work? and if so why.? I bring this up because social media has made the world obsessed with getting LIKES. There is an epidemic of madness concerning getting - Likes. Which is more important, doing a work that everybody Likes? or doing a good successful piece of artwork? Sometimes there is both in a work, but a lot of times in art history there was not. Once at the Cleveland Museum of Art they had on loan the painting Three Studies for a Crucifixion by Frances Bacon [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Studies_for_a_Crucifixion ]. I was looking at the painting and a woman near me looked at it for a while and then said to me...."I know someone who was killed in the [ Munich https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Summer_Olympics ] Olympics. I can't look at the painting,... but it needs to be said." Did she like the painting? No, but...she would say it is a powerful successful painting. A lot of people like Thomas Kincade's paintings [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kinkade ] but if you know about art they are not good paintings. My advice is to focus on making a successful drawing using the basic elements of design, composition, line, texture, value, etc., and not on getting LIKES. 

Lastly, the question of a good simple work of art. This answer does not cover all of the many things that could be said on that subject, but for now a few things. Calder's drawings came up [ https://calder.org/archive/1946-1952/works/work-on-paper/ ] . Those works were done after years of intense study that included meeting and learning from the giants of modern art in Paris before WW2. He and others ( Rodin https://www.auguste-rodin.org/paintings/ and Picasso, Klee, etc ] have behind those deceptively simple works a lifetime of work and study. Many of the well known artists who did "simple" works also could do "realistic" works that reveal a deep ability and skill. But back to: How do you do a good simple work? First you have to Really and Deeply Understand what makes up a successful work of art. That alone can take up half a lifetime. You have to understand the rules and ingredients. Is that simple work just something done in one day and forgotten, or the outcome of a long period of thought, and research, and ( or) life experience. The is a big difference between

The old pond;

A frog jumps in —

The sound of the water.


Jack and Jill 

went up a hill

to get a pail of water.

Concerning learning about art, and how to do art, the bottom line is both are not easy subjects to learn. Both are something you can not learn over night. It takes time and work. The effort will open up a new world to you...as one of my students said to me at the end of a course I taught on outdoor landscape painting said: I'll never look at a tree in the same way again. In general ( but here on the subject of art and doing art ) be careful of opinions concerning something you know nothing about - as in Munch's milkman. Americans love to give strong opinions. The main problem with that is a lot of the time - they don't know what they are talking about.

Good Luck with your latest assignment challenge.