Advice for Students
- Don't attend a school without first seeing the work of its students. Ask yourself whether they can do something that you can't do. Then ask yourself whether they can do something you want to do. Make sure you feel that the student's work is superior to yours. If you feel you can do better work than the teacher or his students, forget it.
- Never blindly imitate a teacher to gain approval. If good grades are dependent on this, as is often the case, get out of there fast. Fooling the teacher amounts to fooling yourself. Good grades or certificates from prestigious art schools will not help you in the long run. Unless you have spectacular connections, you will be judged solely by the quality of your work.
- If your teacher is extremely nice, utterly charming and glamorous, always remember that this is no criterion for judgment. Never blindly commit yourself to a teacher. Always attempt to find better.
- Always keep an eye on what others are doing; other students can often teach you more than the instructors.
- Try to get work in your field if you can, even while attending school. Even if it is lowly work you will most likely learn much about your profession. Cash in on your abilities as early as you can.
- Leave school as soon as you feel that you have acquired the knowledge you need to become professional or find that you aren't improving any more. Remember that except for inmates, who are committed to these institutions for life, school is a temporary state of affairs.
Although Art is certainly more then an exhibition of skills, I believe that all art that has any lasting value rests on a foundation of the fundamental skills. I believe that anything lacking this foundation and is presently classed as great art will fail to withstand the test of time. In the arts there are the learned skills namely the basics can be taught in a rote sense like drawing, color, painting technique etc. These are essential fundamental skills. It is these skills which one should expect to acquire in school. It is these to which I refer to when I say, "no skill no art."
To all those who believe that I advocate nothing more than learned skills I can only say that they are mistaken! I do not advocate any one style of subject matter as necessarily being better than another or favor realism over abstraction. Nor do I believe that art should return to the realism or the subject matter of the past.
After practicing and mastering fundamental skills one combines this foundation with ones talents, perseverance, and natural abilities. This results in what others regard as artwork. Artists try to create something people want and sometimes create something a great number of people treasure for a long time (great art.)
I see no merit whatever in work claiming to be great art which anyone with even a modicum of skill can imitate and even forge. I see no merit in work claiming to be first when it exhibits nothing more than flat drips, stripes or schmiers. I regard such work in spite of present day adulation to fall into a category which should be called STUPID ART.
And I regard anyone claiming to produce artwork whose product shows that he lacks fundamental artistic skills (no matter how brilliant at other things) as a STUPID ARTIST.
And I regard anyone who doesn't possess fundamental skills and claims he teaches art as a STUPID ART TEACHER.
If an artist hasn't the skill to do something most others can't do, his only alternative is Bullshit.
Drawing is the foundation necessary to all artwork that possesses merit.
In the past drawing was taught much like music. Anyone can be taught the scales etc. and if they persevere they can learn to play the piano fairly well. All learn a degree of rote. Few become pianists and even fewer have the mysterious gift necessary to become great pianists, yet all great pianists master technique. In the past one was given information and then practiced the principals. Everyone learned to draw to some degree. This fact is forgotten.
Imagine if music were taught by sitting you by a piano and the instructor telling you to play. That is how drawing is usually taught at present. Next an instructor who can't draw comes around and says something like, "the nose is off."
In fact any idiot can tell you that; one doesn't have to pay an instructor for this. Of course you couldn't get the instructor's Artspeak pep talks if you were to consult a mere idiot.
The one thing that failure art teachers can point to as positive is the successful winner of the Modern Academic Art lottery who makes millions selling his signature. They always fail to point out the huge population of losers of which the teacher is a somewhat more privileged member. He at least has a job!
Skill in the most general sense is the ability to make or do something others can't do and thus creating something that people want.
Remember, the more incompetent artists there are, the more work and better living for the competent ones.
Perhaps the latest fad by those who can't teach rote is by claiming to teach students how to see. The term is designed to impress the naive student. Those who learn to draw are able to draw from reality and from imagination and get it right the first time. Those who have trouble seeing should visit an eye doctor.
I know the following statement isn't romantic enough for an average Art student but learning how to draw entails learning how to INTERPRET WHAT IS SEEN. The accumulated knowledge of draftsmanship teaches, roughly speaking, scientific rules of why objects look the way they do and how to use this knowledge to gain the skills and craft in order to produce artwork.
Another thing most students are totally confused about is that they mistakenly think that the term realism refers solely to a photographic rendition of reality which it isn't. Hardly any fine drawing looks "exactly like what's in front you."
The inspirational value of incompetence for aspiring art students.
A visit to the museum with its comforts and implications of glory deeply affects some people, especially those more sensitive romantic souls aspiring to a profession. When such a soul passes through the museum's Modern Academic section and sees all those large colorful abstractions and minimal sculptural concoctions along with earlier incompetent realism he is often deeply inspired. In some, a small tickle in the back of the mind fires off a revelation. "By god I can learn to do THAT." When he sees art books on the creators of this stuff it makes him feel ecstatic. When he learns what prices Blue Chip modern paintings go for, he is bowled over. "By god, I'll be rich."
A percentage of those who have had this experience go on to study at some Modern Art academy convinced they can fulfill their dreams. Here they are assured that skill and craft count for little by teachers who have nearly none. They are then encouraged to imitate those who created THAT kind of stuff which originally inspired them. All the while this dominating theme runs through their naive minds, "I can do THAT," and indeed, most can.
In school they study the most famous Modern Academic paintings in some detail and their confidence overflows. The incompetent drawings of their favorite masters now further assures them that this difficult pursuit is of little necessity. This comes as a great relief. The only slightly negative thing these now aspiring geniuses learn is the starving artist myth. Armed with a creed and with an almost religious enthusiasm, their art school period eventually comes to a close and they head out to the real world. What do they have to fear, for doubtlessly they and their teachers know that they can do THAT.
They now venture off into the real world with their imagined abilities and set off to professionally do THAT.
While most go on to other professions the starving artist myth becomes a reality. Most others who are indeed able to do THAT just as well as their successful mentors never understand why THAT hasn't gained them their desired glory and riches. A few with the right connections and personality take up the profession of teaching the next generation of failures while a very small handful win the Modern Academic Art Lottery and become the next generation of Blue Chip modern artists.
Before the advent of the Internet this kind of criticism was impossible.
Copyright 1997-2002 Mani de Li