So during my undergrad life, I had one goal: to get an art history degree to pursue a career in art restoration. Depending on who you talk to, this is can be a very science heavy career, and while I did struggle in the maths and sciences quite a bit. I found I still found it a hell of a lot more interesting than the heavily politicized art and art history classes from my time at university.
I went to two different art schools. One art school was the university where I was getting my degree, and the other one was a technical school that taught art the way the Old Masters did it. I learned two very different philosophies from both of them, and I think by dancing in both worlds, I learned some very bizarre things that resulted in much head-scratchery.
Shut up. Conform. And Be Sad.
Art, the way it was taught by the university, was basically that all art was propaganda until the magical time of the early 20th century or something. Basically, if you had a dissenting opinion from the teacher, and had the incapability of keeping your mouth shut, the bastard would sic the other students on you verbally. It was fun (not being sarcastic either, I did feel legitimate rushes of excitement from stirring up my teachers and classmates). The teacher generally had a political opinion that they were trying to push on the other students.
I had this one favorite teacher who actually proudly fancied herself a Marxist, and the first day of class I just kept sitting there pushing her buttons. I kept saying why modern films and pop culture actually should be in fact considered art and while artists like Norman Rockwell did make art solely with the process of being mass produced and sold, he still exposed the public to beautiful art.
To my surprise, the next day before class, I bumped into one of my classmates. She thanked me for stating my opinion and she too had similar viewpoints, but was afraid to speak up. I told to her to basically not be afraid. That’s what we as artists are supposed to do, right? Stir things up? Break the status quo?
No joke, the last thing we had to do in class was give a ten minute speech of what we thought of the class. I thought my finishing statement was savage. Oh boy was I wrong. The girl I bumped into? Who was afraid of making her voice heard the first day? She showed up with slides. She tore into the school system and the way art history and criticism was being taught.
The other thing I learned at the university was that you weren’t supposed to enjoy art. As much as I loved my trip to Rome in 2015, the one complaint I had was my teacher was determined to ruin everything. We couldn’t just sit there and enjoy the engineering, architecture, use of color, and genius these artists had. Oooooh no. Constantly it was “And this was funded by this corrupted Catholic jerk. And this was funded by THIS Catholic jerk. And oh look at this Catholic jerk for having his family be used as models in this ceiling mural. I am not anti-Catholic or anything but…” Dude, shut the fuck up! We get it! The Catholic church is bad and responsible for all the wars in the world and probably slept with your mom. Now let me just sit down and try to figure out how this art was made and send pictures to my old art conservation internship supervisors for their input since you obviously don’t know a damned thing except for how to complain!
Marxism would be great for art!
I took a 20th century art class and learned about the Avante-Garde artists in Russia. They were known for challenging the norms of art. While I’m not a huge fan of deconstructionism, which is the point in history where this kind of art flourished, this was the documented birthplace of Surrealism, which it’s one of my favorite art styles. Still, though, when you have a culture where the government has enough power to pay for everyone’s food, housing, and livelihoods, that means they have enough power to define “art” and censor or put away any artist who deviated from said definition.
I swear, the very next term, I took an art criticism class, and the professor (different professor) kept going on and on about how Marxism would be great for art because people wouldn’t be coming home after 8 hours workdays and be sitting in front of the TV instead of making art and going to art shows. My thinking on this is, even if by some miracle a pure Marxist country wouldn’t be ruled by a power-hungry megalomaniac, do you really want to live in a government that controls what art is and isn’t?
I have mixed feelings about government’s role in art, but given our history, I really don’t think going to the socialist extreme is the best way to go about it.
Learning art (painting and drawing) as a SKILL limits you
I was taking an art criticism class, and Now, this wasn’t something that anybody officially taught, but one of my classmates stated this and everyone else (including the teacher) simply nodded in agreement. He referred to artists like Picasso and how he supposedly said that he wished he could unlearn everything he was taught about painting since children can paint purely what’s from their minds without the interference of anyone else’s instruction.
From a quick internet search, I found that Picasso did say something similar, “It took four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” It’s a very nice quote, but there could be many interpretations to it. I particularly liked what Lucy Chen had to say about it, which was that it didn’t necessarily mean that Picasso wished he could unlearn everything, but that as an artist, you shouldn’t ever stop being creative, curious, or full of wonder.
Another reason why I don’t think this is true is that, in my own personal experience, NOT having the skills I learned from the Old Master school limited me.
Personal experience isn’t always the best rebuttal to any argument, but I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Creating art was very frustrating to me. I drew a lot of anime in high school, but that was all I ever could draw. If I did draw something impressive for the really critical people in my life, it was entirely on accident, and I couldn’t really duplicate it. I never felt like I was improving no matter how many art classes I took, and the worst part was I couldn’t figure out WHY.
Going to the Old Master school taught me to see things differently, it taught me perspective, composition, color theory, a bit of art psychology. Suddenly, it was like all these obstacles I had in creating art were broken through. Making art I was proud of was no longer an accident for me.
So… okay… great… I knew how to draw more realistically, and I knew how to make colors work together, but what about art that means something? That has a compelling message?
…wait? Why does art need a message?
This is the part I’m particularly excited about. Now that I’ve learned the basics of how to draw and paint better, the message came later. Now that I wasn’t so worried about making something look good, I could focus on using the tools I picked up to create a compelling, new thing.
My biggest pride and joy right now is my chemistry art. That’s pretty much my message. I think art should be beautiful. I also find the idea of chemistry so beautiful, particularly this idea that there is so much going on that you can’t see because it’s so tiny, but just because it’s tiny, doesn’t mean that it’s meaningless, there’s still so much going on. I wanted to create this smallness on a larger, and more beautiful level that everyone can appreciate, whether they’re science-oriented, art-oriented, or neither.
At least, that was my message, but if you couldn’t interpret it, or don’t care about that message, and you just like the subject matter (flowers), the color harmony, and that bizarre geometrical shape that looks like a chemistry thing, then that’s fine too.
But, honestly, I don’t think I could’ve ever been able to artistically articulate this message, or lackthereof, without having learned the artistic drawing and painting skills.
Art is talent. You either have it, or you don’t.
That’s not true! I think drawing and painting are skills ANYONE can learn if they want to! I don’t think Michelangelo or Bernini came into the world already knowing how to paint and draw. They had some talent, sure, but they still learned from master artists.
Here are just a few YouTube channels that have pretty easy to follow instructions to make some really lovely things!
Fine Art Tips: Leonardo Pereznieto
Drawing Art Academy These guys have bits and pieces of instruction on their videos, but their one time $300 fee for their entire lessons might be worth looking into.
If you don’t understand abstract/postmodern/conceptual art, it means you’re stupid/closed minded.
Or maybe postmodern is really bad at conveying why it should be understood. It seems like every professor I’ve had that taught about postmodern art seemed to think art was only meant for the truly “educated” or “open-minded,” or, as I like to call them, “elite.”
The difference between Expressionist, Abstract, Postmodern, and Conceptual art.
Remember how you looked at any art made after the 1910’s, and thought it all looked the same to you? I now know the difference between Expressionist, Abstract, Minimalist, Postmodern, and Conceptual art… yay?
I’m not sure what I can do with this information either.
In the end, it’s only about money.
Did anyone else notice that celebrity modern artists like Andres Serrano and Tracey Emin are generally first to say that art “it should be about art, and not the money” and yet in 2007, a bunch of vandals destroyed Serrano’s History of Sex series that was reported by the NY Times as worth over $200,000, and Tracey Emin’s net worth is $5 million dollars. I mean, good for them and all, but their genre of art isn’t the kind I want to aspire to, but it seems as though Higher Art Education gears their curriculum towards trying to be “deep” and “edgy” and, my personal favorite, “dystopian.”
I heard from students and teachers alike the unfairness of the fact that the art world is controlled by a niche of upper class wealthy people that get to decide what is and isn’t art. It seemed really interesting because edgy art like what the artists I just mentioned were what the wealthy elite liked to make and study, but no, it still wasn’t fair.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. This was actually a blog post I’ve wanted to post for a very long time, and only just now do I have the courage (or stupidity) to post it. There’s something seriously wrong with the art world and culture, and I only wish I could have spoke out more. I’m done being scared. I’m done catering to this idea that all artists have to have one political viewpoint. And if you agree with me, or hell, don’t agree with me, but at least disagree with how messed up the art world is,
I encourage you to do the same.
One thought on “7 Stupid Things I Learned in Art School”
I liked the “If you don’t understand abstract art it means you’re stupid” I remember this attitude well…