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[teacherartexchange] meaning as overemphasized...technique held in contempt


From: LarrySeiler (lseiler_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed Jun 22 2005 - 08:49:19 PDT

Curious to thoughts...taking risk for some discussion here...

First of all, I read the article Kathy shared on teaching Real Art
Making...and enjoyed it. Much to chew upon...and one worth coming back to.

I just finished some of my masters work, Studio Arts with emphasis in
Painting, tenting it...sleeping on the ground near a roaring falls.
Unfortunately it rained nine of twelve days straight!

My painting as an artist is plein air, rain or not I was out
there. One day, I wore chest waders with my rain jacket. Good thing oil
and water do not mix. Kind of annoying with rain pitter pattering on the
palette...but I've painted in worse, such as sleet during winter.

At any rate...there were about 30 students...the majority were either art
majors taking a summer course or nonart majors taking an elective intro to
painting. Two or three of us were working on a masters.

I can't complain about the freedom I have with a very long leash to design
my program, my directions...but I also have near 30 years of painting
experience professionally and am able to push myself and in what ways I hope
to grow. There were times I wondered if I wasn't simply tolerated because
with my age (50 years now) and experience, and perhaps thought to be a lost
cause- set no doubt in my ways; and yet at least everyone was quite nice.
When I appeared at the school, brought work in...people were cordial.
Though one time showing a student some CAO (Classic Artist Oils) I had
brought with which come in 10 fluid ounce caulking tubes, and a caulking
gun...seeing that caulking gun of paint loaded in my hands some students got
excited and thought I was REALLY going to paint and be free! They even
offered to find some larger canvas for me if I wanted to cut loose.

That sorta tuned me in that without so much as saying, I was somewhat pitied
for my painting and how it is interpreted to confine and restrain me
creatively. Not a problem, as I suspected as much. Back in the 70's during
my senior year I was written up in the show as the weakness of the works
entered...was the black sheep. They were squirtin' paint in cow manure and
throwing it at the canvas then, and not much has seemed to change.
Difference now...there is much less hostility. I can handle pity and well
wishes that I'd free long as we yet all laugh and respect each

I'm curious though as to other's thoughts. Seems processing (which you must
discover yourself), working together, discovering ideas is so more the
importance now. I saw absolutely nothing that suggested the teaching of any
foundations, no demos, no technique, certainly no rules of any kind were

ITs not that I want to be critical of this I'm thinking this
is probably how most state universities are, and that not much has changed
since I attended in the 70's. I actually found the professor very friendly,
jovial...but not inclined to instruct.

Her own art consists of gluing things to the canvas and spray painting.
Typical were works she shared where she goes to a nearby beach and burys a
blank canvas in the sand and then meditates. She comes back a week later
and tries to find it...and whereupon finding and digging it up writes the
names of those that meditated with her on the canvas. She then sprays some
color on it and glues some things that will remind her of that day on them.

I saw little consideration for design...such as balance, order, negative
space versus positive elements. Everything is simply cool! Whatever one long as one tries, deserves a pat on the back.

I guess it could be argued that each effort of every student in this
environment is attempting to derive personal meaning and let the work simply

I did see students sitting on a drawing horse with their canvas propped up
against it asking each other, "what are you going to paint?" and the
response "I don't know...what are you going to paint?" They'd just start
making marks...and in the end both were laughing to tears and somewhat
embarrassed with their results looking at each other's efforts.

again..its not my intention to criticize here, but is this not a grand
striving for meaning demonstrated here with technique and foundation held in
contempt? What happens on university campuses will have effect on art as
understood in culture, future teaching/instruction and so forth, and for
this reason I thought deserving of opinions from folks here.

Is such emphasis on meaning over foundation not leading to championing
mediocrity? Will not the link to appreciate art and masters of the past as
well as excellent living artists be severed by removing from students a
sense that all these artists have attained a high level of skill. From my
own feeling of being tolerated, somewhat pitied, it would seem presumed that
artists showing evidence of skill and a lifelong commitment to hard work
will infer such artists are lacking emphasis of meaning. If in teaching art
appreciation we were to disconnect that artists have long woven discipline
and hard work into their lives and work, would that then be a TRUE

I personally think minimizing hard work (which requires direction) is a

One area I did touch with the professor, (which then got students thinking)
was to connect and identify with her eco-psychology interests and
meditating, being one with nature.

I had them imagine how one could stand among the rocks of an intimidating
waterfalls, the drama of light, the moving of foliage masses from
breezes...and by means of painting (which calls upon a deeper seeing...) not
sense an intimacy taking place with nature? A form of communing in my own
manner. For myself...I see such as the handiwork of the great Intelligent
Designer...and it thrills me that seeing intimate things comes as a form of

The presumption may well be that I am lost to making simply pretty
pictures...but, standing before the moment, I am engaging the sublime, the
hidden mysteries of that which has compelled and demanding something of me.
Painting is a vehicle of exploration and discovery, and a means thereby to
celebrate living. Is there not meaning to be valued in art as a mechanism
to celebrate living? Is it not a service to the community of man to suggest
something as worthwhile in painting or viewing a painting (or works of
various art mediums) that takes them outside themselves.

So often this drive for meaning takes people on an egocentric self-centered
search, but there is also a place to grasp the transcendent...that gives one
a sense of something else being preserved, higher, more the important, more
the permanent. In a world bent on selfish individualism and immediate
sensate awareness of that outside ourselves making us
small and worthy to hold our awe might not be such a bad thing. Why not
foundation, skills, talk of what common humanity may be lacking in modernity
and how we as artists might serve them thru our art and how THAT may
supplement meaning?

It seems so often that when one thing has gone overemphasized for too long
at the expense of the other, that balance is sought by doing the same errant
overemphasis. We here may well be adjusted , balanced...and understand that
foundations and meaning are both important, however, in the environment of
the arts on a state university campus the social engineers seem to
demonstrate that the way to fix something is to throw the pendulum to the
far side and forsake the other.

Curious to thoughts now....

Oh...btw if you've followed this far, you may be interested in seeing my
work I completed during this summer's master's is a link-

Larry Seiler
My book on Landscape Painting-

My artist website-

Visit my own artist's forum!
Signature member of NAPPAP- "National Academy of Professional Plein Air

"Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm!"
Winston Churchill

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