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


From: Geoffrey McClain (skygeoff_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri Jun 24 2005 - 04:02:19 PDT

Hi Jerry,
Wow! I feel like you and I went to the same college (but mine was in NJ). And I was there from 1969 to 1973, too.
I had almost no art in highschool (parochial) but my mother was an artist and I seemed to have been born knowing how to draw. So when I went to college to study art education I could draw very well but didn't know a thing about painting. My painting professor wore sweaters with patches on the elbos and smoked a pipe. He really LOOKED like a professor. The first day of class we all went and stood before an easel. He said we were to do 6 paintings by the end of the semester and then he left the room. So... first I painted a chianti bottle/fruit still life because that seemed like a good realistic subject. Then I tried "hard edge" and neatly drew a large half of an orange and carefully painted in the drawing. Then I tried a surrealistic painting with eggs floating around in the night sky.
About halfway through the semester the professor talked to me for the first time. He looked at my paintings so far and told me "I didn't have a style". I left that class in tears and just cut the rest of the classes. I still got a C in painting.
My drawing professor was excellent and luckily I had him for printmaking and advanced drawing and I did become an art teacher and have been doing it for 25 years. But I still don't feel confident about painting.
Sky in NJ
  ----- Original Message -----
  To: TeacherArtExchange Discussion Group
  Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2005 11:11 AM
  Subject: Re: [teacherartexchange] meaning as overemphasized...technique held in contempt

  Interesting. Most of my instructors seemed to be more traditional in my educational experience. The one art professor I've had in my Master's program is VERY technical...I had a lot of technique and only a few opportunities to really let loose and open up. Kind of the opposite! I never even knew what a gesture was until a teacher forced me to loosen up in 8th grade. It felt so weird to me, but it was freeing. I was so used to studying values and details and trying to make my drawing look exactly like the still life. Sometimes it was so frustrating! I think it's good to have know how to get quiet and concentrate on the details and to know how to let go and experiment.
  -----Original Message-----
  From: Jerry Vilenski <>
  To: TeacherArtExchange Discussion Group <>
  Sent: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 07:40:41 -0700 (PDT)
  Subject: Re:[teacherartexchange] meaning as overemphasized...technique held in contempt

  Hi All,
  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long-overdue discussion of what should be an important issue for all artists and teachers of art. I attended university from 1969-1973, and during that time I discovered exactly the same approach to teaching and art that Larry seems to have encountered. The over-emphasis on process over product, lack of critical analysis, and almost outright disdain for technical know-how was as pervasive then as it is now. In graduate school, it was even worse.
   In my opinion, a lot of this attitude and approach came about because during the 60's and 70's, abstract expressionism was the cutting edge form of artwork out there, and most art schools and universities rejected most other traditional approaches out of hand. At the time, most of my professors were painting blue dots in the corner of a 6-foot orange canvas or engaging in "happenings" of one sort or another. The only instructors I had that taught technique or specific skills in a given media were the Asian or European immigrants, who were well versed in traditional art forms.
  In addition, anyone enrolled in the art education department was regarded as not being a serious artist, and generally treated like a second class citizen. I found this particularly ironic, because those professors with the most disdain for art teachers were themselves art teachers!
  Long story short, a lot of those people are still professors in our universities or have trained a whole new generation of professors who think along the same lines, so I don't expect things to change much. There are some excellent instructors out there, but they tend to be in the minority, at least in my experience.
  The end result of this pervasive attitude is the "everything is art" theory that many preach. If that is true, then engaging in meaningful dialogue about good or bad art, good or bad design, the reason for studying art history--all becomes fruitless. As in most controversial subjects, when artists get themselves into conversations about art theory and approaches, they tend to look at things in terms of black and white, when in reality, the truth is steeped in shades of gray. Not all abstract art is bad, not all representational art is good, but we can probably all agree there is a lot of bad art out there among both approaches, and a lot of it has to do with a lack of skills!

  My greatest fear is that we have produced a couple of generations of art teachers who don't have a fundamental understanding of the technical part of art, and that is where the lack of teaching techniques or technical skills lets us all down. Your professor probably doesn't approach teaching those skills in your workshop because she doesn't have them herself, or hasn't had to use them for years. I teach with art teachers who haven't practiced fine art themselves since they graduated from schools in the 70's. How can they begin to teach the nuance of art media to their students if they don't understand it themselves? You can understand art theory all you want, but if you can't put the theory into practice, what good is that knowledge?
  I hope all of you take the time to weigh in with this discussion--it really is goes to the heart of why we teach art.


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