The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)
Chapter 4: The Education of the Artist, part 1
This is a very long chapter, so I’ll break it up into parts. The topic interests me a great deal because some of what I know about artmaking comes from a formal education and some from experimentation (a.k.a. trial and error). As far as I’m concerned, both approaches have value. So, let’s see what Orland has to say about it.
He begins by reminding us that it’s the countless small steps we take toward learning how to make art that are critically important. We should find satisfaction in that journey because that’s where almost all the progress gets made. I agree and am happier taking a series of small steps that are easy to correct than making a big leap that could end in a big disaster. Orland continues: truth is, caring about the work you do is the single best indicator that others will also care about it. The same goes for learning. I agree.
Our education often comes from a variety of seemingly unrelated sources. This, in my opinion, is the value of a liberal arts education. A broader understanding provides a valuable context or perspective for any discipline, including art. Ben Shahn’s book, The Shape of Content, urges us to learn as much as possible from as many disciplines as possible. The better informed we are as artists, the greater the chances are that we’ll produce meaningful work.
As Orland puts it: there’s no predicting which particular piece of knowledge or experience will later prove essential, we’re faced with the disconcerting possibility that everything matters. And if that knowledge or experience could come from anywhere, the clear implication is that teachers are everywhere. That’s how I see it, too.
Although the random experiences that life imposes on us provide us with a rich education, Orland advises us to purposely seek specific learning experiences that help us with artmaking as well. This is to help us make decisions about the path our work should take. And, no two paths will be identical.
Next time, part 2 of this chapter.
What are your thoughts?