The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Education of the Artist

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?


Gary Keimig said...

so very true and well stated.

RHCarpenter said...

This is something that should be forefront in our minds, that all experience is essential to our art. Good and bad and travel and meeting people and...everything! Makes me feel much more productive when I'm just sitting around "doing nothing special."

Casey Klahn said...

This makes me think of Leonardo - I wanted to mention him the other day when you wrote @ genius. The Renaissance ideal of being proficient in many things is why we recognize his genius. We don't have any standardized tests from da Vinci, but we do have some of his journals, and of course his paintings!

L.W.Roth, said...

My formal art education was great for the basics--tools, approaches, processes etc. And more so for broadening my perspective by mixing with others like myself and seeing their work, their viewpoints --much like surfing the many art blogs out here in cyberspace. But life experiences have been the meat of my work. Even just sitting and reading, I think my art is "percolating." A recent read that fired me up was a book by Stephen King, Duma Key. Who would have thought King's macabre tales would be artistically inspiring?

hwfarber said...

Yes, everything matters. I thought Stephen King's "Lisey's Story" was about art; now I'll have to read "Duma Key."

L.W.Roth, said...

hw: and I will have to read Lisey's Story. I love Stephen King so that's no problem.

Anonymous said...

That's what I like about "art"...always an opportunity to learn. Thinking about Casey's comment, Leonardo didn't have a TV to distract him!

Kathy said...

Hi Gary - Thanks!

Hi Rhonda - that's a great way of looking at it. Thanks!

Hi Casey - a great example, indeed! Thank you.

Hi L.W. - I haven't read that book ... must look for it. Thanks!

Hi Hallie - me too!

Hi Peggy - yup, TV's a time waster for sure!

Robin said...

I completely agreed with the thoughts on 'everything matters'. I have tried so many mediums in my life and once I started creating in fiber, I was able to pull practical experience from other mediums into what I do now. Every place I have ever lived gives me references for what I am doing now.
This line of thought doesn't just hold true for artists but to society as a whole: If you want true leaders, they should be well rounded people with a vast array of experiences. You get these people by exposing children to everything in the world...learning shouldn't just be done in a classroom...the whole world is a classroom.

Dan Kent said...

At the risk of being too cliche', I firmly believe that there are things I can learn from all kinds of folks, no matter how unlikely the "teacher" might appear to be.

I remember once reading that the dance of the bee in the hive was a mystery to bee experts until someone from a different discipline (I forget what) came into the field and applying that discipline solved the meaning of the dance. Always an important lesson for me.

And I echo L.W. - I loved Duma Key.

Celeste Bergin said...

agreed! everything has to do with our art education. It all becomes like a woven fabric.

-Don said...

I'm late to the discussion again. I was adding to my art education tonight by taking in a little Thrash Metal. My son and I went to see Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax - 3 artists I would not have seen except for my son's need for a driver. I proved my age tonight by using earplugs for the first time in a concert. Hmmm, I guess my education is finally paying off...

BTW, all three bands ROCKED and I really enjoyed the stage setups, lighting and backdrops. I don't think I've seen this many skulls since last year's Day of the Dead...

How's that for a different path?


Kathy said...

Hi Robin - I agree! When my kids were still at home I wanted to give them as many opportunities to travel and learn as I could. The world is the best teacher.

Hi Dan - good anecdote! You never know where the source of understanding will come from. Sometimes it's the children that educate we "oldsters."

Hi Celeste - thanks!

Hi Don - Whoa! Papa's a rocker. Great story, Don.


jill said...

I have come to you from Peggys blog, This is an interesting discussion and must speak to so many as art is probably one of the subjects that can be learned and also self taught. ie not everyone needs to do it in college. My Dad was a successful artist in his time but was self taught. I have done a few courses but due to work have been unable to complete the courses. My daughter is now doing a fine art degree but finding it difficult as she says she is no good at drawing, this is backed up by some of her classmates but she has had distinctions for her work in the past. I think she just hasn't got to a module yet that shows her talents yet. Anyway whatever she does I think art is the way forward for us all whether at college or self taught. It has taught me so much more reading these blogs and actually doing it. Sorry for the rant, I could spend much longer on this subject.

Kathy said...

Hi Jill - I agree. There are many paths to becoming and artist and those paths don't necessarily have to traverse through ivory halls. Thanks for your comment!