A New Art Degree

There are many young artists graduating from university art programs today who can, as Gilbert and Sullivan said, “discourse in novel phrases of your complicated state of mind”, but cannot draw. One university I know has even removed basic drawing from its campus curriculum and offer it only as an on-line course.

These programs place so much emphasis on pushing the envelope that students never discover the wealth within that envelope. As Canadian artist Robert Genn said in his twice-weekly letter (rgenn@saraphina.com), “Our world is coming down off a prayer-rug that faced New York, London and Berlin. For decades, a lot of poor quality art has emanated from these centres, and the world of art schools and University art faculties have encouraged the worship. This mass delusion has undernourished countless echelons of idealistic artkids.”

However, many of these students feel that they wasted their time; that they should have ┬áspent that time practicing and learning to draw. They were taught that the purpose of art is to challenge people’s thinking about what is art, and that the expression of beauty is an out-dated idea. Yet here they stand with degree in hand, and an unsung melody inside wanting to be set free. I have had many people tell me that they learned more in the three days of my workshop than they did in four years at the university. That is a sad indictment of the system.

In my own case I found the academic experience enriching but lacking in fundamental skill training. Beginning drawing classes were taught by graduate students so that the professors could focus on the upper class “serious” students. The drop-out rate was high. Most of what I learned about drawing I learned by studying other artists drawings and by direct observation of the world around me. Mine has been a long road of gradual learning illuminated by small lights that came on less often than I wished. Maybe we need a new art degree, the MOS (Master of Observational Skills).

Have you gone through an entire academic art program and exited feeling artistically undernourished? What kind of experience have you had and how did you gain the knowledge that underpins your current artwork? I’d like to hear your story.

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