Because this issue of American Artist focuses on art education, I thought it would be interesting to explore the teacher-student relationship, particularly what happens after a student completes a course of study at an academy or an apprenticeship with a particular instructor. Specifically, I'd like to look at a phenomenon that many of us have noticed at one point or another: students who become overly indoctrinated in one artist's technique or philosophy to the point of losing their own voice and vision. Or when, in a similar fashion, a student or budding artist idolizes a certain painter's work and essentially ends up copying what he or she admires rather than applying it to a new, personal direction.
I think the ideal model for teaching art would start with
Teaching and passing on knowledge are vital aspects of art making, and giving beginner artists the tools they need to find their way is essential. Someone who is called to teach or to steer a school has a tremendous responsibility to lead his or her students in a way that will best serve them throughout their artistic lives. Most instructors today teach out of a love of helping others and a desire to share and encourage in the same way that perhaps their mentors inspired them. I think the danger comes when an approach to teaching is so set in stone that there is little room for outside influences or for the student's own interpretation. And sometimes a curriculum almost seems destined to produce disciples of the instructor rather than students with individuality. You may have heard the adage that if a student doesn't become better than his or her teacher, the teacher has failed. I would say if a student doesn't eventually produce something unique from his or her teacher, the teacher has failed.
I think the ideal model for teaching art would look something like this: students are given foundation skills in drawing and painting based on the best techniques and processes of the past. They are exposed at some point in their training to many current approaches to painting in order to develop an awareness of the larger contemporary-art picture. They are asked to read philosophy, theology, criticism, and poetry by influential writers, artists, and thinkers from throughout history to shape their cultural context. They are allowed occasional "freedom" sessions, in which they are given permission to try something completely novel just to loosen up and explore. And, ultimately, they are encouraged to find their own visual language that is both a culmination of what they've been taught and a reflection of their personal perspective and path.
What do you think? Is this a realistic model? When you look at various artists coming out of academies, ateliers, universities, workshops, and apprenticeships, do you see students or converts? Leave at comment on Artist Daily and let us know.
Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist.