Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why Take Art Classes?

The question is rhetorical, as the answer should be obvious. Unfortunately, it isn't easy. It's a common question, one that I ask of students (see here and here) and of myself most often, as both a teacher and a practitioner. And as the above posted infographic makes clear, the fundamental benefit of taking an art class is, well, duh, you make art. Everything else is great, but we're missing the forest for the trees, as this essay from Curmudgucation (hat-tip George) points up:
Do not defend a music program because it's good for other things. That's like defending kissing because it gives you stronger lip muscles for eating soup neatly.
So when I first saw this meme shared on Facebook, the cynical comment I had to add was that you also learn to simply make art. Period. You know, like one of the reasons to take a drawing class is to learn how to draw. I understand and empathize with the endless rush to justify the importance of the arts in an aesthetically monetized culture and the corporatization of educational institutions. And there are innumerable instances of valid assests one can pick up: like changing one's perspective (often literally) = change your world.

Bird’s eye + worm’s eye POV gestures: exaggerated foreshortening exercise in Life Drawing class.
“I submit that this is what the real, no-bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.” – David Foster Wallace, 2008 Graduation speech, Kenyon College
But should be self-evident that creating art is it's own reward, and that unto itself that is often more than enough. Well, should be. It recalls a time when I was drawing something in a sketchbook and a casual observer asked what it was for, and I was genuinely baffled at the question. Sometimes yes, it's for a client, or for a feature, sometimes it's a "job" and there is financial compensation involved. But it is also, perhaps first and foremost, an ingrained habit and an instinctual reflex I'm hard-wired to do it. Whether impulsive or compulsive, inspired or aimless, a doodle or a finished masterpiece, it's all good... and all part + parcel of the process (as per "art is a verb as well as a noun").
“Against all odds, the voices of the artists seem to be louder than ever.” – Steven Johnson “The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t
(h/t Dr. Palter)

"Again": My Life Drawing class got to do some sketching on stage with some killer percussionists: there can be an awesome symbiosis between drawing + playing music... it's a powerful connection. "Again." Meta-lesson: it's always a kick in the creative pants to work firsthand around the discipline + drive of constant practice. "Again." Boom. Same drill with the evening’s Beginning Drawing class: sat in on practice for the symphony for a linear perspective exercise... in the dark no less. Watching + hearing the musicians on stage rehearse over and over and over – nevermind the time they put in on their own beforehand – hammers home the primacy of practice, and literally drawing the connection between composing notes and arranging the marks on our piece of paper. Cue strings.

And I think that most of what's on that list of skills posted up top is no different than one would get from an auto-mechanic, cooking or any other class for that matter. When I Googled "things you learn in art classes" and "reasons to take art classes" there was a recurrent theme or a common thread that wove throughout most of the lists:
relax, meet new people, use new/different parts of your brain, engage senses, build self-esteem, confidence, perseverance, pride, and boost well-being of inner self, develop individuality, independence, accountability, abstract thinking, non-verbal and spatial skills, inspire creativity, enhance perspective and perception, self-expression, increase visual literacy, non-traditional academic learning, creative problem solving, focus, reflection, critical analysis, experimentation, synthesis, collaboration, aesthetics, dedication, discipline, craft etc. etc. 
But by far and away the most insightful reply to this Big Question came from a poignant and achingly insightful post by a blogger by the name of Amanda Bales titled "Reasons for Taking Drawing for Beginners" of which an excerpt is reposted below:

On a related note, when it comes to learning and taking classes, after spending a few hours in the company of a couple other cartoonists talking about comics + sharing ideas and inspiration, I came across another great on-line educational opportunity (of which there is a burgeoning presence of such courses becoming available).

With tongue firmly planted in cheek as the recipient of an MFA in "Sequential Art," I've often marveled at the status of the medium becoming legit within the dual fields of literature and art. But now you know that it has officially arrived when we can argue about what it is and what it isn't, what's better or worse, good or bad etc... and when the academics begin to eclipse in legitimacy the actual making of said material. Case in point and another sure symptom of how serious it's become now is that within academia and critical review there are extensive and detailed syllabi dedicated to the craft of comics without any actual drawing involved.

Uncoupling the study of comics from the actual making of comics seems to me something like learning how to cook by memorizing a recipe and then not making it. Or for that matter, not eating it either. That is the one aspect of my studio course that sets it apart from so many others: you learn best by doing. And you do best by learning.

On that note: Recent Cartoon & Comic Arts course alum Mason Tyler Schoemaker just scored a strip in the UAF Sun Star newspaper – grab a copy from one of the many locations around campus + coffeeshops around town.


  1. They don't learn it from the arts.They learn it from good and great art teachers like you. The arts are the means, but the human guide brings it all together.

    I was exposed to a lot of half-assed art education over the years, so I developed something of a taste for it, but totally missed the confidence, perseverance, focus, receptivity to constructive feedback, collaboration, dedication, and accountability. I don't think any public school system in the US took art education seriously in the 1960s and '70s. The private teachers I would occasionally get to take classes from seemed like they were dong it for some extra cash. Or maybe I was just such a hopeless ADD fuckup that they wrote me off and concentrated on the kids with better prospects.

    1. Everything you missed always comes back around. A good percentage of the folks that show up in my classroom - whether 10, 20, 30, 40 years or more down the road still carry baggage from when they basically taught themselves that they couldn't draw. I still routinely break bad habits brought on by nothing more than really deep ruts from so much time spent simply spinning wheels.
      After dropping out of high school and flunking so many art classes myself, one if the singlemost enduring meta-lessons learned in pursuing an Associates degree from a community college (part of SUNY) was that learning never gets old, esp. seeing as how I was more often than not one of the youngest students in any of my classes.
      Course, I dropped outta there as well soon as earning a GED, but never lost my progress, sporadic + erratic as it's been.