Artistic Training Methods


Read this text to learn how people learned to become artists in the past and how artists are trained today. What similarities do you see when comparing past and present forms of art education?

For centuries, craftsmen have formed associations that preserve and teach the "secrets" of their trade to apprentices to perpetuate the knowledge and skill of their craft. In general, the training of artists has historically meant working as an apprentice with an established artist. The Middle Ages in Europe saw the formation of guilds that included goldsmiths, glassmakers, stonemasons, medical practitioners, and artists, and were generally supported by a king or the state, with local representatives overseeing the quality of their production. In many traditional cultures, apprenticeship is still how the artist learns their craft, skills, and expressions specific to that culture. Some nations actually choose which artists have learned their skill to such a degree that they are allowed and encouraged to teach others.

An example would be artists considered National Treasures in Japan. Art schools have developed in countries where education is more available and considered more important than experience. The French Royal Academy, founded by Louis XIV in 1648, is a model for these schools. During the 19th century, the Victorians introduced art to its grade schools, thinking that teaching the work of the masters would increase morality and that teaching hand-eye coordination would make better employees for the Industrial Revolution.

These ideas still resonate and are one of the reasons art is considered important to children's education. A 2009 New York Times article, "New Programs Aim to Lure Young Into Digital Jobs," by Steve Lohr, explains how this notion has carried into the realm of high technology and the digital arts. A woman quoted in the article says that proficiency in digital animation is an asset less for technical skills than for what she learned about analytic thinking.

Like most skilled professions and trades, artists spend many years learning and applying their knowledge, techniques, and creativity. Art schools are found in most colleges and universities, with degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Independent art schools offer two and four-year programs in traditional studio arts, graphic arts, and design. The degree students earn usually ends with a culminating exhibition and directs them toward becoming exhibiting artists, graphic designers, or teachers. Such degrees also consider the marketing and sales practices of art in contemporary culture.

Many artists learn their craft independently through practice, study, and experimentation. Whether they come from art schools or not, it takes a strong desire to practice and become an artist today. There are no longer historical opportunities to work under church, state, or cultural sponsorships. Instead, the artist is driven to sell their work in some other venue, from a craft fair to a big New York City gallery (New York City is the official center of art and culture in the United States). There are very few communities that can support the selling of art on a large scale, as it is generally considered a luxury item often linked to wealth and power. This is a modern reflection of the original role of the art gallery.

What is required to become an artist? Skill is one of the hallmarks that we often value in a work of art. Becoming skilled means continually repeating a craft or procedure until it becomes second nature. Talent is certainly another consideration, but talent alone does not necessarily produce good art. Like any endeavor, becoming an artist takes determination, patience, skill, a strong mental attitude, and years of practice.

Creativity is another element necessary to become an artist. What exactly is creativity? It's linked to imagination and the ability to transcend traditional ways of thinking, with exaggerated use of alternatives, ideas, and techniques to invent new forms and avenues of expression. The music composer Leo Ornstein described creativity this way:

"Once you've heard what you've created, you can't explain how it's done. But you look at it and say 'there's the evidence.'"

Traditional and more innovative art forms use creativity. It is what an artist uses to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary. Creativity can be a double-edged sword in that it is one thing that artists are most criticized for, especially in the arena of buying and selling art. In general, the buying public tends to want things they recognize rather than artwork that challenges or requires thinking. This dichotomy is illustrated by a poem by English writer Robert Graves, "Epitaph on an Unfortunate Artist":

He found a formula for drawing comic rabbits
This formula for drawing comic rabbits paid,
So, in the end, he could not change his tragic habits
This formula for drawing comic rabbits made. 

The ability to give visual expression is really what art is all about. It can range from creating pieces for beauty's sake (aesthetics) to social, political, or spiritual meaning. To fully appreciate the artist and their voice, we need to consider that if we value expression, we must value a multitude of voices, some of which contradict our own values and ideas. The artistic process culminates in a form of human expression that reaches all of us at some level.

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Source: Christopher Gildow,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Last modified: Wednesday, February 14, 2024, 3:51 PM