The Cloud Gallery - Tony Schaefer

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Art Education- The Value of a Degree.

Having completed my Fine Arts Degree and also having attended the National Art School (Sydney) as a teenager, I want to look at my education as a process of development that would prepare me to be a practising (professional) artist.

As a contemporary student and recalling my teenage experience in the '80s, I have a lot to compare and while it might not be the most equitable way to look at the institutions of art education, it's the only one I have.

Firstly, let me say I was not a naturally talented or gifted artist, but I am very creative, yet is that the qualification/quality that makes me an artist? My hope (at 17 years of age) was that art school would teach me to draw (representationally). My art history teacher talked of only having a 2B pencil for the first year of his training, and he drew the same simple objects until they were perfect (representationally). Yet in 1984, I started with 3 life drawing classes a week, but with no anatomy study, where the only rules were to capture the gesture of the pose, with any medium I wanted to work in. I guess most great artists land on a style of working and it helps DEFINE their work and progress as an artist, yet after two years my style had not "landed".

This might have been a great time for a teacher to come out and say, "perhaps you should do something else". Although drawing and painting are skills, that with practice (more for the likes of me) you can become quite competent at. Learning to LOOK at the thing you are trying to render is a huge step. But defining an object in 3D space on a 2D surface requires the bending of RULES and if you don't fully understand the RULES how can you manipulate them?

This should be art school 101, and yes I have heard the call to bring back the "traditional" art school but would it be commercially viable? Have we replaced training, the rules of drawing and repetition/practice for more students (fees) so we can justify the "art department" within a given school?

I was informed that 3 out of 27 (students in my diploma class) would go on to be practising artists. Could an art department "succeed" if it simply sorted out the 3 to help/focus on and told the others they should try their hand at something else? And would I have been one of those 3? And if not would it had been kinder to straighten me out from the beginning? Does it become a financial decision over one of "let's cultivate the best artists"? As a result of this decision, we are left with the system which says "everyone can make art", and yes that is true, but should they all do it for a living? Does art lose its power to communicate if everyone is making it?

Has our social media-post often-keep scrolling addiction flooded the market place with so many images that very good art has lost its potency? The "pros" of a world-wide audience have to be weighed with world-wide competition. But the VIEWER now has to sort through the images themselves, whereas previously we entrusted that to qualified curators and collectors (museums).

Many trained artists spend their whole lives trying to create with a child-like sensibility and would have prefered NOT to have been practised in the "rules" of picture-making. And that mostly comes down to perception. I say mostly because in the art world there are ALWAYS exceptions. Compared to someone who understood colour and the principles of form and design like Paul Klee, is a 5-year-olds drawing perceived as a significant work of art? In academia and the gallery world, it would not because they use time tested markers based on "body of work", development of concepts and time as a practising artist, ability to communicate their intentions.

My spiritual experience and training have shown me COMMUNICATION is key and when you can see that the world offers none, it leads you inward to where the only True communication is. From THAT communication amazing artwork can be expressed, even if it isn't perceived as being significant.

The big take away, for me, is that YES, the art world/system could make things a lot simpler, for everyone by returning to teaching/training the principles of image-making/colour/design/perspective and allowing the artist to break the rules, rather than allowing EVERYBODY to just slap 'any old thing' on a canvas, call it art then hand them their pre-paid $20,000+AUD degree that has no real weight, just to fund the institutions art department so it can perpetuate the cycle. Just because all institutions do it this way doesn't mean it's right, and while some will be better than others, overall the whole system needs to change.

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