Students all across the country are getting ready for their degree shows. After their shining moment, a culmination of 3 years’ worth of hard work, art graduates are catapulted into the world of work. The question is, will they be ready for what comes next? Will their Art School experiences equip them for finding employment? Will they have been enabled to find their artistic voices so that they can launch careers as fully fledged artists? We asked the experimental watercolourist Ann Blockley, the colourist oil painter Hugo Grenville, and creator of hand-drawn maps Stephen Walter are Art Schools a waste of time?
It is a long time ago since I went to art school. I loved the experience and wish I could do it all over again! However, I would probably make some different choices a second time round. In those days I chose to do my BA in illustration at Brighton. It was a fantastic college and I had some incredible tutors such as Raymond Briggs ( The Snowman etc). We learnt a wide range of skills that have been invaluable but if I returned to art college today I would do Fine Art because that is the way my work developed over the years. I find it interesting to reflect that alongside the detailed illustrations in my degree show I submitted a range of watercolours, including subjects such as trees and lacy hogweed that still capture my imagination today. These paintings were done during the holidays at my countryside home, away from the bustle of the city. One of the paintings from my degree show was featured in my first book. I like to think my paintings have matured and ‘loosened up’ a bit since then but that first show really was the start of it all!
My watercolours have changed immensely since my art school days and are now more painterly and expressive. If I had not gone to art school would it have developed in this way regardless? I will never know. Is the ‘artist within’ going to emerge come what may or does it need to be nurtured? I suspect that the answer is a bit of both. Is art school a waste of time? Or does it give students the opportunity to explore and grow? I think it partly depends on the individual and how committed they are. In general I think nothing is wasted. We may learn something quite unexpected but every experience has a value for everyone and especially for the artist.
I cannot offer an opinion about the teaching at art school today as I am not well enough informed about current practises. However, I hope that there is still a strong emphasis on drawing skills. ‘Back in the day’ we were encouraged to do as much drawing as possible of a wide range of subjects – especially life drawing. We also had to keep sketch books and scrap books packed with thoughts and ideas. I believe that whether you go to art college or not, drawing is one experience that every budding artist should practise.
Ann Blockley’s ‘Summer exhibition in the Cotswolds’ runs from July 4th -11th( closed Monday 6th) 10am – 4.30 pm.
The Studio gallery, Church View, Todenham ,Gloucestershire,GL56 9PF
Visit www.annblockley.com for further information or contact [email protected]
DVDs, prints and signed copies of her book ‘ Experimental landscapes in watercolour’ will also be for sale.
I absolutely loved my art school experience! I met new people, explored a different part of the country and learnt about myself and my practice. I could say loads more good stuff about my time at art school…
My degree show was really successful. I built a body of work up over a year. The experience taught me how to meet deadlines and enabled me to practice decision making, which is a really important quality for all artists.
It’s hard to say whether art schools are failing young artists today. Time and space are so important when developing. So long as these things are accessible to any artist there will be opportunity for the art to grow. To my mind, the Art School experience is the best possible environment for any aspiring artist, and I wouldn’t change the system. I suppose all I would say is that more exchanges with companies and other schools would serve to further enrich the experience.
Stephen Walter is represented by Tag Fine Arts. A book presenting his 2008 map of London ‘The Island’ is currently available from Prestel Publishing/Random House. His maps ‘Nova Utopia’ and ‘London Subterranea’ are currently on show at ‘The World in a Mirror’, Museum Aan de Stroom, Antwerp.
I did not attend a degree course at art school, although I did do 2 terms of life drawing at Heatherley’s in the late 80s, and one day a week with Elizabeth Jane Lloyd, who was an inspirational teacher (she was a protege of Cecil Collins), and who opened my eyes to picture-making; but essentially I learnt to paint by reading Sickert’s memoir, in which he describes his debt to Degas and Whistler, and Degas’ debt to Ingres and Delacroix. He links both the classical to the modern, and drawing to painting. In a wonderfully provocative and eloquent prose, he throws out advice about colour, about the qualities of paint, about the textures of the canvas surface, and about the different moods and emotions contained therein. He taught Churchill to paint, and inspired a generation of brilliant young painters: Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore, Robert Bevan, Paul Nash. In Sickert’s day, and right up until the late 1960s, anyone could go to art school and be robustly assured of being taught to draw and paint. From the mid 70s onwards, art schools abandoned their commitment to educate students in practical and technical skills, in favour of a conceptual approach.
The result today is that anyone wanting to learn how to paint will have to attend a private art school. Many of my students have completed a degree course at art college, but they come and study with me for a few terms in order to understand how to actually make a painting. The culture of idea-generation and abstract thinking at art school can, of course, be hugely stimulating, but without learning about design, colour, shape, line, tone, the varying qualities of the different pigments and, most importantly, how to express individual mood and feeling through these tools, the aspiring painter is unable to go forwards.