I've been meaning to write this post for ages. Hurricane Irene is causing a fuss outside so it's a good day to write (and paint, clean, etc...) I also spent quality time with some of my favorite periodicals: Fine Art Connoisseur and Plein Air Magazine specifically I was reading about Scott L. Christensen and my mind began to wander thinking about "what if" I had spent time studying with guys like him instead of wasting my time in college. I normally don't spend any time on "what ifs" but this came up like a daydream. The answer is very clear I would have been a much better painter sooner...no question.
I thought I had to go to college, thought there was something there I needed to learn that wasn't anywhere else and I wanted the diploma, needed the pride that goes with that and went to a college near me (during a painful divorce) and actually didn't have a way of knowing about great places like the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) plus it never occurred to me to seek out painters I admired to go study with them. Big mistake.
College had it's good parts but as a realist painter it was a blistering experience. I went in as a realist painter and they did absolutely everything to beat that out of me, I was made to feel stupid, inferior and one especially horrible critique was downright abusive. So much so that when I talked to an old friend recently she asked me (30 yrs later!) if I remembered it and how upset she was about it. I sure do remember how it made me feel and it's painful to this day. The pain, in part, comes from my not standing up and walking out. I should have told my teachers and classmates to shove it. But frankly I was pretty fragile from a nasty divorce that was going on during my Sophomore year and didn't have any fight in me right then, so I gave in for survival's sake and became an abstract artist. It was never a good fit. I did make some good work and I have a great appreciation for abstract painters but I am not one. As an abstract painter I was entirely derivative, I thrashed around trying to find the real visual me, wondering what was it I was trying to say artistically. Paintings are a way to give "voice" to your great passions, interests and I believe it's important for an artist's "voice" to be genuine. Pushing that metaphor further let's say you have a deep baritone singing voice and they brow beat you into being a soprano...it simply doesn't work. Now, whenever someone asks me about which school their kid should go to to study art I ask them a lot of questions and hesitate to suggest college, rather I mention studying with people who might reflect their interest or taking classes at great art schools like PAFA and Provincetown Art Assn Museum. Do not go to college if your goal is to make a fortune with your art, never ever go to college if you want to be a highly skilled realist painter and care for foundation, great training or a classical approach - they do not respect it. A friend who is an art teacher and head of the painting department at her college said all the kids coming into school now want to be the next super star, cutting edge artist - sad - and the school will certainly not dissuade them or help them find their individual artistic voice.
It is my hope that schools will become enlightened and tolerant of different styles encouraging those whose path is realism. A few years ago I saw some of my professors and they asked to see my website, they seemed surprised I stayed in Art and were visibly shocked when they saw I'd gone back to realism. One professor was completely speechless and clearly disappointed. If there was ever one thing I could re-do it would be to forget college and seek out people doing work I admire and learn from them.
I know I am not alone in this so please feel free to share your experiences...good or not so good.