I had reason to think recently about the way that art is taught.
I think there are a lot of art teachers, instructors, and professors out there that do a fantastic job. You can even find many of them on YouTube or various art instruction channels.
I’m talking ‘capital A’ art here. As in, any medium of expression that people use that is not purely informational. Visual art, music, performance, writing, interactive, culinary, fashion, architectural, competitive, martial, etc, etc, etc.
There are a thousand and one books on any artistic topic you might be interested in. Dozens of courses offered at an institute of learning near you. Art is our first, and most diverse, form of cultural communication. Art is the difference between loose groups of cave dwelling hominids and globe spanning civilizations. Art is on a very short list of the things that make humans human. And we keep on teaching it to each other wrong.
I have written here before about how art isn’t a thing you make, it’s a thing you do. There are exactly as many ways to do art as there are people. Every single one of us will do the things we do in slightly different ways. We will create our cultural artifacts or express our ephemeral performance arts in slightly different ways than any other person.
Art is also an industry, and industry requires some amount of consistency. A level of repeatability. The good thing is that a trained and practiced human is pretty adept at consistency. We are good at creating patterns and repetition. It’s in our nature. We build machines and tools that aid in our consistency.
The problem is, that sometimes, we mistake the industry and consistency for quality.
There is a large contingent of the art instruction world that would like nothing more than to create robots. Individuals that will, when asked, repeat a set of processes to create a consistent, repeatable, product. They think they are teaching art, but they are teaching the creation of artifacts. Art and artifacts are very different things. Artifacts might be what we make, but art is what we do and how we do it.
The only way to get better at anything, is through practice. Repetition. No person starts out making their first mark on paper and ends up producing a masterpiece. You have to practice. You have to work through processes. But that doesn’t mean that you only have to practice making that one mark.
I suppose it’s a mindset more than the actual, physical steps that you have to take. You can, of course, draw seven thousand circles so that you might be better at drawing circles. But that’s not all that you learned.
In drawing those circles, you learned the arc of your hand. The dexterity of your wrist. You learned the rhythm of movement. The pressure and angle you can apply to graphite. You didn’t just make circles. You aren’t only good at making circles. You have learned motions and processes that can be applied to drawing any form. You can draw a hip, an ear, a leaf, a stream flowing past a cottage illuminated by moonlight. You didn’t only learn to draw circles.
There are far too many teachers trying to teach new people to draw new circles so that they can take up positions in the circle drawing industry. These new people will be practiced, they will be consistent, but unless they realize the depth and breadth of what they have learned they will go on thinking that they are quite good at drawing circles, and nothing more.
Art is the act of creating.
That is the part that needs to be taught.