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Summer is over and it’s back-to-school season. Art students are heading back to their classrooms and studios, receiving a course of training that will help them become professional artists. Much of the general public today likely has an image of the working artist as a glamorous intellectual, a socially-conscious provocateur, or a tradition-busting bohemian who has received a course of formal training, resulting in a fine arts degree. But these stereotypes and the reality they approximate—and the institutions that have contributed to it in one way or another—are relatively recent phenomena.
For most of history, the artist in the West (Europe and its colonies) was a craftsman who was trained as an apprentice in the workshop of a senior artist (‘master’). By working under the master and paying him a fee, an apprentice would learn the technical aspects of his craft—how to mix pigments, prepare wood panels for painting, or handle a chisel and hammer—as well as standard motifs and compositions that would suit his patrons. (I use the male pronoun here deliberately—professional women artists were unknown until the Renaissance period and were still extremely scarce until the 19th century.) After several years of training (usually in adolescence), an apprentice could apply for guild membership and open his own workshop.
Students painting ‘from life’ at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Late 1800s. Photograph in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
This model persisted in most of Europe until the 17th and 18th centuries, when state-sponsored art academies became widely established. The institution of the academy has its roots in Renaissance Italy, where humanist scholars, famous artists, and their patrons set out to reshape the visual arts as intellectual endeavors. While the medieval artist was a craftsman, the same as a cobbler or a weaver, the Renaissance artist—a good one, anyway—was a genius and a scholar. He (and, increasingly, she) therefore required a new kind of education, to learn about classical culture, literature, philosophy, theology, science, and mathematics, all of which were deemed essential to the production of good art. The first academy (named after Plato’s school in ancient Athens) was established in Florence in 1563, soon followed by one in Rome. By the end of the 18th century, every major European state boasted at least one academy of art. The National Academy of Design was founded in New York in 1825, based on the British model of independence from government involvement. The course of study at the academies was highly standardized and was based largely on classical forms and subjects, and the study of live models and plaster casts. Artists not trained at academies might instead learn similar skills in a successful artist’s studio, similar to the medieval master/apprentice relationship, with an updated curriculum.
By the late 19th century, after decades of political upheaval throughout Europe and the United States, the academy came to be seen by many artists as a sclerotic arm of the state. Academic artists turned out technically astute but formulaic work, some of it openly propagandistic. The emergence of the avant-garde prompted many artists to break institutional ties, forgoing academy-sponsored exhibitions (in France, these were the famous Salons) and trying to make their way without the help or influence of the establishment. (Thus the image of the artist as a struggling outsider was born.) In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, groups of artists established schools that were alternatives to the academy, such as the Art Students League in New York and the Bauhaus design school in Germany. A break from academic norms also opened doors for so-called self-taught artists with no formal training at all.
Exterior of the Bauhaus workshops, Dessau. Photo by PeterDrews (Own work). CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Today artistic training happens in the contemporary academy, in post-secondary art schools or fine arts departments of colleges and universities, and in some cities and countries, beginning in specialized high schools. Programs awarding bachelor’s and graduate degrees require a variety of studio courses, as well as exposure to art theory through seminars, and sometimes professional internships or additional coursework in art history. Typically, graduating students participate in a capstone exhibition of their work (‘thesis show’).
How do artists fare after their formal education has finished? Statistics and studies from different countries provide a mixed picture, but a recent survey revealed that Americans holding fine arts degrees have a rate of unemployment (4%) well below the national average and report a high level of satisfaction in their jobs.
Kandice Rawlings is Associate Editor of Oxford Art Online at Oxford University Press. Before joining OUP, she studied Italian Renaissance art and taught art history at Rutgers University. Her students included many talented artists and performers studying at the Mason Gross School of the Arts.
Oxford Art Online offers access to the most authoritative, inclusive, and easily searchable online art resources available today. Through a single, elegant gateway users can access — and simultaneously cross-search — an expanding range of Oxford’s acclaimed art reference works: Grove Art Online, the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, The Oxford Companion to Western Art, and The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, as well as many specially commissioned articles and bibliographies available exclusively online.
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Have you ever heard of Evaline Ness? She was an illustrator of many children’s books during the mid-20th century period. At a time when most illustration was still being done in a style of literal realism, Ness was among that group of stylistic pioneers whose work still influences the look of illustration today.
She also has the unusual distinction of having been married for a time to the famous FBI agent, Elliot Ness.
The sale will take place at Bloomsbury Auctions New York on Wednesday, December 9th, but those who won’t be able to attend can view nearly a dozen pieces from the Ness collection in my Evaline Ness Flickr set.
This was our last Art History project. The idea was to create a 40' x 46' mosaic of the Mona Lisa out of balloons. We create a grid using yard then started blowing up the 2,000 balloons.
Unfortunately, the weather did cooperate. The wind kicked in by afternoon, twisting our grid and popping our balloons. In the end we decided to dismantle. However, we may try again with a new approach...
“Every corner of the canvas should be alive,”Said Henry Matisse and I think he was right. I guess you can't always take everything into account on a tight deadline but I always try. I had forgotten the wording of this quote until I read this article. This was also taught to me at art school (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) I'm not sure which teacher said it but to paraphrase them " You should be able to remove a square inch from anywhere in your paining and have it be as beautiful as any other," I'm probably getting it wrong but it's always stuck with me.
Recently found: original 1941 concept sketches for Wonder Woman.
Here we have a piece of comic book history from early-1941 in the form of a letter from cartoonist Harry G. Peter, written to William Moulton Marston, in which he unveils some very early sketches of Marston’s new superheroine, Wonder Woman; Marston’s handwritten response to Peter can also be seen, penned in red below the original message. Wonder Woman’s subsequent debut came just months later - December - in All Star Comics #8 (cover). The rest is history. Transcript follows. (via Letters of Note: The birth of Wonder Woman)
A letter written by Walt Disney in 1935 to Don Graham, tasking him with organizing art classes for the Disney animators. To put the timing in perspective, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937, and Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940.
Disney was a business tycoon, but he understood his business was in storytelling and emotion. From the letter:
Comedy, to be appreciated, must have contact with the audience. This we all know, but sometimes forget. By contact, I mean that there must be a familiar, sub-conscious association. Somewhere, or at some time, the audience has felt, or met with, or seen, or dreamt, the situation pictured. A study of the best gags and audience reaction we have had, will prove that the action or situation is something based on an imaginative experience or a direct life connection. This is what I mean by contact with the audience. When the action or the business loses its contact, it becomes silly and meaningless to the audience.
Illustrator Scott Anderson spent some time studying a few original Leyendecker covers for the Saturday Evening Post, and has posted a series of close-up photos on his blog. Clicking through to the full-res images reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing you to truly study Leyendecker’s brushstrokes.
I really enjoyed the museums in Siena in part because they were small enough to manage with children, and not so packed. But the best part was their troves of early Renaissance art. I like the early stuff because it’s not so all-fired perfect like the late Renaissance art. During the early period, artists had figured out a few things about perspective, but they hadn’t yet cracked the whole code.
The art from the early period also seems brighter and more colorful than the later Renaissance. I find myself relating to it because it’s more like what I’d want to create myself. Perfection in artwork doesn’t really interest me that much, probably because I’m living after the invention of photography. So the beautiful but imperfect early Renaissance paintings (as well as pre-Renaissance works) have an almost modern feel to me.
Disclaimer: this isn’t an all that scholarly perspective, so bear that in mind.
St. Bernardino Preaching, by Sano di Pietro (above)—This scene takes place in the same Piazza del Campo from my previous post. I couldn’t find a better image of it, but in real life the colors are much brighter. The building behind St. Bernardino is the color of papaya flesh.
(detail from The Siege of the Castle of Montemassi, by Simone Martini)
The image above is just a tiny bit of a beautiful and famous painting. You can see the artist has made an attempt to show the dimensionality of the castle, but it’s still a bit flat, with an almost cubist feeling. I love it.
Our favorite pieces in the museum were the nursing Madonnas. I had never seen anything like them and was so moved by their tenderness. Whoever thought of Mary breastfeeding Jesus? Evidently plenty of artists have, but I hadn’t. I found the images so intimate, so human. So different from some other Madonnas where she’s looking away from baby Jesus, holding him like she’s not sure whose kid this is but would someone please take him?
Evidently there are a lot of these lactating Madonnas from 14th century Tuscany. According to Wikipedia, they were “something of a visual revolution for the theology of the time, compared to the Queen of Heaven depictions.”
Madonna del latte, Paolo di Giovanni Fei
“During the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, a decree against nudity was issued, and the use of the Madonna Lactans iconography began to fade away.”
Sigh. At least they didn’t burn them.
The coolest thing about seeing these paintings was how much my small children responded to them. I think the idea of baby Jesus being so like themselves, so like oth
Image, branding, and logos are obsessions of our age. Iconic images dominate the media. In his new book, Christ to Coke, art historian Professor Martin Kemp examines eleven mega-famous examples of icons, including the American flag, the image of Christ's face, the double helix of DNA, and the heart.
The Architects Journal blog has a neat Top Ten list of cities in comics (posted by Rory Olcayto). Because it is obviously written for people who know nothing about comics, it probably doesn’t go in-depth enough for comics experts on Drawn, but it does provide some interesting extras like this pairing of Marlinspike Hall with its inspiration, from Herge’s classic Tintin series. There are also some amusing picky comments from architects in the comments: “Just to be pedantic – you are mixing up Aztec and Inca influences and how Herge used them,” writes Tintin buff Chris Tregenza, who made this map of Tintin’s voyages.
An inspiring collection of Japanese graphic design images from the last half-century over at A Journey Round My Skull (which incidentally is an awesome blog). The above image is tagged, “Yoshitaro Isaka, 1966, ad”.
Dick Balzer’s collection of magic lanterns, zoetropes, thaumatropes, phenakistoscopes, and other optical toys is one of the finest in the world. He has been collecting “anything and everything invented before the movie camera that produces an optical effect” for 30 years.
The site’s boasts some new flash galleries which replicate some of the pieces’ effects (note: doesn’t seem to work in Safari).
In the world of art history there is increasing attention being paid to caricature. A rather large bulk of the research seems to be getting done in French. For those interested in a blog full of links to resources and books and conferences on historical caricature, caricatures et caricature.com is just the thing – in French. However, the links work for English-speakers too ;-).
Lowell Hess is one of the forgotten giants of the mid-20th century cartoon art business. Among his many laudable accomplishments is a year-long series of tiny spots done for Collier’s magazine in the early 50’s.
These spots appeared regularly in a column called “48 States of Mind” and, although tiny in stature, they are huge in the excellence of their content. Brilliant character design, hilarious oddball concepts and meticulous execution make Hess’ tiny Collier’s spots well worth a closer look. You’ll find several more at Today’s Inspiration.
In his introduction to the book, Carrrera suggests that the very juxtapositions of the illustrations tell a story:
The conceptual underpinning is that this book can act as a springboard for individual creativity. It was printed with a belief that the human compulsion to find meaning would lead readers to create stories that explain whole pages and perhaps even inspire some to derive unifying threads that might, in a Joycean fashion, enable a narration of the entire book.
It is a creative and romantic way to look at what amounts to a collection of images very purposefully arranged in alphabetical order, but he continues to admit the book is invaluable even just as pure reference:
The surface function of the book as a visual reference needs little explanation. The book contains many great examples of how to solve problems of illustration. … By virtue of the magnitude of engravings, their varying density and size, the book also becomes a study in design.
In this video I found on Vimeo, John Carrera gives us a detailed tour of the process, tools, and machinery used to print and bind the hand-made jaw-dropping deluxe edition of the book. It is nothing short of book-making porn:
The pricetag of this lovingly crafted tome? $4600.00.
But not to worry. The trade edition of Pictorial Webster’s is an affordable $35.
Harry’s varied career has given him a wealth of esoteric experiences. For instance, though he was never one of “Mad’s maddest artists” he was one of Sick’s sickest artists. The cartoon creeps below are a great example of his ’sick skills’.
Harry is now 81 and still going strong. In fact, he’s just celebrated the first anniversary of his blog. Drop by Harry Borgman’s Art Blog and you’ll see for yourself that this amazing illustrator can teach you how to draw monsters… and a whole lot more!
* I’ll be featuring a dozen scans from “How to Draw Monsters” on my own blog on Saturday October 31st, but you can preview them all ( and tons of other amazing Harry Borgman art) in my Harry Borgman Flickr set.
Larry Roibal alerted me this morning with this post on his blog to the death of Don Ivan Punchatz. Its always sad when a legendary illustrator pass away… but this passing is especially unfortunate when we learn that Punchatz’s widow is now burdened with massive health care bills due to the artist not having had health insurance.
For those who are unfamiliar with the name Don Ivan Punchatz, you may have seen his work for Playboy, Esquire, National Lampoon, Time, Newsweek, and a host of other magazines, countless paperback book covers, the first Star Wars film poster, the cover of the Doom video game… truly a giant. We will miss him.