studying art

painting in the forest

Teaching art is in itself a rather difficult occupation. The teachers are almost all artists themselves, but what they teach is not how to be an artist. They teach the tools and the methods which an artist needs in order to produce his art. And aside from that, try to expose their students to varied and far reaching examples of works of art. They teach the history, and the stories of how different artists grew and evolved from art enthusiasm to the stage where they felt capable of producing works of art. The student is not graded or judged for his capacity as an artist, but rather for his ability to use the tools which he or she has chosen to learn or employ. Before the art, comes the craft. One has to learn to draw or to sculpt, or paint, or photograph. Each craft has its own rules. Though it might seem that a small child is able to produce a picture with complete freedom on the basis of talent alone, once that child has grown up, and tries to draw a tree or a horse, he discovers that there is a large gap between his intuitive ability to express his impression as a drawing on a page, and his own perception of the subject of his drawing. In order to bridge that gap, he or she has to study the techniques of drawing.

metal sculpture of a spider’s web with fly

What makes the study of art more difficult than the studies of bookkeeping, law, or engineering, is that only a very small portion of the students will eventually become artists. For unlike other crafts or professions, art demands a personal commitment, and a life of continuous doubt and danger.

being an artist is risky

A master carpenter will build a fine set of table and chairs. And after he has completed his work, he will build another set just like it. He may include a few improvements as he works, but the basic idea will remain the same. What he has learned from the first set will make producing the second set that much easier. But an artist is not permitted to be repetitive. He has to start from scratch, even after his greatest successes.

painting and photography in the forest

There are students who realize, shortly after beginning their studies, that they do not have the many characteristics needed to become an artist. But even so, they do not abandon their studies, because most of the students are motivated by a love of art. Many say, ‘even if I can’t be a great artist, it is enough for me to be part of the art community. Perhaps I will teach painting; perhaps I will find work in a community center. Perhaps I will learn another profession… But art, even as a hobby, will enrich my life’. There are artists who learn their crafts by apprenticeship. But most artists, these days, study in art schools. And the dynamics of the class, working together, learning together. Competing, and helping one another is extremely valuable to their education.

working on a sculpture made of oranges and orange peels

Taste is an important part of the creative process. It is personal, and not to be judged. An individual student may excel in learning how to draw or paint, or how to make silk screen prints. He may receive the finest grades in all his classes. But even so, his fellow students and his teachers may find his works atrocious. All the same, it his choice as what to draw or paint. His teachers won’t judge him according to taste. His work in the craft might even be an inspiration to his fellow students, but when he leaves the school and tries to sell his art in the market, he might find himself unable to find an audience.

an installation supporting empathy for our environment

Of course, we all know the stories of those artists who were rejected in their own lives, and after their deaths were acknowledged as great artists. These stories give hope and encouragement to artists who are unable to sell their works. But even so, one has the need for recognition and approval from some source. If one receives praise from critics or fellow artists, there may be reason to continue to work at his art, even if the artist is unable to sell it. But only a very few are willing to languish in poverty for years, in the faith that eventually they will be recognized.

the head of an enormous centipede made of stone and wood

In late spring and early summer, I used to participate in creative art seminars for college students, in which we would leave the lecture halls, the classrooms and the libraries, and try to experience the creative process of producing art in a natural environment. These ‘art trips’ were among the most enjoyable and challenging experiences I’ve had as a teacher. During these trips, the students would try out some of what they had learned in school, which enjoying the surroundings of nature. Teachers, and artists of all sorts were invited to join the trip. Some of them would work alongside the students, some would give helpful advice, and some would offer criticism. The students viewed such criticism as a positive input.


In the evenings the students would share their work, and they would criticize each other’s work. The pictures I’m showing today are from such a trip.


54 responses to “studying art

  1. I so enjoyed this post. I appreciate the way in which you clarify the lines of learning – that skills can be taught, but creativity is the artist’s own. These are wonderful pictures, and capture glimpses of the creative faculty at work.

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Gill. Yes, creativity and imagination are very different from the ‘work’ of getting an image to look like we envisioned it. Over the years, I’ve learned that sometimes looking at an image that is not so impressive… not so original… sometimes an image that wouldn’t impress the critics, can be very pleasurable for me. That’s the subjective side of it all.

  2. An enjoyable post Shimon and what fabulous trips those must have been. I’ve struggled with craft, I can draw a bit, hopeless at painting but the craft of photography, well, I’ve developed a fairly good foundation there, it’s a craft I can relate to. So I think I have now found the medium through which I can express my art. At least I hope I have. I can now capture the landscape in a way I could never hope to do through painting or drawing. ‘ve never seen things described in this way before Shimon and it makes an awful lot of sense finally. Thank you.

    • It seems to me, that in recent years… especially since the internet got going, there are more and more people who’ve chosen to share their own personal view of the world, and their appreciation of beauty, nature, and the people they love. And of course, there is great pleasure in finding people who have like interests, and with whom to share what truly matters to us. Different people find different talents as they try to express themselves. I had a very dear friend who used to twist coat hangers into the image of a portrait. I still treasure a portrait he did of my mother many years ago. Thanks, Chillbrook.

  3. It has been interesting to read about your experiences with young artists and to see these photographs, Shimon…. I agree that art, whether visual or performance, has techniques that provide foundations…and then comes the mystery and wonder of creations that are unique, yet able to touch us deeply, over and over, and always in new ways…

    Thank you for your post; I appreciate your willingness to tackle a vast subject and to order it so well…

    • Yes, there are so many different expressions of art, including visual, and performance, and tonal, and conceptual… and many of these expressions bring out something in us, the viewers or the listeners, and awaken some of the finest and most inspired awareness within us. I remember, many years ago, that I was somewhat surprised to realize that the role of the student was more important and more rewarding than the role of the teacher. These days, I’m learning that the appreciation of art is often more enriching than the production. Thanks for your comment, Kitty.

  4. Artists and art continues to amaze me. Besides their skill, art seems to have no boundaries because art comes in so many forms. Although all of them aren’t appealing to everyone, Thanks for the wonderful, thought-provoking post.

    • I don’t know about boundaries, Frank… I think there are boundaries, just as there are in the natural sciences. But it is another face of man. We have many faces, that cover all of the many sides of human personality. In my eyes, technology is most popular these days, and it reflects the cleverness, of man. History has very obvious boundaries, representing our memory, but in the last few thousand years it has been aided to a great extent by our capacity to read and write. And so has astronomy, and medicine, and physics… the very oldest of our faces are probably music and wisdom which go back far beyond history… but technology does too, with the invention of the wheel.

  5. What an interesting post. You understand completely the difference between technique and talent in the creative process. Discipline is required by an artist and techniques have to be perfected, but creativity is god given.

    I love teaching special needs children and adults art, especially outdoors. Last year the children built huge faces from earth, all with different expressions and emotions. Then we planted them with cress and different grasses for hair and beards…..wonderful they were and the kids loved it.xxxx

    • I’ve never had the pleasure of teaching special needs students. I’m afraid I took the easy route, and spent my time teaching gifted college students (of all ages). But I do believe that there is a special reward in teaching people who are outside of the conventional society, because it is then that one realizes just how superficial and meaningless are most of the social categories, and how wondrous is the human mind, regardless of handicaps. I would love to see pictures of your project of last year. I am glowing just from the thought of those faces with grass for hair and beards. In such a project, I am sure, the teachers have to work harder than we did. xxx

      • I would love to post pics of the faces Shimon, but sadly I have children in the shots too and can’t post their pictures….I should post some images of the workshops though….and the work they produce. The kids have had lots of exhibitions so I have plenty of pics. Special needs children and adults are a joy to work with, they are so innocent and natural and often very affectionate too. I am often hugged every minute, how lovely is that eh?xxxx

        • What a shame you can’t show the pictures… Next time, you have to shoo them away, and document their work. As for being hugged every minute… I don’t know… that sounds quite difficult.

  6. Oh….by the way, I LOVED the pics, especially the spider’s web.xxxx

    • I have to tell you that I always have a dilemma about which pictures to show. I don’t want to say too much, so as not to lose the interest of the cybernet reader, and in the same way, I don’t want to show too many pictures. I had a picture too, of the spider that spun the web, and in the end… left it out. Those are the hard decisions. Dina.

  7. Creating any form of art outside in nature can be so inspiring; a wonderful idea to take students outside of the indoor classroom, to the classroom of Mother Nature..
    I really like the creativity and colors of that last painting.

    • Glad you liked the post, Angeline. There are all kinds of different reactions to working in nature. Some people are put off by the activity. They see it as disrespect to nature. It’s hard to please all the people all the time. Thank you for your comment.

  8. being willing to risk failure, or the perception of failure, stands between many people who have great art to share with the world … enjoyed this piece, and the photos, and would have loved to be an observer to one of these “creating in nature” classes as the experience unfolded

    there is something so raw and beautiful about art that is taking shape

    thanks for sharing this glimpse

    • I am sure you would have loved it, N. On these trips, there are so many levels of communication. I did this many times, and every time I came home with renewed optimism about mankind, and having learned many new things. And what you say about the risk of failure is so true. It occurs too, among the most accomplished artists. It’s a part of that field of human accomplishment. And those who are able to overcome the fear reach great heights indeed.

  9. I think that this lesson can be applied to many professions

    • I’ll have to think about that one, Dallas. I’m not sure I understand you.

      • start with learning the basics!

        • Yes, I agree with you on that. What lead me astray, was that in most professions you can study all the way to being a master… but in art, you have to bring something of yourself that no one can help you with.

          • but don’t you think that’s true with a lot of professions – medical students can learn all the theory in the world but what makes them good doctors is their bedside manner and that you can’t teach

            • Actually, I disagree with you on that, Dallas. What makes a doctor good, is his ability to diagnose a problem, and find a remedy for it. Unfortunately, there are some doctors who are so wrapped up in that, that they forget to be a nice human being. But really, it’s not that simple. We have to realize that a doctor goes from one sick person to another, and if he had a lot of empathy, he would be filled with despair and sadness by the end of the day. Sometimes, it’s in his interest, professionally, to make himself less sensitive… to have an elephant’s skin. Still, the patients really appreciate an empathetic doctor. It’s a very difficult profession. There’s a song that I love… I heard Ray Charles sing it some years back. He says, ‘I could have been a doctor, but I couldn’t have been able to bear it if a patient died. I could have been a lawyer, but it would have broken my heart if a client went to jail… so I decided to sing the blues’. I think many artists are that way. And I am too… I took the easy route.

  10. Bonito blog. Thanks for sharing.

  11. My sister has worked very hard in her profession as an artist. But there is joy in creation. I think it is interesting that professional means you profess to be something. The word amateur, derived from the Latin word for love, means that you love it.
    When I was a teacher, I loved doing art with my students, and as a mother, I delighted in watching my kids express themselves through art. Thank you for helping me remember what it is to see the world through their eyes.

    • And thank you, Naomi, for going to the roots of the words professional and amateur. I think it’s true to this day, and that is part of the joy of life that we so often see among amateurs. Though I have known professionals who were motivated by love throughout their careers. I think in almost every calling or profession, the really fine work is done by those who love it. And yes, we can’t experience all of the things in life that we would like to… we can’t spread ourselves too thin. But as I mentioned earlier in reply to another comment, sometimes the appreciation of art is as moving an experience as the production itself. Thank you for your comment.

  12. Aha!! Finally a start on my request for a treatise on creativity. I took only one art class in college…needed the hours and the fun. I definitely remember each and every class outside. Now, in my aging years, I wish I had spent more time at it. My creativity waxes and wanes and frustrates. Having a son who is a gifted artist only drives me harder. I never did any with the intent of making money. I enjoy photography but I enjoy All art. It drives me, it excites me, it feeds my soul. And having you as a friend so far away, allows me to enjoy our sharing.

    • Bob, you are a true friend. Because you encourage me to go on. I remember your request… and remember too that is sent you to check out a very interesting book at the time. Now that you have reminded me of it, I will write another blog post on the act of creation… probably next week. Sometimes, I debate with myself about what is worth writing about in such posts. And there are certain subjects which are so big, that it seems that they can’t possibly be properly represented in a small article. But your words have given me added inspiration.

  13. Good morning dear Shimon – Forgive me for not commenting in a while, I have been busy giving workshops, and so this post is perfect. You have stated so eloquently what it is to be an art teacher and an art student.

    As I get older, I realise how fortunate I am to work as an artist and teacher. As you say, from an economical point of view it’s not always easy, but nevertheless a life I wouldn’t change for anything.

    Although, I might not always comment, know that I am always with you in spirit:)x

    • You are so right, Janet… about always being with me in spirit. I actually feel that you are with me… a true comrade in arms. And it brings me joy. I can well understand that there is a lot going on in this world, and we can’t be everywhere all the time. However, I believe that next week I will add another post on the act of creation, which I think you’ll find interesting, even if you don’t find much new in it. A difficult subject, but I’ve received a request from a friend. Thank you so much for your comment. xxx

  14. A great post, Shimon. Thoughtful and wonderfully illustrated, as usual. I enjoyed it very much.

  15. This is a classical dialectic dilemma in all arts and maybe even more evidently in my field of work; photography («because everybody can photograph»). It’s the dilemma of craft versus vision, talent, expression or whatever one choose to call it. This you very eloquently describes in this post which I enjoyed very much. Those pictures from field work look so peaceful and lovely.

    • Yes, these outing were really terrific, on many levels. What you mentioned, the difference between art and craft is a very basic one, and I plan to post another discussion, towards the end of the week, on what it is that makes art. Thank you very much for your comment, Munchow. Good to hear from you.

  16. Shimon,
    I love the essence of your photos here. You capture the curiosity and delight of learning about art from nature in these lovely shots. It feels like a wonderful way to explore!

    • Thank you very much, Cathy. It is very interesting to get to know a subject from all its angles. I loved being a student, and have stayed a student since I was young… but in later life, I discovered that teaching can be almost as much fun as learning, because it is still part of the process.

  17. As ever, some interesting points to ponder. Liked the centipede!

  18. “what they teach is not how to be an artist…” – and so I studied the biography of van Gogh (and his suicide) or Piet Mondrian, Andre Kertesz (potographer) or Max Beckmann etc. – it is the rhythm in the deepest center of a person, the center of a volcano-thing maybe: and you have to care, that the fire does not go to ashes …

    • There are so many different types of artists… some of them stroll at the mouth of the volcano… others are more circumspect. There will be another post towards the end of the week on what makes art, as differentiated from craft. You might like that, Frizz. Thank you for your comment, and for mentioning these very special artists.

  19. As a writer, I truly enjoyed your insights on the creative process: craft and technique are prerequisite, but then comes the finding of the magical ‘other’ …the great quest that many of us are engaged in. It makes for an interesting journey. Thanks for your post. I found it through frizztext, so thanks to him too.

    • Thank you for coming by, Tish. Yes, frizztext certainly does bring people together, and I thank him for introducing us. I will be discussing the ‘magical other’ as you put it, towards the end of this week; what it is that makes art. It is a fascinating subject. And I look forward to getting to know you better.

  20. You are a good teacher, Shimon. Learning the craft/technique of any discipline teaches us so much and increases our appreciation of what it takes to create great art. Even though we cannot all be great artists, we can all learn to express ourselves through painting, sculpture, photography, music, etc.

    • I agree with you completely, yearstricken. Being a great artist demands some very specific talents and drive. But the advantages of meaningful communication and the ability of expression are available to all who really care for it, and can enrich our lives greatly. Thank you for your kind words, my friend.

  21. i’m here thanks – a big thanks – to frizztext as well! what a great place to start! lisa/z

    • Yes, Frizz does bring a lot of people together, and I join you in thanking him. And thank you too, for coming by. I’ve peeked at your blog, and it looks very interesting, and a part of the art world. A pleasure meeting you.

  22. I really enjoyed reading this, Shimon. Thanks.

  23. A fabulous post! Not surprising that I would love this one especially, my friend: as an artist, and especially as one who, having learned that teaching is *not* my true vocation, appreciates all the more those who *are* great teachers. Thanks for the uplifting and beautiful meditation!

    • So glad you liked the post, Kathryn. There’s a continuation which should be posted on Friday. But I have to tell you, that when I was young, I just couldn’t imagine that I would ever want to teach… and then in just the right circumstances, I discovered the adventure and the fun of it. Sometimes, there are surprises along the way. Thanks for the comment.

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