Art, oil painting, Painters, Painting, Workshop

Thoughts on Art College and Atelier style study

. warning, long winded and somewhat rambling opinion follows


8″ x 8″ oil on canvas panel

disclaimer: I am not pretending that this painting is done in the style of Classical Realism

In my travels among blogs, I’ve read several complaints about the value of college art programs and I want to express my thought about it.

Even though I also feel that I didn’t receive a very thorough training in college, I think that I got what I should have expected. My opinion is that, at least in the U.S., students who enroll in college art programs usually have little or no training in drawing or painting prior to entering the program. Usually, as in my case, they’re kids who like to draw and were always told they were talented and, (especially in my case), have no interest in academic study. A four year Bachelors program has barely enough time to introduce it’s students to the rudiments of several different media or approaches to making art. By the time a student is in his/her senior year, they may have decided which media they think they might want to focus on but haven’t had time to really develop a mastery of it.

Graduate school, as I understand it (I didn’t attend grad school), is focused on developing imagery, not on technique. Technique is supposed to already be mastered.

Further, the instructors who staff these institutions are working artists who are passionate about their particular art. In the seventies, most of my instructors were working abstractly and, in fact, conceptual art was in vogue, in which there was not necessarily an artifact produced as a result of the art making. The idea was the art. Realism was not highly thought of at the time. And as far as developing technical skills, in four years of introductions to multiple media, it was more like dabbling than immersion.

I don’t have a problem with any of that. I was very excited about those ideas at the time and I enjoyed spending time with real working artists getting a sense of what it meant to be one. Having an exposure to printmaking, sculpture, photography, ceramics, etc was a good thing.

I find myself trying to fill in the gaps because now I’m interested in those technical skills I didn’t develop earlier but I don’t blame the schools I attended for not teaching me. I think undergraduate school is just not the place to develop those skills.

I’ve spent some time, recently, reading about atelier style study and wonder if it might be an appropriate step in a young (or older) artist’s development to spend some time in an atelier style environment. It seems to me that, even if one isn’t interested in ultimately painting in this precise and methodical way, there is a lot of benefit in learning to draw and paint precisely. It seems helpful to know the rules to break them intelligently.

There are a few blogs by artists who have studied this style of painting. The paintings are often really wonderful and one of the blogs in particular was really interesting to read. Sadie Jernigan Valeri, in her blog, gives an account of her pursuit of this study over about three years as she attends workshops by some of the masters of the style like Ted Seth Jacobs and Julia Aristides, and attends atelier schools, like the Gage Academy in Seattle and Studio Escalier in France. She’s also a very good writer. I read her entire blog, over a couple of days and, although I don’t know if I have the patience for this study now, (I know I don’t have the time, since many of the workshops are weeks or months long) I do wish I had done it.

Other blogs concerned with atelier style study and Classical Realism include:

Tobias Hall

Timothy Stotz and Michelle Tully of Studio Escalier

Jeremy Lipking


Sarah Merideth

Oil Candy

Neil Nelson

John Reger

Tali Gai

Tony Ryder Studio Blog

Harmony VanLue Tanguay

Seree Bayne

Kate Lehman

Jacob Collins

Janus Collaborative School of Art

Michael Grimaldi

David Larned

Edward Minhoff

Dan Thompson