When I announced my college major to my mom, I got a very different answer than what I expected. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “that is GREAT!” Whitman College, even with my merit scholarship and various grants and loans, was still pricey. Part of me wanted to cut and run. Sail around the world. Paint the whole time. If I was going to paint, why not just quit school and do art? Instead, my mom encouraged me to stick to my decision and spend the rest of my time at Whitman studying art.
The funny thing is, it wasn’t the kind of art I do now. At all. Like most young artists in the liberal arts education system, I was trained to appreciate and emulate the Post-Modernists. De Kooning, Jim Dine, Kandinsky. We pushed the boundaries of art. Anything too representational was not encouraged. That was considered low-hanging fruit. Anyone can simply paint what they see (now I know that is not really true, and much harder than one might think). There is an interesting article on Huffington Post about the “de-skilling” of art education in today’s universities. Here’s the link:
Anyhoo, I must have gotten lucky, because I did learn skills. We studied the figure, we painted from life, and we had to practice our art everyday.
However, I feel that I gained something important in those days of Abstract Expressionism. I was pushed to recognize the imaginative power of art. “What are you trying to say?” Professor Keiko Hara would ask,”What are you searching for?” This exercise in thinking deeply about our artistic expression has served me well, and I continually go back to this practice. Art IS more than just drawing what we see. It is more than technique. As one art connoisseur and collector declared to me recently, being a successful artist requires a three-pronged approach: technique, imagination, and promotion. My education at a small liberal arts school may have failed in giving me business skills, but it certainly nurtured my imagination. I was encouraged to look at the world through my unique lens, and have freedom in finding the best mode of expression. This is priceless, and I can say I am glad I stuck it out.