One of the newfound joys of becoming a columnist (of sorts) is the interesting mail I get from readers and those who visit my website. Recently a young lady (all ladies younger than me are young ladies by the way), wrote me the following:
(I also do portraits) But I was especially interested in your background, in that you do portraits from your home, your fiftyish, and have a collage degree. I'm fortyish, do portraits from my home, but I'm self taught. Looks like I never needed that degree after all, considering your talent and the fact you are doing the same thing I am. ( Gives me something to base my starving artist career on.)
Here, in part, is the sage advice I offered privately, and now publicly to her : As far as my education is concerned, very little of what I do in terms of painting has any direct link to my college degrees. College is more to learn ABOUT art, rather than HOW TO DO art. That is best learned by doing a LOT of art, in or out of college...by trial and especially ERROR. I was already something of a portrait painter before I entered college back in 1969. I think I learned a little about color theory and composition as an undergraduate but little else about how to paint per se. I learned a LOT about art in general though. It broadened by view of what art is. I also learned something about a number of esoteric, antique artforms practiced today mostly by academic types in hopes of seeing their particular specialty survive long after the general public has long since ceased to CARE.
However most of all, college was about teaching me to TEACH art, which is one of the few ways in this day and age an artist can have his cake and eat it too--and, I do have a bad habit of eating. The beauty of teaching art is it allows you to GIVE, without deminishing your own wealth of knowlege...in fact, it ENHANCES it. And though the pay isn't phenomenal by any stretch, as artist go, art instructors (especially those with advanced degrees) are among the best compensated artists alive plus they have the freedom, during the summer, to produce, or travel, or study...or none of the above...as they see fit.
I might also add, I have little patience with the mistique of the "starving artist". In my experience, the starving artist either is not working very hard or not working very "smart". Art is an especially attractive refuge for lazy people and lazy people inevitably suffer. Otherwise, if he or she is NOT the lazy type, and yet is inadequately fed, then they lack either the WILL or the KNOWLEGE to sell themselves and/or their artwork to the public.