Going Digital

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Seventeen years ago, I tracked the growth of “digital” artmaking by examining a number of old Communication Arts Illustration Annuals. Because the yearly issue includes a description of artists’ media use, I was able to use that information to catch a glimpse of the pace of growth of the use of digital tools from year to year in their survey of outstanding illustration.

Some artists didn’t list their media, so I didn’t count them. Also not included, were those works described as “mixed media” because the term is non-specific.

Here’s what I learned from this year’s issue, and a comparison from my calculations from the past:

In the 2018 Annual:

73% of the entries described “digital” as part of the creation process*.

43% of the entries described “digital” as the only medium.

 

In the 2011 Annual, 54% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 2010 Annual, 44% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 2005 Annual, 29% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 2000 Annual, 12% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 1995 Annual,    3% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.
In the 1990 Annual,   .5% of the entries described “digital” as part of the process.
In the 1985 Annual,    0% of the entries described “digital” as part of the  process.

 

*Series of works were counted as one entry because all were described as of the same media and artist). “Mixed media” was not included, due to vagueness. Entries with no description of media were included in the calculations.

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The Second Gift

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A few years ago, I gave a student of mine an extra sketcbook that I had. It had an accordian format that I didn’t have a use for. A year ot two later, in the mail, the sketchbook came back – filled with amazing sketches of her life after college in South Korea. A note stated that she was returning the book. I was stunned, and wrote about in a previous post.

Since then, I’ve told the story to my students often, and each time they are wide eyed and moved like I was, by both the beauty of the work, and by the gesture.

Two years ago, a quiet student named Yi Bin Liang from Singapore came up to me after  class and said, “I would like a sketchbook.” I explained that I did have more sketchbooks, but that they come with no strings attached. I thought for sure that she was simply asking for a sketchbook knowing that I have extras – ones I’ve bought or been given, and were not going to be used any time soon. But that’s not what she meant.

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The following year, after graduating, getting married, and starting a new life outside of Boston, Yi Bin returned to school and handed me the book. She said she was finished and was giving it back.

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Turning the pages, I saw that these were more than just drawings. They were the recordings of an important time in her life. Some featured her new husband, Will, who was also a student of mine, as well as other ex-students. In the drawings, you see Yi Bin’s reflections of a new life in America. You see wonder and warmth. And of course you see the remarkable sketching of a great young artist

I will guard the book with my life and use it as an inspiration for my classes. And I will return the book to Yi Bin immediately upon request!

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More wonderful work by Yi Bin Liang can be found at her website: https://yibinliang.com

Stop Copying: Shanth Enjeti

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Self portrait by Shanth Enjeti

My colleague and ex-student Shanth Enjeti is endlessly quotable. Here’s a gem found recently on the website for Montserrat College Art, where he’s a professor, and where I used to teach with him.

“The pursuit of replicating the work of an artist who inspires you is utterly incompatible with the pursuit of becoming an artist whose work inspires others. May your pursuit of the latter, begin here.” 

Tough Lessons

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Art schools can be cruel places.

David McCullough’s book, “The Greater Journey” is a chronicle of decades of American artists, authors and scientists, seeking education and inspiration in Paris.  A master collector of terrific anecdotes, McCullough shares two stories that caught my eye,  as familiar tales of criticism faced, and tough lessons learned.

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Tough Teacher

Of Samuel Morse’s painting lessons in London, under Washington Allston:

As a teacher, Allston was exceedingly demanding. His critiques could be “mortifying”, Morse wrote, “when I have painted all day, very hard and begin to be pleased with what I have done…to hear him after a long silence say, ‘Very bad, sir. That is not flesh, it is mud, sir. It is painted with brick dust and and clay!” ‘ At such moments, Morse felt like slashing the canvas with his palette knife. He felt angry and hurt, but with reflection came to see that Allston was no flatterer, but a friend, “and that really to improve I must see my faults.” 

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Washington Allston,      self portrait

 

Tough Classmate

On George Healy’s first day studying at the atelier of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros:

In the world of the Paris atelier, rigorous hazing was an established tradition any newcomer, let alone an estanger.

Proficiency in drawing came first and foremost. Drawing was the foundation  of everything, it was preached, and most of every day was devoted to drawing a live model, the students packed at their easels elbow-to-elbow. Once, during an early session, while a model was taking a break and Healy concentrated on looking over his efforts, another student, short, rough-mannered, and older than the rest, suddenly stepped in and shoved him aside, saying “Donne-moi ta place, Petit” (“Give me your seat, Kid”).

“He coolly turned over my sheet of grey paper (Healy would remember) and sketched the model, who resting, had fallen into a far better attitude than which we had copied. The outline drawing was so strong, so full of life, so easily done, that I never had a better lesson.”

The rough-mannered student, Thomas Couture, was to become one of the celebrated French painters of the day, and as a teacher have great influence on many more Americans to follow. He and Healy became fast friends. 

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drawing by Thomas Couture

Lessons: Be a Stove, Not a Refrigerator 

Words of wisdom, which I’ll use often, as a mantra for my students, my classroom, my school and for myself – from an article about professional photographers who use Instagram as a vehicle for artistic exploration: Be a Stove, Not a Refrigerator. Cook up new things, don’t just preserve old ones.

“…even within the parameters of a style, (Gueorgui) Pinkhassov’s images are charged with a perpetual element of surprise – he says he’d rather be a “stove” than a “refrigerator,” would rather cook than keep. The effect of seeing a new picture by him, as you scroll down the instagram feed, is often a jolt of wonder and gratitude.”

– On Photography, “Instagram – Free, Chaotic and Immediate – Has Become a Place to Watch Great Photographers Work Out Their Obsessions” by Taju Cole, New York Times Magazine, 12/13/15

Teaching: It’s Not (Just) the Critic Who Counts

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The Critics, 1862, by Honore Daumier


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

 

Every day of teaching, for me, is a risky day – a careful day. That’s probably true of all teachers.

As for me, I lead critiques, which can be so helpful, yet so dangerous. Students put their homework on the wall – their personal creations – their own ideas- and face public scutiny.  My job is to take it from there.

I’ve said many times that “crit” is not short for “criticism” – it’s short for “critique”. A crit should always be a learning excercise -a practice through which students learn how their work is seen through discussion with others. It’s where they learn of the infinite possibilities through observation of what everyone else created. And it’s where they learn how to improve through instruction and suggestion. I should add that it’s where students learn about accountability too – integrity.

But, day after day, I’m reminded that critiques can be risky. Students can feel judged – and can take things personally. Or, students can be defensive or closed to new possibilities.

It’s a tightrope we walk in critiques. But if student is as enthusiastic as in the quote above: “face marred by dust, sweat and blood,” then the focus goes to the maker. They have faced the blank page.

It’s easy to criticize, but it’s trickier to critique. And the difference is everything. It’s education.

 

Further Observation

Educators: remember not to monkey around with critiques. Get to the point. Say what needs to be said. Being useful demands courage. The courage of walking that tightrope.

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The Experts, 1837, by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps

Lessons: “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…”

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Not long ago, Montserrat College of Art (where I teach) hosted the illustrator and designer, Oren Sherman as a guest artist. He lectured inspiringly and then visited classes including mine: Senior Illustration Thesis. It was there that Oren shared a terrific life lesson – that his professional career changed when he “stopped asking for things and started offering things” as a strategy for success. He urged the Montserrat seniors to do the same.

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Dunkin Donuts painting by Amberlynn Narvie

As an example, he spoke of my student, Amberlynn Narvie’s terrific paintings of the “regulars” at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, where she worked for years. “That’s a great story” he said. “Call the editor of the local paper and start from there.”
She acted on his urging and did even better. She put the work on Reddit and was immediately contacted by both Boston.com (the Boston Globe) and Metro Boston.

Now she’s been interviewed by both papers, and so, her career begins.

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