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As the old adage goes, “One must first learn the rules before one can break them.”  I feel this bit of wisdom is particularly true when applied to the instruction of studio art.  In my experience, young artists, naturally eager to find their own visual voices, tend to devalue the benefits of conventional studio training.  Many students assume that traditional principles and practices will be dispensable once they begin to formulate mature, more personal aesthetics.  After all, why should one learn the golden ratio or linear perspective if he or she may later choose to break with such conventions?


To some extent, I understand and appreciate this impulse.  After all, I recall my own youthful ambitions and desire to make art on my own terms.  Yet, in recalling my own education, I also recognize the profound effect the “rules” of art had on shaping my appreciation for craft and my place within the canon.  I strive to provide my students with a similar outlook and appreciation for the traditions of which all artists are a part.


I believe that a student’s success in a studio art class, and overall success as a visual artist, depends upon the incremental development of fundamental studio skills.  When approached in stages, studio exercises pose challenges that nurture the student’s technical proficiency.  For example, my painting students are initially trained to render images through close, detail-oriented observation from life.  Once they master traditional life painting, I then introduce them to the use of photographic or digital sources.  Yet, I do so slowly and with caution to ensure that they never lose sight of the fact that in order to create, one has to see.

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