Saturday, February 28, 2009

MAM Poll results: Improving your art education

What's the most effective way of improving your art education? was the MAM Poll for February. The results have proved to be both very interesting and also very good news for art tutors! What follows is my own personal perspective on the results. You're invited to concur (if you do) or suggest an alternative perspective.

76 people responded to the poll and the pattern of their responses remained static throughout the month. The chart shows their responses expressed as percentages.

It's important to say upfront that a number of people commented that they learned in a number of different ways . People valued the opportunity to follow a number of alternative routes to improving their art education.

For me, I like a session where an experienced artist can give some insight into how they create what they create. I also learn from group sessions where the composition, whether human or still life, is someone's else's vision and I just draw it. I learn by seeing how others approach the same subject.
Jeanette Jobson
However since I knew that would be the answer for a lot of people, the question was posed as it was to get people thinking about which had actually proved to be the most effective.

I think the lesson for all art tutors is to
  • appreciate the value that current approaches have for students in the real world.
  • secure a possible growth area in a virtual world in the future by thinking long and hard about how online interactive alternatives can be improved and delivered.
The three most effective ways of improving your art education

The three most popular approaches to improving one's art via educational resources, in order of effectiveness, are:
  • short workshops with professional artists - 37%
  • atelier method/private instruction - 16%
  • regular local art class - 14%
It strikes me that people who have had some tuition from a professional artist tutor who can teach effectively are all very supportive of this way of learning - whether it happens in a workshop, a private class or a regular local art class.

If you're surprised by these choices it may well be the case that these are options which you haven't personally pursued to date for a variety of reasons. Maybe this poll provides some food for thought?

I hasten to add that my caveats in the description of the tutor are made for a good reason. There are a fair few tutors out there who don't deliver the goods - and I'll be writing more about how to identify a good tutor in the near future

Thee other popular options

Studying in art school and from books and being a member of an art group or art society were also regarded as effective by some people.
  • art instruction books/art journals - 11%
  • higher education/an art degree - 9%
  • membership of an art group/society - 7%
I was amazed to see art instruction books and art journals come so low - I was expecting to see this option do much better. There again, the explanation might lie in the quality of the content of some of the books. That explanation is certainly supported by the comments about art books made by me and others on this blog in 2009.

I found it interesting that people who had art degrees were identifying other options as the most effective way of learning!

I personally think an art group of peers has a lot going for it - because of the nature of the dialogue which can take place. I guess whether this takes place online or offline will depend on the nature of the group. I've got experience of both sorts and they both have their pros and cons - although pros generally outweight the cons.

I'm wondering whether art societies maybe think that if somebody is good enough to become a member then they don't need to learn in the company of their peers. Or maybe they just don't organise enough events or ways in which members can learn?

Less popular

Two options were seen as less effective:
  • online art blogs / projects - 3%
  • museums and art history resources - 2%
I don't think art blogs are seen primarily as a vehicle for art education at the moment. However, I think it's a big mistake to underestimate their potential reach, scope and impact.

My personal view is that you only come to view the art you can see in art history and museums and art galleries when you've come to understand how all art grows out of what has gone before. I think it's also likely that although people see learning about art history as important - it's necessarily regarded as being the best way of learning.

Least effective

The least effective option is the art forum - which during the entire month did not attract one single supporter. I have to say I was very surprised to see this because I've lost count of the number of times I've seen the view expressed on various art forums that people view it as an amazing resource. I'm now inclining to the view that this could possibly mean two things:
  • From a positive perspective - the art forums are very popular places for hobby artists and people of similar skills to congregate
  • From a negative perspective - that means you can have people who are no more skilled than you are telling you how to improve your work!
My experience of art forums is that both are true. What I think they lack are a clear demonstration of the critical faculties employed by the better art tutors. Professional artists often don't have the time to spare to offer much support. Plus of course tutors are likely to be somewhat guarded in their comments on an art forum as they are prime place to pick up potential students for their next workshop!

As a result, there can seem rather too much emphasis on "happy clappies" at times when in fact work although improving can still be a long way from "good". It can leave people in the same place for a long time.

I think art forums are great places for people who want the company of peers. However I've personally seen a lot of improvement in the art produced by some people once they left forums behind, became more independent and constructed their own paths to learning.

Maybe a greater degree of interactive one-on-one consultation could go a long way to make up for the educational input which online sites apparently fail to deliver at present?

What do you think?

Note: This opinion poll will be added into The Making A Mark Poll - Resources for Artists which is a record of all the various polls conducted to date.


  1. Katherine, I learned a great deal on but I know what you mean by too many 'Happy Clappies'. I especially enjoyed the classes that were offered from successful guest artists such as Mike Sibley on the D&S forum. Through interactions w/other member artists on WC, a small group of us have forged an enduring friendship and our own art group that meet weekly on Yahoo IM. We also communicate and share through emails. Some have private mentors and some, like myself, do not. We encourage and critique each other in a kind but honest manner. However, I voted for short classes by known artists rather than mentoring. I'm of the opinion that I don't want to be tied down by one artist's view point or way of doing things but do feel something can be learned from every artist. Because of where I live and because of health issues I'm not able to attend these type of classes so I do the next best thing. I buy the DVD demos from CCP. I can pick and choose which artists and I try to choose artists that I not only admire for their work but that have blogs so I'm able to communicate with them if I have questions. Most are happy to oblige.

  2. I absolutely agree Billie - the Drawing & Sketching Forum classes were unique on WC at the time and I know they were valued by a lot of people.

    Plus of course, I still have fond memories of the Drawing 102 class I led on Sketching! :)

    I've also got a buddy group which comprises people who started on WC. People who all wanted something that WC wasn't offering at the time. Sounds to me like a number of us have gone down the same route.

    That point you make about artist tutors with blogs is an important one.

  3. I voted for the professional artists workshop, but, like Billie, I learned a lot from Wet Canvas, particularly WIP's, in fact I still refer to them from time to time. I too am surprised at books and journals coming so low, but perhaps this is not because they are bad but that professional workshops are better. Perhaps you should have asked us to put options in order of preference or rate on a scale of 1 to 10!

  4. That's a very sensible suggestion Sue - but unfortunately that option isn't available using the polling module.

  5. Great poll! Thank you for pulling this information. Does it mean that degree oriented art studies are out of vogue or because your readers are predominantly self-taught proactive type?
    Maybe next idea would be to learn who gives those type of workshops, atelier style tutoring around London? Would be great!

  6. There are certainly a lot of people who have had no formal university level training - but we also had artists with fine art degrees voting for categories other than the one relating to an art degree!

    What spoke volumes to me is that people obviously rate the knowledge and experience of accomplished artists on a face to face basis.


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