Monday, July 15, 2019

Art Instruction Books: 10 years after

Ten years ago I wrote two very long posts about Art Instruction Books. I posted one to my Making A Mark Facebook Page this morning and it seems it still has a resonance with my followers.

The two posts are:
This post is about what they're about - and what I think has happened since and what may well happen next.

a small section of my Art Book Bookshelves - before I rearranged them again.

Different ways of Learning - in summary and since

The first post Art Instruction Books #1: different ways of learning summarises some of my thoughts back then on:
  • the way people learn
  • the way people learn about art
  • how this all relates to art instruction
It took different models of the way people learn - and extrapolated this into how this applies in relation to art instruction (but not art instruction books)

It strikes me as interesting that over the last ten years
  • in some ways art instruction has remained the same (for some) in terms of how it works
  • in other ways it has changed hugely.
For example technology has well and truly arrived :
  • Lots of artists now teach students remotely - as a matter of routine
  • Lots of artists now control their own websites and online learning schools / video output / podcasts - and are not beholden to other publishers / platforms etc to deliver their content and generate their own followers in terms of students
  • It's normal to have art students who don't live in the same country as you
In order to do that art instructors have had to become good at making videos and/or podcasts and/or modular instruction.

What I find very interesting - as somebody whose first degree is in education and who has initially formally trained as a teacher - is that most people are doing this with no idea about how to teach.

So we have 
  • on the one hand - democratisation around publication of art instruction; and 
  • on the other - there's an awful lot of utter [expletive deleted] out there - because there is no accreditation and there are absolutely no quality controls. Anybody can produce complete rubbish!
  • not forgetting that some artists are proving to be excellent instructors despite no training 
For the most part, people have not been so much into writing art books as they are about writing content - of a chunked up modular kind, which sometimes has - but often doesn't - an underpinning structure of what needs to be learned. No matter what kind of art.

The Economics of Publishing - in summary and since

I think I was absolutely spot on with Art Books #2 - the economics of publishing! However it's difficult to summarise briefly - so read the post!

 In fact I'm somewhat amazed that I was quite so prescient. But for the fact that I used to have a boss who periodically used to roll me out in front of the management team peers and ask me to perform my party trick - which was to tell everybody what was going to happen in the next 5-10 years. Based on the fact I seemed to have developed an uncanny habit of being able to tell what was going to happen over a strategic time period. In fact I was only ever doing what on any sensible R&D set-up would do - which is keep both eyes and ears open and read around to see what everybody else was doing and what new developments were getting underway and building traction. That way you assimilate the clues that are out there and sooner or later they begin to make a coherent story which either becomes even more convincing or morphs and changes into something slightly different.

Which is why I always knew the UK would vote for Brexit if they ever got the chance!  But that's a different story....

In terms of publishing what I predicted would happen has happened. 
  • publishing hit the same buffers as the music industry due to the changes technology and the means of production - and a lack of experience within the industry about how manage change and how to cope with new ways of working. For example see 
  • even if some of the same publishing names exist, they've often been bought up within a global conglomerate which retains the name as a brand 
  • others have gone bust or no longer print art books
  • more or less all printing is now done in India or China and timelines have to accommodate the time for shipping books actually via a ship!
  • the entry level / amateur hobby market continues to obsess publishers
  • so much so that many books are printed now with very little instruction and lots of blank pages so that people can fill them in like a workbook. My jaw dropped when I saw one of these for the first time. I couldn't believe people were actually buying them - but they do!
  • colouring books took over the world - a bit like 'paint by numbers' did when I was a kid - and totally invaded every known category of art instruction books on Amazon. Apparently a colouring book is now to be regarded as an art instruction book!
  • books seem to have more pictures and fewer words - because that's actually cheaper and suits an audience which has become image obsessed and text light
  • people are publishing small quick guides online
  • more or less all art instruction books must now be made as ebooks as well as the printed version
  • which has implications for both content and how they are formatted if they are to work well as e-books (but not all the authors have made that change!)
  • publishers now LOVE authors with major online followings - half their marketing can be done for nothing by the artist!
  • those that stick with conventional publishers now understand the real financial benefit comes via the workshops which can be sold off the back of the book rather than through the book itself - when you take the opportunity cost of taking time out to write and produce a book into consideration 
When I wrote my book it was made very clear to me that the only way to make it economic to publish was to sell the international rights around the world. The spin-off was that the content had to be capable of being acceptable to different audiences around the world - which accounts for why no brand names appear on the art media in my book - because not all art media exports around the world!

So what happens next?

What I'm doing next is buying up second hand versions of older books on the basis that "text on paper" is a disappearing commodity. 

The future will be more of the same for the time being
  • rather less artists having a bread and butter job as an art teacher in schools and colleges - as their second job - and rather more running an online art school
  • too many untrained people teaching others despite the fact they only have a partial grasp of some of the basics of art
  • fewer experienced people creating art instruction books
  • too few decent art instruction books - unless lovingly produced by an artist who cares deeply about passing on good art instruction in relation to his or her specific area of expertise
  • more and more publishing companies going under - unless small independent operations which are resistant / immune to the overtures of the corporate big boys flashing their wallets!
  • much more art instruction via video and online modules and much less via art instruction books

I have hopes though that we may also see an emergence of the in-depth manual for advanced artists by those recognised to be expert in their craft - and a re-emergence of a high regard for knowledge about the craft of making art - in different media.

I know of one in the offing - being published by a specialised art society in the USA. It occurs to me that in fact art societies are excellent vehicles for creating specialised texts for the future. Maybe we shall see more?

Maybe I'll write another one of these posts in another ten years. The scary bit is I can include a reminder to self on my iPhone!

Do let me know what you think! Comments on my Making A Mark FB page please.