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Art Education: Learn to unlearn what you have learned

by Brian Sherwin on 11/30/2011 3:40:02 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

A recent comment on a FineArtViews article written by Karen Cooper reminded me of one key lesson that all artists should consider. A comment by Phil Kendall hit on the idea that artists should unlearn what they have learned. Kendall suggested that artists should forsake "all those art courses, videos and books" if they desire to discover an unmistakable style of their own. In other words, if you -- the artist -- want to create art that is unmistakably yours you must be willing to work, work and work some more AND throw caution to the wind by finding your own path regardless of what you have been taught from other artists. I tend to agree with that attitude. It never hurts to unlearn what you have learned as an artist.


What we have learned can become an obstacle. Artists often allow themselves to be caged in by what they have learned from mentors, art professors, art critics... you name it -- most are bombarded with the influence of art education. The influence of knowledge that we have obtained can sometimes hamper our personal quest for further knowledge -- specifically the knowledge of our own artwork. In that sense -- at least from a philosophical standpoint --, art education can have a negative impact on growth. It all depends on how the artist takes it in the influence of art education... and if he or she is willing to unlearn what he or she has learned from it.


Obviously the artist will retain the knowledge of what he or she has learned. It is not like an artist can snap his or her fingers in order to forget what he or she has been taught. This is not about forgetting -- this is about crucial choices that dictate whether or not some of what the artist has learned should be applied or not. Unfortunately, it does seem that some artists forget that it is acceptable to stray from what has been learned. They have been taught the 'right ways'... and stick to them without question -- cutting off any chance of discovering 'right ways' for themselves. In my opinion, both the artist and his or her art suffer from that lack of discovery. A bird never forgets how to fly -- but can be kept from flying.


I am of the position that creative discovery in regard to use of materials and style is a key aspect of placing yourself apart from millions of other artists. Without that discovery -- without taking those unique paths -- your art is burdened by the very lessons one would hope were meant to help you to find your way. The lessons of art education are meant to help you learn to fly on your own. The lessons of art education should never become bars that seal you -- a bird of flight -- within a confined cage. You -- the artist -- were meant to soar above what you have learned... it is in your design to discover your own territory. Don't cage yourself in.


In closing, my opinions on this matter are not meant to spur anti-art education attitudes. Art education is needed -- and if done correctly it can be a wonderful and beneficial experience. However, it can also be a negative experience -- either due to the overwhelming wrath of the teacher OR the inability of the student to move beyond what he or she has learned. If in doubt -- learn to unlearn what you have learned. You will learn more from doing that... and the lesson will be about your artwork and your development as an artist.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Topics: advice for artists | art education | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Instruction | Think Tank 

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Definitely true Brian, rules are made to be broken, and you need to break some rules to find your unique style, otherwise everyone's art would be the same.

I think it's very important though, that you learn the rules before you break them, otherwise you won't know which ones you can break and which you can't.

Some people try to take a shortcut to developing their own style, without learning the rules, and they will often come unstuck.

Phil Kendall
My art is about something rather than of something. It is not about animals or people. It's not about landscapes or seascapes. It's not about still lives/life? It's not about brick perfect architecture or rivet perfect mechanical devices such as trains. All of these fields of artistic endeavour are done to perfection by artists' that I truly admire. I doubt if I would ever have their patience or their skill. So my art is just a personal experience making images on canvas.

There is a world of difference between having the ability to create a nice image in paints on canvas and having the vision to make those images that are so different that they do not depressingly look like the output of every other artist.

Everyone is unique and every artist should strive to be unique but sadly many artists believe that the only way to be successful, as an artist, is to be like and make images like someone else's. Sadly all they are doing is to add to that ever growing pool of sameness in those images.

These what I would call the ”śme-too artists' produce images that are all so depressingly just so similar in style and content. Their images have the same message [or lack of message]. Sadly many of these ”śme-too artists' just copy, some even painting in the fashion of a long dead famous artist. They are sadly making just images, nice images, but still just only nice images.

Jim Springett
Good day Brian,

Your story is worth it's weight in ink and then some. Thanks for the enlightenment, As an artist, I learn more from doing and experimenting on my own and while I have attended workshops, what is being taught is not necessarily what I do, and I continue to paint in my own style, so why attend? In 2011 I attended two workshops and both were good social events, i enjoy talking with other artists as a point of human interest. One workshop was a painting workshop and I enjoyed the watercolors, the second one was a seminar no painting, there was a painting demonstration, and watching others paint is ok, yet once again is not necessarily what i do. In 2012 I'm developing my own body of work, unique to me only and my local presence is getting pretty good, and I'm actually devloping a stronger business at home compared to my ebay marketing, most of that is because people know me here and are becoming more interested. Ebay has been a good training effort and learning more what people think about fine art. Plus quite a few International customers have been interested.I'm going to keep focused and very creative and your story helps to reaffirm this for me, thank you and have a good evening.

Jim Springett-wildlife painter

Phil Kendall
Thank you too Jim. It is a brave decision to leave the sheep-fold and become a star amongst those freedom loving goats...those unique artists.

Roger Hyndman
There appears to be confusion between Art Education and individual problem solving, decision making, originality and creativity.

Art Education is about introducing the student to a range of artists materials, tools, and techniques. Mix in exploring a variety of art media, historical explorations and references, and making decisions about describing, interrupting, judging, risk taking, and creating. A quality Art Education program encourages the student to pursue critical thinking, problem solving, and to explore originality in their creative pursuit.

Looking beyond the Art Education experience the individual is encouraged to experiment and take risks on how to view their own artistic world. Art Education is a foundation, or beginning, nurturing the future. To seek originality and newness within our personal creations. How we individually view and pursue our artistic world is our own choosing.

Carl Jackson
There is a truth that everyone is not aware of that Need to Unlearn is the equally important to the learning new things. Unlearning is a major thing when it comes to build a personality.


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