How Will I Be Taught in An Art Class?

I thought I would write this post because there is quite a lot of confusion around about art education, especially among adult learners.  I have also spoken to many other ex art students about the format of lessons, amount of tuition time etc. and it seems to vary a great deal.  I have learnt that many of the adults who join my adult beginner art classes have  little idea even what the ‘classroom’ or studio will look like.  Therefore I thought I would share some general points about what to expect.

Teacher Talk

Generally art is a practical subject and you will be spending most of your time doing – drawing and painting of course. However you can expect some introduction to a topic from a tutor or teacher, perhaps looking at the work by other artists, practical demonstrations and sometimes class discussion.  Those on more formal qualification courses will probably have an element of art history/contextual studies where you will be expected to research the work of other artists and their techniques.

Studio Environment

Some leisure courses may be held in more average classroom settings but most art classes are held in studios with art equipment like easels and props for drawing and painting.  Not all have tables and chairs as you might be expected to use an easel and stand, such as in some life drawing classes. Of course you can ask for a chair if you need to sit at an easel.  The environment can be messy, so don’t wear your best clothes! It is important to follow health and safety advice in the art studio which you should be advised on.

Learning in a classroom/studio environment

Tuition Time

This seems to vary greatly depending on the course you are on, with many art courses there is an element of tuition time where a tutor will instruct or demonstrate a specific skill or technique.  At other times you may have ‘studio time’ where you are working on a set project and will have a desk, or easel in a shared studio space and be working independently. Usually there is a tutor around for support if needed or a technician to explain how any equipment works.

Written Work

It is unlikely on most unaccredited art courses (courses that don’t lead to a formal qualification) that you will do any written work.  You might be asked to do a before and after record of your achievement and progress or be advised to keep a sketchpad and make some basic notes about your projects.

Sketchpads are an important element of most art courses

On qualification courses you can expect some written work which might take the form of writing about artists you have researched or techniques and materials you have experimented with.   Written work is usually a smaller element compared to the practical element of the course.  Some informal notes in a sketchpad can demonstrate how you have researched the work of other artists, demonstrated how you developed your ideas and evaluated of your work.  Higher level courses will contain more of the written elements and you could be expected to write considerable amounts about your work and the work of other artists.  This type of written work usually takes the form of evaluations, reflection on your work, what worked and what you would do differently.

Group Critiques 

Individual and group critiques, where the and peers give constructive criticism on your work is a very common element of most art courses.  Informal art courses may not have this element but a casual walk around the room looking at others work would be encouraged.

Independent Exploration

Most art students become independent workers, creative subjects are about experimenting and finding solutions and less about following set ‘rules’.  Many of my adult learners struggle with this concept, wanting ‘answers’ to problems like how to represent fur and hair in their painting for example.  Part of art education is very much about trying out lots of things to come to your own conclusions.  There is no one set way to paint fur or hair but several so art is best approached with a curious mind.

Learning from experimenting

A Grounding in the Basics 

Being creative and finding your style involves a lot of experimentation, having said that all artists need a grounding in the basics such as colour mixing, composition, shape and proportions.  These are things that can be taught and you usually get these lessons from a basic drawing course or entry level art course.

Some of these foundation skills, what I call the traditional art school skills are no longer taught in school or in further education.  Often on higher level courses it is assumed you know the basics and they are not covered and without them progress can be difficult.  Many more experienced artists find themselves having to go back to these basic lessons again such as drawing shapes and looking at tonal values.

How were you taught art?  Share your experiences below…

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