The Importance of Being Educated
Yesterday I had the very great honor of being awarded the 2012 HITS Themal Desert Circuit (CA) Show Program cover. HITS produces some of the richest and most highly attended and regarded hunter/ jumper show circuits in the country, and to be selected as the cover artist is quite a big deal. I’ve been invited to the HITS Ocala Fine Art Gala several times, and I was also honored to participate in the HITS Saugerties Art Gala in 2010. I’ve never been to Thermal – in fact, I’ve never been to California – but it looks like I now have an excuse to go! Hundreds of riders from across the country attend these multi-week shows, and I’m excited to be able to put my work in front of a West Coast audience.
The HITS Ocala cover was also awarded this week, and it went to a wonderful artist from Florida – Mary Verrandeaux. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mary a few times (at the Ocala Art Gala, in fact) and I really, really like her work. But my favorite thing about Mary is that she and I graduated from the same college – the Ringling College of Art and Design. She graduated in the 1980’s, and I graduated in 2000, both of us with degrees in illustration.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my college, and I’m proud to say I’m an alum. I came to Ringling in 1996, with a decent amount of drawing skill from high school and middle school art classes. Magazine pictures, attempted photorealism, unremarkable still lifes, the usual. My first year in college, our professors took all we knew about art and threw it out the window. They challenged us to rethink the whole concept of how to draw, how to paint, how to SEE, and in the process, they tore down everything we thought we knew about art and forced us to start again from the beginning. My second year painting teacher had such a formidable reputation that almost of the students assigned to her class switched to the other painting instructor. I had an unspoken rule never to change professors, so I ended up in a painting class with only three other students, and for a whole year, we had almost an hour of one-on-one instruction every other day. (Painting classes were 3 hours each, three days a week.) We learned to PAINT. (We also learned to stretch our own canvas and make our own gesso, but that’s another story.) I had only had one unhappy experience with oil paints (I painted a hideous flower and my mother rightfully banished the painting to the laundry room) before I walked into her class, so if I have any skill at painting today, a huge amount of credit goes to her. My illustration teacher was an innovator of American illustration (seriously, he’s in the book “Innovators of American Illustration” by Steve Heller) and introduced us to the idea of art as narrative. He gave me some of the best art advice I’ve ever received in my life, and I often think of his words when I’m particularly vexed by a painting. His daughter was “into” horses, and she actually showed at Madison Square Garden (pony division, if I recall correctly), and so he and I spent a lot of time discussing horses. He gave me hope that a career revolving around equine and wildlife art was possible and encouraged me to continue on that path, and I’m forever grateful to him.
I had other influential teachers in figure, printmaking, English lit, and computer illustration, but I will forever cherish the four years of art history we were required to take. We weren’t just taught art history with names of artists, dates and schools of thought, we were immersed in the time. We learned how the art and the music and the fashion of an era went together, how politics, war, famine, wealth and industry affected not only the art of a nation but impacted the entire worldview of its people, and how such events spurred and nurtured – or stifled – the proliferation of the arts worldwide. If I am ever fortunate enough to teach art history, that is the model I will use. Art doesn’t develop in a vacuum, and to teach nothing but dry names and dates robs the student – and the teacher – of the most compelling parts of the story.