Art History One-Oh-One

One of the ways in which I (Suzanne) feel disadvantaged as an artist is not having a solid grounding in art history and so part of my Make Your Own MFA program includes art history, from the prehistoric to the modern and contemporary. I can already hear some of you groaning as you remember bad art history classes, wondering why someone would subject themselves to something like this.

image of a blurred dictionary page with the text "art history 101" in script on it

Why

Well, for one thing, I’m stubborn, and I decided I needed to know this, so I’m going to do it. More seriously, though, I think it’s important to know the language, so to speak, and to have a grounding in where the things I’m working on have come from. I know I’m not making art out of thin air, everything I do is influenced by something else.

I also just really like learning things.

Guidelines

I’ve got some loose guidelines in mind as I approach my study of art history:

  • Broad overview of everything, from prehistoric times to contemporary
  • Learn about women (or those who identify as such) and not just the white men
  • Diversity: not just western art, and not just from a western perspective
  • I don’t have to be able to pass anexam, I just need to have been exposed to the ideas and art
  • If I find something really interesting, I will follow the idea to wherever it leads me
  • If I’m really really bored, I can move on to whatever is next

SmARThistory

As you can imagine, there are an infinite number of resources available online. I had decided to follow the art history curriculum from Smarthistory.org, when I discovered that Khan Academy had taken the Smarthistory curriculum and packaged it into a nicer format. So that’s what I’m using. I picked the AP Art History course, just because it made me feel fancy to do an AP class. Even though I’m nearly 50, and not in high school. Or a freshman in college.

I am finally through the first section — aptly called “Getting Started. ” It is an overview of terminology for both artmaking and art history. There’s also a section with an introduction to the 5 main religions of the world, presumably because a lot of the work that will be studied is going to be religious. Yay.

Hating Art History

One of the videos in the beginning is by Sarah Urist Green, in which she talks about why people hate art history. In her opinion, art history is complex and interesting, but in order to teach it, we end up simplifying it and take out all of the cool stuff. And most people give up before they get to the interesting bits or are disillusioned when they find out how much simplification they were fed. Or don’t want to believe the actual story because it doesn’t fit with the fantasy in their head. (Gee, sounds like regular not-art history, too…..)

The video is actually on YouTube, too, if you’d like to watch:

I am hopeful that the resources that are available through Khan Academy and Smarthistory.org as well as the independent work that I’m sure I’ll do as I try to follow up on the things that I find fascinating will help me find the cool stuff. I’ll try to share the most interesting bits here and I’m sure that the things I’m learning will make their way in to my own art practice.

Enjoying Art History

I’ll be honest, I started to get a bit bogged down in the section about the major world religions, but now that I’m ready to move on, I’m energized again. I hope I can keep that energy up and enjoy my trip through art history!

Have you ever taken an art history class? What historical periods interest you the most? Let me know in a comment or on Instagram if that’s where you came from!

Learning to Draw (again)

I came to art a bit late in my undergraduate career. After three years in the astrophysics department, I changed my major to art (a story for another day perhaps). Miraculously I had credits to fill most of my art degree requirements, so I escaped a lot of fundamental training tortures like drawing and color theory. Besides, I was a sculpture major, I didn’t care about drawing. In fact, I was quite resentful of people (teachers) telling me I had to keep a sketchbook and draw my sculptures. It seemed like an unnecessary step; I could easily translate what was in my head directly into three dimensions. Why would I take on the laborious task of drawing it first?

I did end up taking one intro level drawing class taught by a grad student named Keith Love. He said one thing that has stuck with me through the years: your brain interferes with the communication between your eyes and your hand. In other words, your brain tries to draw what it thinks it sees, and not what it actually sees. And he was right. It turns out that, specifically, the left side of your brain interferes with your ability to draw and it really has no idea how to do the job.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Suzanne and I are both starting our MFA program with drawing since it seems to be the thing we’re both the most resistant to. Serendipitously, I was recently gifted Betty Edward’s book/workbook, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. As it turns out, Suzanne had a languishing edition of the book as well. I’ve been so captivated by the content on hand/hemisphere dominance, cultural right hand prejudice, neuroscience and brain plasticity that I have been following some rabbit trails on that and not getting much drawing done. Ahem.

Right or Left Handed?

I have always been suspicious that I am actually left handed and was switched as a child in school. I am just old enough for that to have still been a practice in elementary school, and I do have some telling clues, like being able to draw fairly well with my left hand (almost better in some cases). It is also quite possible that I am what is referred to as cross-dominant. I have preferred tasks for each hand and have a fair amount of ambidextrous abilities. I am left eye dominate too! Multiple right brain/left brain tests I’ve done come out with equal dominance between them, furthering my cross dominance theory. Apparently this is more common in women, and can also lead to left-right confusion, as in, turn left- no- turn right (my husband will attest to this, and in fact he did).

If you want to take a fun test that determines brain hemisphere dominance go here: https://www.mentalup.co/blog/right-brain-left-brain-test. Before you get excited though, I must warn you that this apparently has no bearing on learning how to draw. We are all equally teachable!

I’ve done my pre-instruction drawings which I am assured will be helpful in gauging progress. I won’t lie, it was not a comfortable thing to do.

I am finally moving on to starting the training exercises, and for once I think I am actually excited to learn how to draw.

School is in session, where do I start?



It’s sometimes necessary to 
remind ourselves that 
Shakespeare at some point 
learned to write a line of prose, 
Beethoven learned 
the musical scales, 
and...Vincent Van Gogh 
learned how to draw.


Betty Edwards

Shae and I both officially kicked off our MFA coursework yesterday. We both want to work on our core art skills and drawing is high up on the list.

Learning To Draw

I am definitely an artist who used to think that in order to actually BE an artist, you had to be able to draw, and you had to be able to draw from memory anything. It was never explained to me that “real” artists use reference pictures all the time. Or that while drawing was definitely something that some people can just “do,” it’s not something that is out of the reach of everyone else to learn.

I have owned the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards for many years. (Honestly, it’s the 2nd revised edition from 1999 and I probably bought it somewhere in the early 2000s….and I may have gotten talked in to ordering the most recent edition plus the workbook….)

I pull it off my shelf every so often and thumb through it, and then stick it back on the shelf because it is a LOT OF WORDS. I just want to learn how to draw, why are there SO MANY WORDS.

I mentioned this to Shae and her response was basically, get over yourself and read it.

I did not appreciate being called out.

Because she was right, darn it.

As I was trying to decide what to do last night for my first day, I realized that because I was most resistant to it, this book needed to be where I started.

Brains are weird

And…it turns out that all of the words at the beginning are actually quite interesting. There’s a lot of information about the brain research that she used as the basis of developing her techniques. Human brains are so wild. Our brains do so many things that we are barely aware of and one of those has to do with how we SEE.

We tend to see what we expect to see or what we decide we have seen. This expectation or decision, however, often is not a conscious process. Instead, the brain frequently does the expecting and the deciding, without our conscious awareness, and then alters or rearranges–or even simply disregards–the raw data of vision that hits the retina.

Edwards, p. XXV, The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Revised 2nd Edition

No wonder I can’t make my drawing look like what I see if my brain is mucking around with the data it’s taking in! I’m sure a lot of you reading this are nodding your head, thinking, I can SEE it, but I can’t make that same thing come out of my hands through my art tools. But how do other people know how to do it? And why hasn’t anyone shown me?

Probably because it’s hard to put it in to words for many people. And they probably don’t understand the underlying process anyway.

Learning to See

According to Edwards, the issue isn’t even about teaching people how to draw, it’s about teaching them how to see. How to shift your brain to a different way of processing the incoming visual information.

And that’s as far as I got last night. I’m almost ready to do the pre-instruction drawings. Which should be entertaining! The drawing instructions spend a lot of time on the human form, so the first exercise is to draw a self portrait.

Have you worked through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain? What was your experience? Do you think “real” artists need to know how to draw?

What’s Next

I need to do those pre-instruction drawings. And then get to work on retraining my brain. I’m also working on the introductory material for an art history class. I’m also looking for more resources for women in art history, so if you have any suggestions, be sure to comment or send me a message. You can email us at hello@studioss.art. Or visit me on Instagram!

Introduction – Studio SS and Make Your Own MFA

What are we up to now?

If you follow either (or both) of us on Instagram, you know that we are always finding new things to do and try. And you are probably wondering, what on earth are Suzanne and Shae up to NOW?!?

The thing you have to know is that we are both lifelong learners and are curious about learning about everything. (Seriously, I took one of those quizzes that tell you what your values and character traits are and curiosity was way at the top. I assume Shae is the same…)

And yes, it might seem like we have short attention spans. I like to think it all cycles around in my brain and everything eventually bubbles back up.

Scribblepedia

A few months ago, I asked Shae if she wanted to take an online class with me. We chose Scribblepedia, taught by Rae Missigman and we both had a lot of inky fun. And then life happened, so we haven’t exactly FINISHED the class yet….

However, the interesting thing about the class and some other things I stumbled upon in November is that it felt like I was breaking through to a new place in my artwork and it renewed an idea that I’ve had tumbling around in my head for awhile.

I have been interested in “going back to school” — but I have no interest in spending $50K for art school, for a number of reasons, not least of which is….$50K, YIKES. But also, I’m not sure that traditional art school is the actual place for what I want to accomplish.

Suzanne’s Big Idea

What if…I made up my own art school? Made my own MFA? Sought out the resources that I needed to meet my own personal and professional goals, and do it as inexpensively as I could. There are certainly many resources available online, it was just going to be a matter of piecing them together.

I decided to share this Big Idea with Shae and she didn’t laugh at me. In fact, she asked if she could join me.

Studio SS

The next thing we knew, we had given ourselves a shared name, started a website, and are working on figuring out how to make this happen.

Some day we’ll share all of the details of where our name came from. There’s more than just smashing our initials together in that story! For now, we’ll leave you to wonder!

One thing we knew was that we wanted to share what we were doing, even if our only audience was our family members. But we hope that we’ll find some other artists along the way that are interested in the resources we are finding and the things we are learning. We’re viewing our shared studio website as our long term thesis project — a way to document our experience and progress.

Our plans

We are both interested not only in making art, but moving in to selling art and teaching. Our backgrounds are varied and we both have lots of Opinions that we aren’t afraid to share.

We’re planning to fill up our site with lots of links to the art history, business, and art classes we are working on. We want to have conversations about critique and do artist studies and make lots and lots of art.

We haven’t even really started to brainstorm all of the things we might do together as artist, teachers, and lifelong learners.

For now, you can read our biographies or check out our Instagram feeds (Suzanne, Shae) or sign up for our email newsletter and we’ll keep you posted (no more than once a week, we know your inbox is already stuffed) with what we’re up to.

Thanks for checking us out and stay tuned for lots more to come in 2021.