Sunday, January 29, 2012

Studying Art Online - Studio Courses

No atelier, no teacher supervising the technical details, no real life models...

How is it possible to study art online???
What do you get for the money and what are you missing? How does it work in practice?

This is how it works
The Academy of Art University has more than 10 years experience in online courses. I believe they are also the only institution to offer a full course of study in art online, with the possibility to obtain a BFA or an MFA without ever setting foot on campus. Studio courses at the AAU are made up of 15 modules per semester. Each module contains a lesson text with examples, media files in the form of videos or powerpoint presentations which may contain real life demos, discussions on techniques, examples of work-in-progress, and a discussion forum with one or more given topics for discussion with fellow students. The material and media are progressively available during the length of the course, starting from the week before each module is due. Once open, they are accessible 24/7. Each discussion forum may be available only for the length of the module, namely one week in normal-length semesters. Each module is associated with one or more exercises or assignments, which have to be completed within the given deadline and submitted as scans or photos to the instructor.

What you get
- Highly professional and extensive feedback from an instructor (at the AAU all professional artists) on your work, with clear indications of the areas you need to concentrate on;
- Text and media are yours to keep for life - online lessons need to be printed out or saved to a text file.
- More or less lively interaction with your fellow students in forums - in online courses they are mostly all involved in a related or unrelated profession in their "real" life and come from every corner of the world, which makes them very interesting people!
- Feedback from fellow students on your assignments - often very enlightening.

What you miss
- No real life models in an atelier setting - I guess each course will have its workaround to that. In still life courses you have to construct your setup yourself (an added plus in learning principles of lighting and composition), for figures you may work mostly from photos. Or very kindly ask friends and family to sit as models - and cope with the fact that they are not professional models. The added plus is that you learn a lot of problem solving and improvisation!
- The whole campus infrastructure is missing. No library, no big studio areas, no professional lighting, etc, etc, etc....You will have to live with what you can afford in terms of space and equipment. A good camera and good lighting are mandatory, though, especially if you have a day job and end up working at night;
- No buzzing exciting campus life - you have to imagine that in your head while sitting in front of the computer at 2 AM after a day of work;
- Networking and contact-making will take some extra work - and, let's face it, never feel the same as real-life contacts;
- All those extra tidbits of information and attitude that you absorb on campus will simply not be can be compensated with some pro-active research work.

And with a bit extra work you may still have:
- Feedback from fellow students on work in progress - you can get this if you manage your time well an can post WIP on assignments a few days before the deadline.
- Off-line discussions with teachers and students. In my experience, instructors react very well and provide tons of information also when contacted outside the frame of the lessons. They are even available to provide feedback on work that is not directly related to class work.

My experience after a semester is that you learn A LOT - just the fact of having to give in an assignment per week and receive feedback on it has a massive impact on the quality of your work. I have seen this for myself and for fellow students as well. It helps also to be guided on a sensible development path, one step following the other. You learn optimal techniques, you learn to manage time and you learn to build your knowledge layer after layer, like a painting taking shape.

Is it good for everybody? No, I personally do not think so. You need a lot of self-discipline and you need to be used to self-learning and to learning from text and media rather than real life experiences. With a bit of research on the side and no fear of asking questions, you can however multiply your learning experience.

In conclusion: it is not the same as studying on campus but it is not necessarily less effective. You can have a great learning experience online as easily as you can have a lousy one on campus. You need to acknowledge the limits of online study and learn to work around them and then it can be very impactful, satisfying and, above all, GREAT FUN!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Other Road--The One Less Traveled--Leads to a Fulfilling Life

I don't remember where I was when I read the poem for the first time.  However, I do remember it generating thoughts in me of pursuing my passions.  Growing up, I was always a creative person (music and fine art); but the adults around me insisted that I study business in college so I could "get a job and pay bills!"  I remember thinking, "that doesn't sound like fun!"

I think life should be as fun as we can make it, and that I have the power to make a great life at whatever I chose to do.  We have only this one life, and we must live it to our fullest potential.  That's why I believe that every encounter we have is an opportunity to learn.  And I've learned a lot over the past 20+ years as an insurance professional and former business owner...I will take all of it with me and us it to make a great career as an artist!  I'm happy to be pursuing a masters in fine art (MFA in Figurative Painting) at the Academy of Art University and am thankful for the opportunity to have met a like-minded person from the other side of this globe!

Studying Art online...

My first semester at AAU was more than I imagined!  I, too, couldn't "see" how fine art could be taught online.  I was pleasantly surprised that even I could see the improvement in my work!  I'm thankful for this program because if not for it, I wouldn't have the opportunity to work towards a career change!  I don't believe in delaying because life is so fleeting.  I don't want to awake one day with thoughts of "should-of, would-of, could-of."  I will do all that I am able and learn as much as I can, as fast as I can, so that I can ultimately do what fulfills me.

Courage and Faith...

To others, this may appear to be a bold and courageous endeavor because I am taking the unpopular road, the one with all the weeds.  Challenges/Changes make us uncomfortable.  It's a natural feeling; however, changes, and challenges, are necessary for personal growth.  Yes!  I'm afraid...of the unknown...but I've taught myself to welcome challenges for all the lessons they will teach me.  This endeavor is the ultimate challenge, but I have faith that my new global friend and I will be success at reaching our goals!  Actually, I believe we will be MORE than successful!  Although we cannot see where this trail will lead us, I do believe that at the end of the trail, we will find much more than we imagined! 


Friday, January 27, 2012

The Creative Road

I had this poem by Robert Frost in my office for a very long time:


TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
 To where it bent in the undergrowth;

  Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

  And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

  I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

To me it had a very strong meaning. I took the road of scientific research more than 20 years ago. It has led me to a good position in the corporate world, a satisfying career and a stable income. My loving family originated on this road. It is a good road. But I could never forget the Other Road, the road not taken. It was the road of art - spiky, risky, crowded and unforgiving - which may have led me to become a fantasy artist, or a children book illustrator or a visual concept creator.
I am now pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, the AAU, - one of the few to offer online art courses, thus making it an option for someone with a job and a family. Right from the start I met one of many other people with a similar story, one who is setting off on The Road not Taken.
Together we are starting this blog.
It will be a blog about art, not by professional or hobby artists but by late-day students, who are trying to learn as much as they can as fast as they can and from any possible source (because they know time is not a never-ending richness). It will be about studying art online at the AAU (and to the puzzled question of some whether it is possible at all to study art online, the answer is a resounding YES!). And it will be about courage and faith - the courage to question one´s life when everything seems settled and the faith to take those first steps on the creative road and see where it may take.
We are based on both sides of the Atlantic (is not the modern world a fantastic village?), in Switzerland and on the East Coast of the USA, and we have different majors (Fine Arts and Illustration) so we will offer two different perspectives on art education, progress and chances. It is the diary of a strange journey by strange fellow travellers - I hope many will enjoy it, some will find it useful and a few may take it as an inspiration to follow their own creative dream!