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!

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