Artist Masterclass: Control


Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem.

CL: So you look like you’ve been very busy, it’s been several weeks since we last spoke.

SB: Progress is happening steadily. It’s not as fast as I would like, but it’s never as fast as what I’d like.

CL: Those photo references from the botanical gardens look great.  How was that experience, was it useful to shoot your own reference on location?

SB: That was such a good suggestion Clara, I had so much fun. I took about 240 photos.  Yes, it was absolutely essential. With my own reference, I can layer a lot more purposefully than I did before.  I just love all the shapes of the tropical plants.

CL: I think it’s all about retaining absolute creative control. The new digital collages look really terrific, they seem like they have much more depth to them.  The botanical garden reference photos are a big part of that.  I really like where this project is going, your references are ten times more sophisticated than what you were doing as a student.


SB: Because I had actually good reference photos, I was able to cut parts out and layer in more interesting ways than before.  I have four more compositions to set up (for a total of 12) and then I guess the planning stage is done. I just feel so embarrassed because of how slow I am.  I feel like every time we chat, I feel so guilty.

CL:  You have “artist guilt”?

SB: Oh, just like, I have nothing to show.

CL: At the lecture I gave at RISD last week, one person came up to me after the lecture and asked me what I thought the most important thing you can do as an artist is. A big question, but I told him the most important thing for me is the fact that I’ve been able to consistently sustain my studio practice for basically my entire adult life. I went to art school with a lot of people who stopped making their art and just never picked it up again.


SB:  I was thinking this week about how different it is making work without a structure.  I feel incredibly motivated by checking in with you every so often.  I wondered, is that cheating? I guess that’s more like a “being buoyed by exchanging ideas with your mentors/peers.”

CL: It’s not cheating at all, take advantage of every opportunity you get!

SB:  I tend to overthink things.

CL: We are similar in that way, I drive myself crazy with my thoughts. Like today,  I’ve been working on sending out tons of emails to art schools/colleges/universities trying to get them present my lecture based on my book. You’re walking the plank every time you put yourself out there. The day of the lecture at RISD I felt like I was going to barf all day, I was so nervous.  I had all of these negative thoughts racing in my head, like that I have nothing new or original to offer, the audience will think my artwork is shallow, etc. Self doubt is such a big part of this process.  It’s weird, because it’s this strange feeling of simultaneously being totally confident in your work, and also doubting it so much.


SB:   It almost feels like self-doubt is a byproduct of the creative impulse.  Just as I (theoretically) can come up with lots of creative ideas, I can also come up with lots of self-criticism.

CL:  You’ve been out of school almost a year!  I was talking to some of my students the other day about how I thought two of the most transformative years of your life are freshman year in college and the year after you graduate.

SB: This year in particular has been a doozy. It’s been a huge thing that nearly bowled me over, like a year-long hangover.

CL:  A hangover from being in art school?

SB:  I’ve just realized that art school is so free of distractions, and now I have all these adult things to think about, like finances and jobs.


I need your questions!

Final Crit

Submit a question to my “Ask the Art Professor” column on the Huffington Post! Ask me about the creative process, navigating the professional art world, how to survive art school, and any other topic that you’re thinking about! I’ll write a comprehensive article in response to your question. Email me at clara(at) or comment here.   All questions are posted anonymously. 

You can read past columns here.


Ask the Art Professor: Should I drop out of art school?

“I have a background in art, as growing up I benefited from practice, private instruction and a pretty decent art program in grade school and high school. Going into college, I am much further along technically than most of the other students here, and I know much of what is covered in the fundamental art courses. However, I am now at a point where I don’t feel the teachers are teaching me anything. It would be one thing if I simply felt I wasn’t learning anything because I already know it all and could therefore look forward to learning in the advanced classes, but I don’t feel the teachers are actually teaching. In one class we have spent an entire quarter going over something I could have Googled in about five minutes. In another, a drawing class, my teacher gave us nothing but videos to watch. One teacher critiques our work, but only tells us what is wrong with it and refuses to tell us how we could fix it. Many of the teachers here seem to have a complete lack of understanding of the material they are supposed to know themselves. These teachers are supposed to guide us through college and into a career afterwards, yet they don’t seem to know anything about the industries we will be going into. I am worried I am wasting my time and money going to this school. I don’t think I should be paying thousands of dollars for something I could look up on YouTube. However, I am worried that other art schools will be no different. If I transfer somewhere else, can I expect that teachers will actually have something to teach? That I won’t just be shown YouTube videos? Should I just drop out and educate myself through the Internet?”

You are right to feel concerned about the education you are receiving, as it is the teachers who define an art school experience. When I think back about my experience as an undergraduate student, it wasn’t the facilities, resources or the campus that were important. What I cherished were the relationships that I formed with my teachers. Before I went to art school, I had never met a true, professional, working artist in person. You can find out all you want about being an artist through books, articles, and videos, but nothing will substitute having the opportunity to form a personal relationship with an artist who maintains a vibrant, contemporary practice. Getting to know my teachers as people, and working with them during class sessions made the idea of being a visual artist in today’s world real.

I learned vitally important information about art through my art history courses, but there was always a significant distance between myself and the artists we were studying. All of the artists I studied seemed so inaccessible. I couldn’t figure out how it was possible to go from being an art student to fabricating a massive piece of public art that stood 20-feet tall in bronze.

It was when my teachers shared their own artwork in class, that I began to understand how a transition from student to professional could be made. These moments were truly transformative and provided concrete examples that made sense to me as a student. My senior year, one of my painting teachers gave a slide lecture at the end of the semester about his work, demonstrating the range of art that he had completed over the past few decades. His talk was intensely personal. He referenced the traumatic death of his mother, talked about the personalities of people he had painted portraits of, and discussed the complex emotions that inspired his work.


One of my drawing teachers brought in his prints, which were immaculately executed engravings depicting narrative scenes. In addition to his professional work, he also showed us drawings and prints that he had completed as an undergraduate student. This gave me some much needed perspective in terms of how I myself was doing as an art student. I knew my teachers as people, so I was comfortable asking them questions about their work. This information would never have been revealed in an art history textbook.

These relationships that I built over time with my teachers, and the countless lessons and depth of ideas that I gained from them would simply never happen on the Internet. While the Internet offers many resources for visual artists, it’s not even remotely comparable to an education experienced in person. What I learned from my teachers is deeply a part of me. To this day, I hear their voices in my head as I work on my art. I still keep in touch with many of my former teachers, and make a point of getting together with them from time to time in person. I look to my former teachers for continual guidance and advice, and those relationships have enriched my artistic life beyond measure.

If you can find a way to transfer to an art school that more appropriately matches your needs, I believe that you, too, can have a similar experience. When researching schools, look up the faculty who are teaching there, and make sure that they are actively working in their field. Visit their professional websites, see what kind of artwork they’re making, and find out where they are exhibiting and publishing their work. In this way, you’ll able to develop a better sense of the school.

Ask the Art Professor is an advice column for visual artists. Submit your questions to clara(at)

Related articles:
“What is the purpose of a degree in fine art?”
“How do you preserve your artistic integrity within the strict time limitations in an academic setting?”
“Is art education really so popular in western countries?”
“Should art students study abroad even if it distracts from job preparation?”
“Who should you make art for, yourself or your professor?
“7 tips for surviving art school.”
“How can I prepare myself for the reality of the future?”
“To what extent do grades define an academic career in visual art?”

Tomorrow! Artist Lecture at the RISD Museum


Tomorrow night I am giving a lecture for the graduate students in the RISD Teaching + Learning in Art + Design program.  The lecture is at 6:30pm, and will take place in the Metcalf auditorium at the RISD Museum, and will be based on my book, “Learn, Create, & Teach: A Guide to Building a Creative Life.” Hope to see you there!

“The New Romantics” at Mark Miller Gallery in NYC

I will have two drawings, “Self-Portrait No. 6″ and “Self-Portrait No. 22″ in a group exhibition called “The New Romantics” at the Mark Miller Gallery in New York City. The show is curated by Diana Corvelle and Cara DeAngelis.

Opening reception: Saturday, April 5, 6:00-9:00pm
Exhibtion dates: April 5-May 9, 2014
Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 12:00-6:00pm

Mark Miller Gallery
92 Orchard Street
New York, NY, 10002


“Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” – Charles Baudelaire, 1846

The Romantics of nearly two centuries ago created works of such considerable diversity that the only clear similarities lay in their emphasis on originality, imagination and deep emotional content. Ranging from expressive portraits to epic landscapes and vivid depictions of nature, these artists sought to push back against the reasoned order of the Enlightenment by producing emotionally charged works that spoke to their intensely individual perspectives.

Today a new Romanticism is emerging among artists who prize individual expression and authentic emotion over Postmodern sterility. These new Romantics are as varied in subject and style as their predecessors, and as equally unapologetic in their pursuit of emotional truth. Their work implicitly asserts a restoration of the Romantic ideal that artists are gifted and singular purveyors of original thought. Inspired and informed by the spirit of Romanticism, the artists of The New Romantics comprise an expansive visual trove of emotion and awe, each one both individually conspicuous and collectively harmonious.

Ask the Art Professor: To What Extent Do Grades Define an Academic Career in Visual Art?

“Lately, I have been receiving opinions from my peers (and even professors) that grades are irrelevant. I don’t want to imply a lack of rigor or competence present at the school I attend. The school I attend is possibly the most prestigious art school in the United States, and the most selective by a comfortable margin. However, those facts only make encountering attitudes, such as those previously expressed even more bewildering. Now, this attitude is liberating to the extent that it allows one to take risks when producing work, but I have this nagging suspicion that grades must matter to some extent. To what extent do grades define an academic career in visual art?”

Grades are a sticky subject for students, and even more so in art school. In the visual arts, there are no numbers given on exams, and there are no answers at the back of the textbook. What might be deemed as “successful” in one course could potentially be poorly received in another. This ambiguity leaves many art school students in the dark about how they are being evaluated. I hear students all the time expressing that they have “no idea” what their grade will be in a studio art course. (If that is the case, I encourage students to take the initiative to seek out their professors in order to inquire about how they are doing in the course at midterm.)

Technically speaking, the one situation where undergraduate grades carry weight in the visual arts is in the graduate school application process. Beyond that, I have never been asked to show my undergraduate transcripts in any other circumstance, even when applying for college-level teaching positions. On your resume, all that matters is that you have successfully completed your degrees. Most likely, no one will ever see what grade you received in your Drawing I course in the first semester of your freshman year.

Despite these circumstances, I do think that grades still matter in art school. I’ve taught both with and without grades at various art schools. There are certainly disadvantages and advantages to both situations, and there will always be an unending dialogue on this topic. In the most ideal situation, grades hold students accountable for their performance, provide concrete validation of their progress, and can even be a source of inspired motivation. On the first day of my three-dimensional design course my freshman year, my professor proclaimed that he “gave three A’s last semester.” I took my professor’s statement as an exciting challenge, and thought to myself in that moment: “I’m going to be one of those As”. (Yes, I did get the A.)

So while it’s true that an art school transcript probably won’t be scrutinized outside of a graduate school application, when viewed as a challenge or barometer for progress, grades can make a positive contribution to your overall experience in art school.

Ask the Art Professor is an advice column for visual artists. Submit your questions to clara(at)

Related articles:
“What is the purpose of a degree in fine art?”
“How do you preserve your artistic integrity within the strict time limitations in an academic setting?”
“Is art education really so popular in western countries?”
“Should art students study abroad even if it distracts from job preparation?”
“Who should you make art for, yourself or your professor?
“7 tips for surviving art school.”
“How can I prepare myself for the reality of the future?”
“Should I drop out of art school?”


Studio View

I was able to get into the studio two nights in a row, which makes for some much needed continuity in my work process. I find that if I’m away for more than two days in a row from the studio, it’s much tougher to pick up from where I left off.  These two drawings are very close to being finished, all they need is another pass with the lithographic crayon to firm up some details.  RISD is on spring break next week, so I’m hoping to make a final push with these drawings before my studio visit.