Ask the Art Professor

Final Crit

“Ask the Art Professor” is an advice column for visual artists, now featured in the Huffington Post.  This is your chance to ask a professional artist/educator your questions about being an artist, the creative process, career advice,  etc. Submit your question by emailing me at clara(at)claralieu.com, or by commenting here on this blog. All questions will be posted anonymously, and you’ll receive notification when your question is online.

On college portfolio preparation:
“What are common mistakes in college portfolio submissions?”
“What should you include in an art portfolio for art school or college?”

On art school:
“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?”
“Should I drop out of art school?”

On graduate school:
“Is graduate school worth it?”
“How are European MFA degrees viewed in the United States?”
“How do I choose a field for graduate school?”

On life after school:
“What do you do after you’ve finished formalized training?”
“When you have a fine arts degree, what do you do for the rest of your life?”
What is your advice to young students who have just graduated from their undergraduate degree?”
“How do you stay motivated after school?”

On technique and skills:
“How can I tell if I’m skilled enough?”
“How do you find your own individual style?”
“How do artists manage to get their soul out into images?”
“How do you develop an idea from a sketch to a finished work?”
“How do you make an art piece more rich with details that will catch the eye?”
“How do you learn the basics?”
“Is it bad to start another piece of art before finishing another one?”
“How do you work in a series?”
“When and how should you use photo references to draw?”
“How do you know when to stop working?”

On abstraction:
“How can I approach creating abstract art?”
“Does an abstract artist need to be proficient in traditional techniques?”

On painting & color:
“How do you achieve a luminous effect in a painting through color and value?”
“Does painting what you see limit your artistic possibilities?”
“What is the practical meaning of color theory?”
“How do you compose a striking painting with color?”
“Is hard work and experimenting continuously such a bad thing?”
What can a painting student do to be relevant in a digital world?”

On drawing:
“What is a gesture drawing?”
“Is drawing considered an innate talent or a craft, which can be learned by anyone?”
“How can I learn to shade objects in my drawings?”
“How can I draw what I see in my head?”
“What is the best way to practice my drawing skills?”
“How do you get yourself to practice drawing?”
“What is the most important mindset a student needs to have in order to create a successful drawing?”

On drawing the human figure:
“How would I go about studying the human figure?”
“How do you draw the human face?”
“How can I learn to draw noses?”
“What is the best way to simplify the human figure?”
“How can you learn to draw hair?”

On careers:
“How do I change careers to pursue my passion for art?”
“What are the career opportunities in fine art?”
“How long did it take you to jump start your career after graduation?  What was your first job?”
“Should I pursue a career in fine art?”

On Promotion:
“How do you know when your artwork is good enough to show to the world?”
“How do you get people to notice your artwork online?”
“When is it too early to start promoting your work on the Internet?”
“How do you retain the integrity of your artwork while promoting it?”
“How do you get to the top of the art world?”
“How can I get into art exhibitions?”
“Is the Internet necessary to being a successful artist?”

On illustration:
“How do I become a children’s book illustrator?”
“Can I make a respectable income on freelance illustration?”
“Where is a good place to start with graphic novels?”
“What does it take to get a job at an animation studio?”

On galleries & museums:
“How do I leave my gallery?”
“How do you sell your art?”
“How do I approach a gallery?”
“How do museums select artists to exhibit? What is museum quality work?”
“How do I know I’m ready to start selling and approaching galleries?”

On doubt:
“Am I actually an artist?”
“How can one regain lost satisfaction with their work?”
“How do you gain confidence in your artwork?”
“Do professional artists doubt their abilities?”

On learning:
“Where do I start?”
“How do you keep pushing yourself to get to that next level?”
“Would you improve more if you took art classes than just studying on your own?”
“How do you learn the basics?”
“How do you break out of your comfort zone?”
“How do you get out of thinking you can’t get any better?”
“How do you develop patience for learning curves?”
“When do you let go of an idea?”
“How do I help my daughter reach her potential in art?”

On teaching:
“How do I become an undergraduate art professor?
“What should I be working on now if I would like to be an art professor?”
“What makes a student artist stand out from their peers?”
“How did you become an art professor?”
“How do I become a teaching assistant?”
“How can I make the transition to teaching art at the college level?”

On life:
“How much of your emotional life do you allow to infiltrate your work?”
“How do you face artistic burnout?”
“How do you come up with ideas?”

On finances:
“How can an artist overcome their financial issues?”

“How do you explain to potential clients that artists need to be paid?”

On practical matters:
“What do you do for art storage?”
“How can an artist balance their life?”
“How can an artist create an artistic group outside of school?”
“How do you balance a full-time job, kids and your own art?”
“How do you socialize in the art world?”

Other:
“What is the most important thing you can do as an artist?
“Does being an artist require much more thinking than in other academic fields?”
“What is the difference between fine arts and visual arts?”
“Will negative stereotypes about artists ever go away?”
“Is photography art?”
“What would you be looking for if you were judging for an art scholarship?”



72 thoughts on “Ask the Art Professor

  1. im lecturing at parsons next month. and planning on doing guest lectures at other schools in the nyc area. i know everyone says you need an MFA to teach. and this might be true. but my background is solid. ive started my own art collective and we are opening an alternative art space. i used to run a bi annual zine that got a lot of press at one point. i was nominated for the yale summer program for juniors and as you may know only two people per school get nominated. i too went to FIT. now with all my real world experience will NOT having an MFA really hold me back if i one day decide i want to teach?

    • Schools now are requiring people to have MFA degrees in order to be considered for an undergraduate teaching position. I can’t remember seeing any job listings in recent years that state otherwise. That “real world” experience you have will certainly help your application, but the MFA degree is what will make you a real contender for a position.

  2. thank you for the response. i was just asking because i know a few of my professors didnt have MFAs when i was doing my undergraduate degree. i am not one to try and take the easy way out and do plan to get my MFA but i think i need more experience in the art world, i want to make something out of nothing. i want to believe that art can be more than just a painting on a wall that matches a persons drapes or an awkward empty gallery in chelsea. that is why i am opening an alternative art space. i want art to be more accessible. i also believe this will help with my MFA applications. coincidentally the college that you teach at is my first choice.

    • The generation that taught you didn’t have the same kind of stringent requirements that the current generation has for teaching at the college level. I had the same experience: I remember having at least one, maybe two professors at RISD who didn’t have MFA degrees. Getting hired at the time that they applied to teach was a completely different story; a few generations back there were no search committees and getting hired was sometimes just a matter of knowing the right person. It’s a very different story today.

  3. Hi Clara! I am currently a senior in High School and am actually waiting to get a response from RISD sometime next week. My question is about choosing the right school. So far I have received portfolio/merit/academic scholarships to everywhere I’ve applied (MICA, SAIC, Alfred U and some others), but my top choice is definitely RISD! I don’t know how often RISD gives out merit scholarships, but I have heard it is less likely to give out financial awards compared to other places. After taking a tour of RISD in the fall I had the 3 of my tour guides review my portfolio and they said I was sure to get in, but I am not sure that I will be able to afford it without some sort of financial help. If this is the case, do you think it is worth it to take out loans and go to RISD or am I better off trying to avoid having a large amount of debt after graduating? One thing I would not want to miss out on at RISD is the rigorous foundation year that really pushes students. Although I know it is possible to work hard wherever I may end up next fall, I almost feel like I will be at a disadvantage attending a different school that has a more gentle approach to their critique process as well as other aspects of the culture at other schools.

  4. I know you’ve said before on this blog that the prestige of your grad school is critical. How are European MFAs viewed in the United States?

    Thanks so much in advance Clara. …Now back to my ISP

  5. When I lived in England, the support for creativity, individuality was so profound that a crayon sketch was praised, a thrown together ensamble was applauded… Because it was really the creative process that was admired-the fact that one was thinking outside the box or at least attempted something new was encouraged. We can not force the majority to appreciate art/creativity here. However, do you think art will become an integral part of the everyday person’s life where the negative stereotypes about artist removed and respected as much as any other profession? What do you think will get us there? Thank you. RJB

  6. Does the location the young art student is in really affect or matter when they are trying to become a fine artist? I’m actually choosing between risd and pratt and even though you are a professor at risd haha, my teacher recommended pratt mainly because of its location and proximity to new york, which i heard is a MUST if you want to become a successful fine artist.. how much of this is true?

  7. sorry for posting again, but I have the same problem as Richard.. the fine arts department isn’t as known at Pratt and while i’m sure the location is a plus, I’m worried that simply going to a school mainly because of a location is going to make me regret the awesome/rigorous foundation year and the great paintings department at risd…but thankfully my parents can afford to pay for my tuition at risd when I received no financial aid, but I received 20 k per year for pratt ): I honestly can’t choose and it is a bit late for me to decide now, but the deadline for May 1st is approaching extremely quickly…):

    i just cant get that out of my head! the part my teacher (who was from cooper) emphasized how as a fine artist, being in/near new york is a must.

    • I think being in/near NYC is more important if you are studying at the graduate level. For your undergraduate degree, I don’t think it’s as crucial. I know plenty of people who I went to school with at RISD for undergrad who eventually did “make it” in NYC, so attending Pratt would in no way make or break your career. Let me know if you have other questions.

  8. thank you for your honest opinion clara!!

    but do you find that the atmosphere “feel” in RISD kind of boring/uninspiring? I heard some advice from my art teacher that it can be a bit difficult to receive inspiration during your junior/senior year..but I think I’d do pretty fine since I receive inspiration from art blogs/galleries online….

    and also, about the graduate degree..is it really necessary for fine artists who don’t really plan on teaching in the future??

    i know that you’re a risd professor haha, but do you know anything about the fine arts department at pratt? :) i already know that the paintings major at risd is really strong

    • I find the atmosphere at RISD to be incredibly stimulating and exhilarating; when I was a student, there was literally never a dull moment. Inspiration is the last thing I would be concerned about at RISD. In my opinion, the most important thing to consider when choosing a school is the people; you can have the best facilities in the world at a school and it won’t matter if you don’t have a strong artistic community of students, faculty, and staff.

      If you don’t plan on teaching, the graduate degree is really a personal decision, and I think it can only be accessed after you’ve completed your BFA. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time later to think about it.

      Sorry, I don’t know anything about Pratt, I’m sure you can find information about it online. Good luck!

  9. Hi Clara,
    It has been my dream for a long time to attend RISD, so I worked very hard on my portfolio and application, and not only was I accepted, but I was awarded a decent scholarship. But unfortunately my father is unwilling to help me with school. He said “if you can’t afford school, you shouldn’t go”. Even though I disagree with him, I’m smart enough to know that taking out 100k in loans on my own is not only nearly impossible, but incredibly unwise. I know there have to be a lot of people in my position, but I don’t see how my peers are making it happen. Does everyone else have parents that will take out loans for them? Or have wealthy parents? Or taking out nearly 100k in student loans? My heart is breaking, and I would do anything to make this happen, but it seems like its all out of my hands.
    So here’s my question: Is there a way to go to art school without accruing a tremendous amount of student loans?

  10. Hello Clara Lieu, I have another art question. I have no formal art education so I just create “art” as a hobby. I have been doing a lot of experimentation since 2011 with photography and art. However, I find myself longing to want to find an art style that is mine. One minute I am really loving the new style I was working with, the next minute I am searching for something better. Sometimes I get very frustrated with myself because I think that I’ll never find an art style that is mine. I have made the past mistake of sending in artwork to places in one style but the next month, having a different style of art. I wish I could take back the past art pieces because I feel I made a bad impression. My question for you is: How do I get to a style that is mine and KNOW that it is ? so that I can avoid making that same mistake again!

  11. I don’t know if you can help me, but google sure can’t. I was taking a Contemporary Art course several years ago and we were told to see if we could find a video by a certain artist, which was banned. I found two videos by this artist, one of him (which was long) taken by an audience member that involved him being naked and pacing back and forth into the audience making a lot of noise. The second was of a character, similar to a chef, and all I can remember is hamburgers and feces being involved. I’m doing an exploration into controversial performance art pieces and cannot, for the life of me, remember who this artist is. Does this ring any bells? Thank you, li.

  12. Clara, could you tell me if their are artist’s who don’t use accurate color and is on the spot color mixing ok to do? Basically improvising as you go. I do pre-mix colors but end up being wrong value, so before I know it, I’m not using accuracy in color to well. It takes a long time to get the shapes, and the values right and when they are, i find my color was off quit a bit.

    • There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to mix color, it’s up to everyone to figure out what works for them. I would recommend that you take the emphasis off of accuracy, as this can be very limiting in your painting.

  13. Thank you Clara for helping lift that burden. After showing my work at the local art juried show that past 2 times, i have lost faith in my work. I personally think most judges lean towards too much realism as being the “best” art and also spontaneous clean color. It might be better perhaps not to enter these shows.

  14. Hi Clara,
    I have heard that you “can fix anything” in oil painting. Would you say that’s true? I’ve blotched up a area of the sky for example. Can even such a thing as that be fixed without look contrived? Or put another way, is this “acceptable”? I’m imagining a big time artist telling me, no, no no,…you don’t do it that way! I think most of us need to hear it come from someone who is a leader in the arts’ world such as you. Otherwise it’s nearly impossible to tell ones’ self what is accceptable or not. Thanks,
    Patrick

  15. I’ve had tendinitis in both arms for about a year now. Throughout the year it has become more and more debilitating, and my work has come to a grinding halt. I expect to improve with the correct care, but I best I can expect is that I will not be able to be as prolific of an artist as I would hope to be. I’m graduating with a bachelor in fine arts soon, and have aspirations to go to graduate school. If my physical problems prevent me from being prolific (I can only do about one finished piece a month) would I be able to go to grad school or even be an artist for that matter? Have physical limitations ever held you back from what you wanted to do artistically?

    • I had DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis about seven years ago, which is very similar to tendonitis. It was awful. I had to drop everything because it was too painful to work. I remember barely being able to hold a brush and write my name at the time. Eventually, I got the correct treatment and fully recovered, but it was really frightening because I had never encountered anything like that before. I think grad school and working professionally will be contingent upon how successful your recovery is, as the reality is you will be held to high expectations of productivity in both contexts. Another option is to explore ways of working that are perhaps not as strenuous on your arms, perhaps digital media or something more conceptually driven. Good luck!

  16. I hope im not bothering you but I have another question.

    How should you sign your artwork? To be more specific on the first part, is it best to put your full name, initials, mix of the previous ones, or even a symbol?

    The other part of my question is where is the best place for your signature to be located? Does the location of the signature depend on the artwork itself?

    • I think full name in the lower right hand corner is fairly standard, although there really are no “rules” for exactly how to sign your work. As long as the signature doesn’t get in the way of the artwork itself it should be fine. I’ve seen people sign their work with these gigantic signatures that really get in the way of the artwork itself.

  17. Hello,

    I am a 42 year old working mother of 2. I work in healthcare, but always wanted to be an artist. In the past 2 years, I have become very prolific in my craft of rubber stamp carving, and now use these stamps to create fine art, mixed media works. I have past the point of hobbyist, and am interested in pursuing art full time. I am taking a mixed media class at a Fine Arts Center and love it. I’m getting good feedback from other artists, as to my potential. I’m making new contacts, and have entered an art piece for exhibition.

    My question is… is it too late for me at this time to truly pursue an art career?

  18. Every person who wants to pursue an art career, better learn business mechanics.
    Making art for a living is possible. There are many artists who have, working class careers.
    Career management is very important. Reading business books, learning how other money making artists got financial traction will be of some help. I am a non starving blue collar artist in Denver. I get by OK. I devote half of my time to business tactics, the rest to art production. See me at http://www.freewebs.com./bobragland. See me on You Tube, hear me on NPR. I am on Facebook. I don’t make masterpiece art, I do try to make masterpiece business.

  19. Hi Clara,
    This may be more of a suggestion than anything. Some artists just use a palette knife and nothing else. I just did a quite impressionistic painting with basically one brush, and it’s quite interpretive to anything i ever did before. My point is that it doesn’t take accuracy and being too literal to do good art. It’s a matter of jumping in and not stiffining up and holding your breath. I see the majority of painting tutorials on the web are all about technique, such as how to paint clouds and so on. All art is not that way and one has to remind himself constantly of this.

  20. Hi there
    I am applying to art school this year and I am worry about deadline and so on so forth ,also I am wondering where will be the best place to study art will it be better to stay in scotland or go back to Hong Kong (which is where my family located ) due to money problem the courses fee in scotland will be a presure to me as well so I am really worry if I go back to hong kong can I get good art education that can help me to achieve a good career life .

    Also , for the art protfoilo ,I am applying for fashion design but in the protfoilo there may not contain many fashion stuff will that be a problem ?

    Thank you very much for your reply

    • The better place to study really depends on the school, which is specific to your situation, so I can’t really help much there. For your portfolio, usually it’s completely fine for there to be minimal fashion design work. Most art schools are looking for drawing skills and diversity, as they don’t expect you to have expertise in your intended major yet.

  21. Hello Clara (:
    I want to be a Art Teacher but I’m not sure what degree should i get (like fine arts) i don’t know about undergraduate and graduate. Can you explain me please? (I’m almost 18)
    I love to draw, sketch and I’m learning how to paint, my strong point is drawing i can sketch or draw almost anything, but i’m not really good with paint. Should i learn how to paint first?
    Thank you so much.

    • It depends on what age you want to teach, as the degree requirements are different for K-12 and college level. At this stage I would work on painting, but emphasize drawing the most.

  22. Hi Clara, in a couple of your blog posts you mentioned stretching paper to work on. Can you explain this process?
    Thanks

    • It’s basically exactly like stretching a canvas, the only difference is you soak the paper in water for a few minutes before stretching it onto canvas stretchers with a staple gun. As you stretch the paper onto the canvas stretchers, the paper will look very wrinkled. Let if dry overnight and it will stretch itself perfectly flat. Very easy technique to use, I highly recommend it!

  23. Hello clara. Compliments for your website! it’s great.
    I’d liked to ask you some questions about becoming a professor of art.
    I’m an Italian 23 years old graduate in Painting and Visual Arts in italy. I also studied 6 months in San Francisco for an exchange program and it was the best experience of my life.
    I’d like to become a professor of art, teaching painting or drawing or art education (a high level of course). I’m a painter and I like to write about art and to teach art to adults (I did some workshops and little experiences). The problem is that I don’t know where to start my career and also where to keep going on with my studies. I live in London now and I was thinking about doing here a MA in Art Education. Is it the right master for the type of career I’m looking for? And is London the right place where to do it if I’m not sure in with country I’d live and work?
    Should I do a MA in drawing or painting instead of an art education one?
    Thank you for you time and for you precious advises.
    My best, Serena

    • Hi Serena,
      Sorry for the embarrassingly late response, I think your comment somehow slipped through the cracks and I didn’t get to it when you initially posted. Anyway, I think it will be important for you to do your degree in the country that you want to ultimately teach in. Usually one of the advantages of going to school is the professional contacts that you can make with the faculty there. So if you do your degree in one country and then move to a different country to start your teaching career, it will likely be much tougher to do. If you want to teach at the college level, don’t bother with an Art Education degree; the Art Education degree is generally for grades K-12. To teach at the college level you need an MFA in the area that you want to teach in. Let me know if you have any further questions!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s