RISD Freshman Drawing: Tom Mills

I’m working to keep myself excited and motivated about the physical process of drawing as I head deep into the trenches of these 10′ x 4′ drawings.  When I’m at that point, I go looking for inspiration and motivation by having conversations with colleagues and friends.  This time around, I was fortunate enough to sit in on Tom MillsRISD Freshman Drawing final crit today.  I didn’t have Tom as a professor when I was a freshman at RISD, but we’ve worked together when Tom exhibited his work and did a gallery talk in the “Transformations” show I curated at the Jewett Art Gallery at Wellesley College.  This was my first time having the chance to see him in action in the classroom, which proved to be an exhilarating experience.

RISD Freshman Drawing

I spend all day discussing ideas about drawing and art with my students, but visiting Tom’s class gave me the rare opportunity to step outside of my own teaching and to think about ideas from the other side of the fence. Miraculously, it was like getting to be a student again for a few hours.

RISD Freshman Drawing

There were several key ideas discussed at the crit today, but the one core concept that I found myself the most drawn to was the idea of the “excavation of a drawing”. Tom explained that “99% of what you make should be taken out,” and the concept of “absolute renunciation”. He mentioned a wonderful anecdote about Philip Guston, who said that his great hope was that everyone (meaning his colleagues, influences, his teachers, etc.) leaves his studio; when he does his best work he walks out of the room himself.  Below are some key excerpts from the crit that I found especially insightful and useful.

RISD Freshman Drawing

“Stop making a product and start searching.”
“Take out everything that doesn’t matter.”
“Simplicity will always prevail over complexity.”
“Until you’re willing to remove everything…”
“What is the soul of the idea that is mutated through the process of drawing?”
“Drawing is about search; the most valuable and pure entrance into the unknown.”
“Any time you try to protect a drawing, you’re dead in the water.”
“You give us too much, your poetry is lost, the whole sensation is lost.”
“You humble yourself to the subject.”
“Know who you are.”
“This is not a drawing class, this is a composition class.”
“It’s the ideas that matter, the rest will find a way.”
“The only way you will work is if you’re driven.”
“You’ve got to WANT to mow the fucking lawn.”
“A picture can be the world.”

RISD Freshman Drawing

One thought on “RISD Freshman Drawing: Tom Mills

  1. Tom was the best drawing instructor I ever had. I miss his words and passion as I imagine he is missing his ponytail. I would love to reconnect with him.

    Dennis Callahan
    Interlochen 1981

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