Ask the Art Prof: Would You Improve More if You Took Art Classes than Just Studying Art on Your Own?

Gesture Painting

“Is it true that you would improve more if you went and took art classes than just reading and practicing on your own?”

Since I’m a professor, I’m going to have to argue that yes, you would improve more if you took an art class as opposed to working on your own.  There are many advantages to an art class that just cannot be experienced by reading books and practicing by yourself.  The greatest advantage is just getting to be around other art students. I like to remind my students that they are likely to learn more from each other than they will from me.  I encourage them to milk each other dry for ideas and approaches and to steal from each other relentlessly.

When I have figure drawing sessions in my studio classes, I ask the students to get up from their easels, and to walk around the room and look at everybody else’s drawings. It’s common for everyone’s work to collectively improve after seeing other people’s drawings. Getting the chance to see the way someone else is approaching the same exercise provides inspiration and motivation to improve and push yourself. There’s a collective momentum that a class develops over time that I’ve found to be invigorating and exciting. As a student, you can feed off of the energy of the other students which can then be harnessed and directed into your own work.

The other issue with working on your own is that evaluating your own work objectively is impossible as an artist.  When you’re working on a piece, you inevitably get stuck in our own head, your own thinking and you aren’t able to see the work clearly. I know that for me, when I’m working on a piece, that after staring at it for many hours I have trouble figuring out what needs to be fixed because everything looks the same to me.4

Gesture Painting

That’s where having the outside opinion of an art teacher and other art students comes in.  Because they’re not you, they’re able to provide invaluable perspective and advice on your work that you wouldn’t be able to come up on your own.  They will see things in your work that you never imagined, and point out issues and problems that you might not have noticed on your own. The opportunity to get verbal feedback in a group critique is priceless.  There is no other context I can think of where you would be able to have the kind of critical conversation about your artwork in person. Even the most well articulated, typed critique cannot replace someone discussing your artwork with you in real life.

The relationship that you build with your teacher is indispensable as well, and not something that you would ever have if you learn on your own. Some of my favorite people in the whole world are teachers I’ve had in the past who profoundly shaped my artistic practice and thinking. A book or online tutorial will never support you when you feel lost, won’t sympathize when you’re struggling, and will never be able to answer your questions that are specific to your own artwork. A good art teacher will provide all of that and much more.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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