When You Have No Words, Speak with Art

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by Clara Lieu

(first published on the Huffington Post on 12/2/16)

As a professional visual artist, all of the artwork I’ve created in my life is about as far away from politics as you can get. Not once in my entire career, or even as an art student, have I ever had any remote desire to address politics in my artwork. I once received an assignment in art school to illustrate a newspaper headline. I remember that I intentionally chose a headline that had nothing to do with politics. I had zero interest in talking about politics in my art and did everything I could to avoid it.

This year’s presidential election completely changed that. The election results left me in utter shock. I spent the day after the election reading a flood of emotionally charged statements and messages from my friends and family. I wanted to contribute, but every time I sat down to write, I simply had no words.

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Kathe Kollwitz, Outbreak, 1903


Recently, it occurred to me that many of my personal favorites from art history depict difficult, and often times violent political events: Kathe Kollwitz’s print Outbreak, Picasso’s epic Guernica, Leon Golub’s painting Interrogation II, Goya’s painting The Executions to name a few.

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Francisco Goya, The Executions,1814


I know these specific artworks like the back of my hand. For years, I’ve analyzed their color schemes, deconstructed their layout and backgrounds, examined individual brush strokes up close in person, and more. Revisiting these artworks after the election, I realized that despite my comprehensive, formal understanding of these works as art, I really had no clue what pushed these artists to create these startling images.

Now, I completely understand where those artists found their motivation. For the first time in my life, I feel an intense urgency inside me that desperately wants to make art about events that are unfolding every day. I can’t just move on with my life and pretend that everything will be fine. Otherwise, I am just a bystander.

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Leon Golub,  Interrogation II, 1981


Despite my surge of desire to create political art, deep down I’m petrified to start. Most of my past artwork has been about personal experiences. The intrinsic nature of personal narratives is that they are experienced by only the artist, and therefore generally do not invite contentious public reactions. By contrast, political art inevitably invites intense scrutiny from the audience. Political art is frequently charged and startling, and easily elicits heated emotional reactions in a way that a still life painting of apples never will. For me, if I get up tomorrow and paint apples, that means I’m saying that everything is fine. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that nothing is fine right now.

I couldn’t agree more when people state that “words matter.” I would add that images matter just as much, and that art has always been a powerful means of communication that can resonate for centuries. This presidential election has galvanized me to make political art. The next time I step into my studio to work, it will be with a new sense of purpose.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts which provides equal access to art education for people of all ages and means.

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ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.

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Generations of Women and the Scars They Walk With

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by Clara Lieu

For the past few months, I’ve been making graphite drawings on tissue paper of elderly figures. (see above) Unlike my past projects, I had no idea what these drawings were about as I created them.  I thought that if I worked on these drawings long enough, their purpose would eventually emerge.  I was right.

I haven’t written anything in reaction to the U.S. presidential election results because I felt paralyzed and helpless.  However, as a visual artist, I can speak with images when I have no words.

Over the past week, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the generations of women who came before me: what they have seen, what they have heard in previous decades.

An older friend of mine told me that she couldn’t watch the TV show Mad Men because the blatant misogyny portrayed on the show was exactly she actually experienced in real life.

My older sister told me that she recently read the book Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World. My sister told me that she had no idea the shocking obstacles Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor had to confront in their careers because of their gender.

Last year, I read A Fighting Chance, Elizabeth Warren’s autobiography. She worked so hard under extremely trying circumstances to earn a college scholarship, but then left college to get married.  During that time period, that’s what women were expected to do.

Then last week, I watched Hillary Clinton put herself together after a crushing defeat and give a concession speech with utmost class, respect, and grace.

Despite their scars, these women got back up, stood up, and kept walking.

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I didn’t plan the gender of the figures in my elderly drawings in advance. Perhaps not coincidentally, all of the elderly figures I’ve drawn so far have been women.

After the election, I looked at my drawings with a different set of eyes.

I realized that the physical tears in my drawings are not about the physical frailty of old age as I initially thought they were. The drawings are not about my fear of mortality, or about the deterioration of the human body in the last stages of life.

The rips in my drawings are the scars that older women walk with every day. Generations of women have been torn to shreds, marginalized, in more ways than I can fathom. Through my drawings, I want to show that despite these harrowing experiences, these women still put themselves back together and kept walking forward. I hope in this time of unrest and uncertainty, that I can be as strong as they are, and that I can teach my two daughters to do the same.

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I have always felt that throughout history, art is an inherent reaction to cultural and historical context.   Kathe Kollwitz’s works were a direct response to World Word II, Leon Golub’s paintings were his reactions to the Vietnam War.  Even artworks that have nothing to do with the world events are still a reaction to the time period they were created in.

As one person, I cannot affect government legislation the way the lawmakers do, and I do not have the skills to foster positive change the way many brave activists do every day.  I will however, make images that matter and react to the world we live in. As a visual artist, that’s a responsibility I haven’t tried to deliberately embrace before.

Starting today, I will.


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

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


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

ART PROF: Visual Art Essentials with Clara Lieu

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts.
Learn visual arts in a vibrant community for people of all ages.


Visual artist and RISD Adjunct Professor Clara Lieu has partnered with Thomas Lerra from WGBH Boston and a team of 6 Teaching Assistants and 10 Interns to create a free, online educational platform for the visual arts.

Clara Lieu, Visual Artist & Adjunct Professor at RISD    Thomas Lerra, WGBH Digital


Mission
In most schools, visual arts education is meager or simply does not exist.  Outside art programs are not affordable for most people, and are primarily isolated to higher education institutions.  ART PROF provides the chance for a global community to access to a high quality visual arts education for free.  People of all ages can learn visual arts at their own pace through ART PROF.


Now we need help from YOU to make ART PROF free for all.
Make a donation today !
We have many donor rewards, even the smallest donation makes a difference!

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Site Features
visual encyclopedia of art supplies • short-form video lessons in drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture interactive video critiques • trusted advice from the Art Prof and Teaching Assistants  assignments & lesson plans • professional development resources • diverse artist community • audio critiques of user artwork   galleries for user artwork • contemporary art & art history

Preview of some of our site features by looking at our Crit Quickies, Audio Critique PacksPortfolio Video Critiques and Ask the Art Prof


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Contact

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Teaching Assistants
square_Sara  square_Casey  square_Annie  square_Lauryn  square_yves  square_Alex
Sara BloemCasey Roonan  •  Annie Irwin
Lauryn Welch •  Yves-Olivier Mandereau  •  Alex Rowe

Our experienced team of teaching assistants are emerging artists who work in a diverse range of fields:  textiles, illustration, painting, drawing, comics, sculpture, installation, ceramics, and more. Teaching assistants will review user artwork submissions, do audio critiques of user artworks, and respond to your questions with professional advice in our interactive audio forums.

Interns
Anna   Makoto   Annelise   Enrico   Janice
Julia   crit_Vuthy   Olivia Hunter, Intern   Jordan McCracken-Foster, Intern   Tatiana Florival, Intern

Anna Campbell • Makoto KumasakaAnnelise YeeEnrico Giori • Janice Chun • Julia Orenstein • Vuthy LayOlivia Hunter
Jordan McCracken-Foster •  Tatiana Florival

Our interns are current art school students who brainstorm ideas, enhance site content, and develop outreach strategies. Their majors include architecture, printmaking, furniture design, jewelry, drawing, painting, graphic design and more.


ART PROF is a personal undertaking by Clara Lieu and Thomas Lerra that is not supported, sponsored, or endorsed by the Rhode Island School of Design or WGBH.

Ask the Art Prof Live # 7: How do I Improve My Art? How do I find My Artistic Style?

0:26
Other than “keep practicing,” how do I improve my art?

01:53
Set short term and long term goals.

05:14
Recognize your automatic pilot and the plateau.

06:39
Build in periods of experimentation.


09:58
How do I find my artistic style? Related article.
Mentioned: Picasso and Cubism


11:57
Style doesn’t develop overnight. Jackson Pollock


13:34
Try everything! Be a restaurant critic and sample everything that exists.
Former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s memoir “Born Round
Mentioned:  mezzotint, lithography, intaglio printmaking


15:36
Make a series


16:48
Your style will keep evolving. Alberto Giacometti


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

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


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


Related Live Videos
#8: Should I do the Starving Artist Phase in New York City?
#6: Teaching High School Art, Teaching Color
#5:  Starting Art School, Avoiding Cliches
#4:  Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
#3:  Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
#2:  Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork
#1:  Graduate MFA Programs

Ask the Art Prof Live #5: Starting Art School, Avoiding Cliches


00:00
“I got accepted into my top choice of art schools this year.  I’m super excited, but I’m also really nervous and don’t really know what to expect. The art program at my high school wasn’t very good, and I’m worried that I’m going to be really inexperienced compared to the other students. What are your tips for starting art school?”

03:04
Work with other students on your art school projects, be a cheerleader for each other!

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

05:30
Talk to your professors, and ask for help.

09:08
Learn to separate yourself from your art in a group critique.

11:46
Start early, avoid the marathon the night before, spread out your work over several days.


15:15
“What are common cliches and design mistakes you see in students? How do you think those can be worked on or avoided?”
Mentioned: Leon Golub, Kathe Kollwitz, Delacroix

Image_Leon Golub    images    Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple


17:22
Research your art media
Mentioned: Rodin, Bourdelle, Degas, Giacometti

hb_11.173.3    45686-12    hb_29.100.395    download


18:20
Get the cliches out of your system, and then eliminate them.


19:38
The “Layers” assignment in my RISD Freshman Drawing class.

neal_uno


21:20
Ask for feedback early on, several times, before the group critique.

Final Crit
22:53
A self-portrait becomes a penis.


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

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


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


Related Live Videos
#8: Should I do the Starving Artist Phase in New York City?
#7: How do I Improve My Art?  How do I Find My Artistic Style?
#6: Teaching High School Art, Teaching Color
#4:  Oversaturation, Brainstorming, Beginning a Series
#3:  Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
#2:  Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork
#1:  Graduate MFA Programs

Unexpected Influences

I always encourage my students to supplement their studio practice by looking at visual artists who work with similar subject matter, or who they have stylistic correlations with. If you want to paint portraits, most people would agree that you should study great portraits throughout history, as well as contemporary portraits.  As a student, and later as a professional, that’s exactly what I did when I wasn’t in the studio creating work.

There are many visual artists whose artwork I’ve studied in tremendous depth as a direct influence on my own artwork.   Giacometti, Kollwitz, Caravaggio, Messerschmidt, William Kentridge, and Michael Mazur have been artists I’ve revisited countless times.

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Kathe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child

I have specific experiences and moments that I associate with each of these artists. My junior year at RISD, I went on the European Honors Program, and was hell bent on seeing every Caravaggio painting in Europe. (I came pretty close)  I saw my first Kollwitz prints  at the Study Room for Drawings and Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC during graduate school.  I had never so physically close to a print of hers before. I’ve haven’t seen a Messerschmidt sculpture in person, but my interest in his work got me to buy the first expensive art book I’ve purchased in years. ( I love art books, but when prices start at $60, you realize that your money is better spent elsewhere most of the time)

My students are often surprised to hear that I find artwork that is dissimilar to mine just as fascinating, and maybe even more so.  The subject matter and creative process of these artists is so vastly different from mine, that I can’t wrap my head around how they arrived at creating their artwork.  I’ve been intrigued by Sopheap Pich, El Anatsui, Chiharu Shiota, Sarah Sze, to name just a few.

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Sopheap Pich

However, recently I’ve been traveling far beyond these contrasting artists, deliberately pushing myself away from visual artists altogether. Many people assume that because I’m a visual artist, all I want to look at and read about is visual artists. Lately though, it seems like I’m not interested in reading about or looking at visual artists at all. You would think my lack of interest right now would be a negative thing, or a sign of being burned out.  Actually, I feel more creatively stimulated than I’ve felt in a while, all because I started reading books again.

Oddly enough, my desire to read books got started because I stopped watching TV, and needed a way to unwind before going to bed. I think I quit TV because I’ve now watched every video remotely related to Louis CK, or because the last 4 movies I saw made me wish I could get those 2 hours of my life back. (Interstellar, Exodus, Edge of Tomorrow, and Theory of Everything. Okay, I should have known with Exodus what I was getting into, but I had hope with the other three)

I always enjoyed reading books before college, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I can count the number of books I’ve read since college on one hand. Part of this is because I’m an extremely picky reader, and if I’m not utterly captivated by the book within 10 pages, I can’t go on. I have to read books that are so incredibly engrossing that I can’t put the book down. With this stringent requirement, it can be hard for me to find the motivation to read because I am so easily disappointed.

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In the last few months, I’ve gravitated towards books about food, comedy, and medicine. (you can see my book lists on my Goodreads account.)  I’ve been fascinated by seeing how other fields function, and their various methods of thinking. These fields might seem totally unrelated to visual art, but I’ve found many parallels.  I’ve been ruminating about how strategies used in other fields could be applied in my own artwork and teaching.

I’ve found myself mesmerized reading about the intricacies and issues in medicine discussed in Atul Gawande’s books. “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” was so riveting that I actually became sad when my Kindle app told me that I had finished 80% of the book. I just finished “The Checklist Manifesto“, which has less content about medicine than Gawande’s other books, but was just as gripping. In this book, I found concrete, practical strategies that I might eventually implement into my classroom. For example, next week I’m introducing linear perspective to my sophomore drawing class at RISD.   If you understand linear perspective, it seems so simple, but if you don’t, it can be daunting to learn the rules and terminology of linear perspective, and then figure out how to practically apply those rules as you draw. After reading Gawande’s book, I thought about creating a checklist based on linear perspective for the students to use as they work on their drawings in class.

I’m not nearly finished with looking at and researching visual artists by any means, and certainly I will be back for more at some point. For now though, it’s lovely to stumble upon resources for my artwork and teaching in places where I don’t usually expect it.


Subscribe to my email list! I send announcements only a few times a year.

Ask the Art Prof: What Can a Painting Student do to be Relevant in a Digital World?

Portrait Drawing

“My daughter is a freshman at art school this year. She has chosen painting as her major. How does an artist in a classical medium like painting choose electives that will make them relevant in a digital world? What types of courses should she choose to make herself more marketable? What types of internships help guide a successful career for a painter in a high tech world?”

To be relevant as an artist today, your daughter will first need to achieve an awareness and comprehension of the contemporary art world. If she can take art history courses that focus on contemporary art, this will be highly influential to her development as an artist.

In art school, I didn’t take the initiative to study contemporary art. At the time, I dismissed all contemporary art based on just a few pieces I disliked. I was very ignorant, and I didn’t take the time to thoughtfully study and seek out contemporary art I liked. The consequence was that it took me many years after graduation to develop a sense of the contemporary art world. When I started working professionally, I quickly realized how important it was to not work in a vacuum. To create a context for my artwork, I had to acknowledge and understand the art being produced today, regardless of whether I liked it or not.

The digital world we live in has created a common misconception that incorporating digital media into your artwork is imperative to be relevant as an artist today. Actually, there are many contemporary artists out there working in traditional, hands-on processes who are very successful. Taking courses that teach specific software is only important if these techniques are integral to the making of the artwork. The one exception might be Photoshop, which is necessary for producing high quality images of artwork. One of my colleagues used to say that as artists, “we live and die by our photographs.” The majority of the time, one’s artwork is not seen in person and the importance of having strong photographic documentation of the artwork is absolutely essential.

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The area where digital media is crucial is in the marketing of the artwork. In my opinion, these are skills that can be primarily addressed after art school is over. Most art schools don’t offer courses on marketing, and even if they did, each artist’s path is so artist-specific that a marketing plan really has to be custom tailored to their needs. While she is still in art school, it would be best for your daughter to choose courses that she has a genuine interest in, and that will contribute to her studio practice.

Some students invest too much energy worrying about the future, to the point that they compromise their art school experience by enrolling in electives that they dislike, but that they think will help them professionally. For example, a lot of students think that it’s necessary to take a web design course in order to prepare for the professional world. On the contrary, there are numerous options today for making a website that don’t require any previous expertise. For an artist who simply wants to have their own website, learning how to build a website from scratch is just not mandatory anymore.

In the fine arts, the options for internships would be to work at a gallery or museum, or to work as an assistant for a professional artist. Being in a gallery or museum context would provide a glimpse into how these venues function, as well as an understanding of the details in the process that are frequently not discussed at art school.

One of my students who interned at a museum said she couldn’t believe how much work went into simply framing and handling the artwork, as well as the complexities of the relationships between the artist and the museum staff. By experiencing this first hand, the student became fully aware of what is required of an artist in terms of preparing the artwork for a professional exhibition. Research the galleries and museums that you are considering, find out what kind of programming they offer, and what types of artists they have shown in the past. Depending on the mission of the organization, the experience at the internship will vary tremendously. A mainstream commercial gallery operates very differently than a small regional museum.

Getting a position working with a professional artist is much more elusive. These positions usually are not advertised and are found through personal connections. Additionally, the professional artist has to produce a high enough volume of work that they need assistants and also have the financial resources to support an internship. I actually don’t recommend this route; many of my former students and peers have worked as assistants for professional artists and the majority of them ended up doing mindless labor for very little money.

One of my peers from graduate school worked at Jeff Koons’ studio after graduating and he found the experience demoralizing and extremely dull. I once visited him at the studio, and it was literally a factory, packed with room after room of art school graduates toiling away at tedious tasks that had been assigned to them.

While taking these combined initiatives will contribute to your daughter’s preparation for the professional world, these concerns should largely stay on the back-burner until graduation.  The principal responsibility she should have in art school is to savor this opportunity to concentrate solely on the creation of her art within the context of a vibrant artistic community.


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

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


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


Related articles
“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?”