What Is “Classically Trained”?
Hi! I have been thinking about what makes an artist classically trained. Have you seen that term on a biography of an artist or musician? And, what does that mean?
John Stermer, Classically Trained Artist
What a funny question, don’t you think? To explain, I have been helping my sister prepare for an upcoming showing of my Dad’s artwork (artist John Stermer of New Mexico). On Dad’s biography, he is described as a classically trained artist.
I remember when I was about twelve years old telling one of my teachers that Dad was a “classically trained” artist. The teacher asked me what does it mean to be a classically trained artist. I had no idea, but, then, I thought I knew. So, soldiering on, I promptly gave an answer, rather than say “I don’t know”. As I recall I mentioned something about how Dad composed a painting. I have a vague idea of referring to the Greeks, Romans and maybe even Leonardo da Vinci. Well, Greek and Roman art is sometimes referred to as “classical”, isn’t it?
The point was that I did not know what I was talking about (oops).
No Repeat Performances, Please!
Well, if we are doing art shows and are going to be where interested people asking questions, I figure knowing terms is a good idea. Remembering my past experience, I thought I would look up “classically trained” and see what it means.
Does Anyone Know The Answer?
“Here’s the problem: Few people outside of music students know what that really means. To wit: extended study and mastery of a complete system of techniques, pedagogy, musical knowledge, and repertoire. In the piano field, according to O’Riley, it commonly includes beginning, intermediate, and advanced material by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Liszt, Shostakovich, and other composers. It also implies a mastery of specialized techniques, performed from the easy to the most challenging tempos, as well as a thorough schooling in music theory, harmony, and composition.”
Apparently, there probably isn’t a definition of what a “classically trained artist” listed in your closest dictionary. But, I think this one will do. To summarize, I figure one needs to have been through a rigorous extended period of education to be classically trained.
Dad’s Case: Classical Training.
So, lets take the case of my Father, artist John Stermer. He had a formal and rigorous period of study at The Art Students League of New York in the late 40s and early 50s. For six years he lived the life of an art student totally immersed in art and art classes. He followed this period of training with an additional year in Paris, France at the Academie Le Grand Chaumiere.
When Dad left these art schools to work in his own studio, he had learned and mastered how to draw and paint.
Now, do understand that I am not meaning to imply that one ever learns all there is to know about drawing and painting. Rather, he had a robust set of skills that enabled him to create and work on his own terms. He knew everything from selecting materials (paint, canvas, boards); preparing the materials, like stretching and preparing canvas for paint; constructing and creating a painting; creating an appropriate frame for the painting; and how to show and market your artwork.
My Case: Self Taught.
Now, lets compare classically trained Dad with me. I am a “self taught” artist, which I think it a bit of a misnomer, but it’s the best we have. What I mean is, that I learn from lots of artists, though mostly on an informal basis.
For example, I take classes and workshops from time to time. I read books, blogs and magazines. And, from the information and examples I see, I create my own work. However, I feel like I learn from every artist whose work I see or study. In effect, they are “teaching” me; I don’t learn in a vacuum or dark studio with no outside influences. Put another way, I have silent teachers and mentors all around me; they just don’t know it!
Which is Better, Classical or Self-taught?
After studying for over 15 years on my own, I’d say, it all depends on your circumstances.
The More Direct Path. I am inclined to believe that the intensive education available through classical training, say at an art academy or atelier, is difficult to match on my own. It helps to have masters and fellow students to learn from; the community is invaluable! I would imagine that there is a synergy in learning when people who share your excitement about art surround you.
The More Indirect Path. When you are on your own, you have to wrestle with the “how” and “why” by yourself. The skill set of knowing materials and how to approach drawing and painting is learned almost by trial and error. Therefore, I consider “self taught” to be a more indirect path. It will take awhile to learn how to solve the problems of creating art.
Its All Good!
In the end, though, I would hope we (classical and self taught artists) arrive at a similar place. That is to say, our own individual path of creating art that connects with other people is what we strive to achieve.
Just my thoughts; what do you think?