Valuable Lessons I Learnt in Art School

This art post features the creative lessons I learnt in art school.

People often ask me ‘how long did that painting take to create’?

Sometimes quietly thinking to themselves, ‘my child could do that’. Art challenges people. Especially, conceptual art. But art school taught me most of all, to challenge the way people think.

Because mostly, they need it.

Behind this question ‘how long did that take’ is a quiet cynicism about artists. Even famous artists like Matisse, who’s paintings and drawings are sold for multi-millions of dollars, are criticised for their simplicity.

Henri Matisse | Patitcha souriante (Patitcha smiling) 1947 | Purchased 1993 with funds from the International Exhibitions Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Henri Matisse 1947/Succession H Matisse/Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011

Depending upon the person, I respond to the question ‘how long did it take?’ tongue in cheek, with either of two answers ‘5 minutes’ or ‘40 years’.

The paintings in the video below were bought for healthy prices in 2002, by a high profile school in Australia named Xavier College. The institution wasn’t concerned how long my paintings took to paint, nor did they say about my simplistic paintings ‘my child could do that’.

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Valuable Lesson 1. Genuine art collectors or art buying institutions collect painting’s they love, artwork that means something to the buyer. Customers connect to an artistic concept.

Sometimes my abstract art looks simple, but the customer buys the concept and the meaning behind the painting. They also trust my artistic judgment and authority from decades as an artist.

Strangely enough, conceptual thinking often brings the artist in a full circle, back to simplicity. Hence, the comment ‘my child could do that’. I agree that some modern art is mindless, but what people mostly see is a simplified solution disregarding the creative thinking behind the final result.

Like most professions, the complexities of a problem and the hours of deep reflection or chaotic confusion to reach clarity in a final piece, is mostly hidden from the layperson.

Valuable Lesson 2: Experienced artists and philosophers will tell you, achieving simplicity is a complicated process.

For my tertiary education, I was fortunate enough to live in an old mining town, attending the University of Ballarat. I lived in an old miners cottage with my beloved great aunt Glen and completed my Bachelor of Visual Arts.

At university I studied all the great masters of Art & Design. I was fascinated by the practice and history of Art. It was a very interesting period of my life. I was a curious 18 year old art student, living with my 80 year old eccentric aunt.

It was an experience I fondly remember, a world of extreme contrasts where my creative thinking flourished. Thankfully, I was forced to integrate two weird extremes in my life.

One extreme was my wayward free thinking creative friends, on the other extreme, was my very conservatively and celebate Catholic auntie, who had devoted her life entirely to Jesus.

Valuable Lesson 3: Integrating extremes in life, enhances your creativity and makes life more interesting.

Every evening I was instructed, by great aunt Glen to arrive home from university for 5pm dinner. This routine was a little odd, but fine by me. One night, I invited my girlfriend for dinner and introduced her to my great aunt.

Dinner went without any hitches, but then relaxing together in front of the television, I put my arm around my girlfriend. This brought a sharp rebuke from Glen and caused great embarrassment for my girlfriend.

On another occasion my great aunt Glen was rudely shocked by the nude drawings I’d created at university. ‘Oh Simon, the naked body should be kept hidden!’ Yet, the renaissance master artists proclaimed the human body was the pinnacle of natural perfection and beauty.

Here’s what I learned in ceramics class:

I loved this class, but it wasn’t my strength. What I discovered was that if the clay hadn’t dried out, it can always be reused and remodeled for another pot. In life we all make mistakes, we need to be patient with ourselves. Thankfully, we can scrap the old broken project and remodel our lives and create a better pot.

Valuable Lesson 4. Patience is essential in the creative process.

Sometimes during class, my clay pot would become lopsided and spin out of control on the wheel. I figured that was ok, the pot wasn’t meant to be. So I’d begin remolding the wet clay and start the process over. Miraculously, my next pot stayed symmetrical and was created perfectly.

The principle of patience in art is essential. If we are patient and persistent, the right artwork will somehow create itself, but it might take some time and many attempts before your creative universe is properly aligned.

Every drawing is beautiful in some way. Even a child’s drawing. You have probably heard the saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ well this holds true for art.

Here’s what I learnt in drawing class:

I was reasonably competent at drawing and I thought sometimes, I’d produced a beautiful drawing. During class we would have a nude model to draw and after a 30minute pose, I would quietly think to myself, I had just created a masterpiece.

Valuable Lesson 5: No matter how brilliant and talented you might be, there is always someone better than you.

But then I would proudly take a stroll around the studio to view my classmate’s drawings. Wow, there was so much talent in the room! So many beautiful drawings, it shocked and humbled me.

Especially this one girl named Fiona, she needed only to hold a piece of charcoal in her fingers and the paper would come alive with her wonderful artistic ability. I quickly came to understand…

Valuable Lesson 6: Because we are all so unique, competition is futile.

I have always looked at the great master drawings and been surprised by how simple the lines appear, especially for a master like Matisse. His drawings are incredibly basic, childlike but beautiful. Sophisticated in their simplicity.

I am quite confident to suggest it was his belief in his own lines that made other people believe too, that his artwork was exceptional. He wasn’t competing with anybody, just content to draw what he saw in life from his own unique interpretation and perspective.

6 Good reasons to be yourself and be radically unique

  1. Being yourself is the foundation of excellence.
  2. Plato the great philosopher said, ‘know thy self’.
  3. The bible says you’ve been created as Gods masterpiece.
  4. Being yourself creates joy for you and freedom for other people.
  5. Life is very short and people need the specialness you offer.
  6. There is peace and restfulness when you stop trying to be someone else.

Here’s what I learned in painting class:

Like most disciplines, theoretical rules learnt in the classroom are broken all the time. At university, I was amazed by my friend Fiona who’s paintings contained anything and everything she could find.

It was clear she was not operating according to the wishes of her teachers, friends, a gallery owner, or classmates. She used dirt, twigs, leaves, nail polish anything could be included into her mysterious paintings.

Fiona’s creativity was exceptionally unique. Every stroke of the paintbrush held incredible painterly quality. When she used color it was perfect, not too much, not too little, just the right amount.

She wore interesting clothes that expressed her unique personality and individual style. By being herself, unconcerned what others thought, she broke the fashion rules in unique and interesting ways.

Valuable Lesson 7: There are no rules in creativity enjoy your artistic freedom.

Sometimes, our lecturers at university would recommend mixing certain colors together because they were complimentary colors. My lecturers would disapprove of the wrong hues mixed together in a composition. But when Fiona mixed the colors, somehow the painting looked amazing.

As a senior lecturer teaching Art & Design, I am aware of the theoretical principles. However, I also strive to avoid teaching strict rules in creativity. What works for one person, may or may not work for the next person.

What was the most valuable things you learnt at College? I would love to hear your responses in the comments box below…

This post is about finding the right kind of support

It discusses the essentials of living a successful creative career and finding strong support structures to ensure stability, reliability and eventual success.

But how can an artist establish solid structure in life amidst the often chaotic, unpredictable world of creativity?

Creative people need an enormous amount of support to grow.

They need even more to succeed!

But it’s a special kind of support.

For people to grow, they need great patience and careful nurturing.

It’s a scientific fact, different types of people need different types of support to grow. Some support mechanisms are easy to find, others are more difficult. But the most important kind of support will come from special people in your life.

Geelong Fine Art School Exhibition Opening. This Art School was my support at the very beginning of my career

Creativity has become a highly valued skill in society today, more so than ever. But supporting a strong minded free-willed creative individual, is not an easy task.

Support structures need to be highly specialized and tailored to each individual

Here’s the main point of this article…

Finding the right kind of genuine support for your unique brand of creativity and special personality is essential.

The right kind of tailored support, designed specifically for you in my experience doesn’t come easy. You need to search for it. People are not going to throw themselves at you eager to give support and unfortunately, it won’t magically appear.

Sometimes family is supportive. But it’s not always the case.

Your support might come from strange people in weird places.

When we’re born into this world, it’s never certain what we’re meant to do and who we’re meant to do it with? Support comes on many different levels and from strange often unlikely corners of the world.

But you can be guaranteed the right kind of support for you is hiding somewhere. You need wisdom to find it in the people around you every day.

Surprisingly, sometimes it’s not obvious, because the people who believe in you, might be afraid to acknowledge it!

When you find the right kind of encouragement and guidance it will help you soar higher than you thought possible. With surprising ease, you will fly high on wings like eagles.

Here are 8 ways to ensure your support stays strong

1. Be aware of the people around you and listen carefully to their words.

2. Pay attention to what your intuition tells you, be courageous, it’s often right.

3. Use wisdom to discern people’s motivations during a conversation.

4. Focus upon strengthening those people who encourage you.

5. Learn to politely ignore those who undermine or discourage your dreams.

6. Make it clear to people you are serious about their influence upon your life.

7. Give little time to people who attempt to entangle you in trouble.

8. Protect and reward the people who are your support structures in life.

Sometimes things people say are insignificant, but for some reason, they stick in our mind, especially when young. Jack was my boss, he encouraged a shy creative boy from a small country town, to take on the big city of Sydney.

The video below is my story of my special kind of support.

It came in an unremarkable conversation, a brief comment from Jack. It lasted only a moment, but changed my life forever. His comment had greater significance on my life than he could imagine.

He saw something special in my artistic personality and supported it.

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Here’s the kind of support to search for in this world…

The kind of support people need is one that encourages freedom, independence and builds a sense of authority in life

Not the kind of support that subtly undermines people, such as gossip, political power plays from behind or maybe a person who argues with every word they hear. Avoid these people.

But be careful. People might pretend to support you because they want something from you. Use wisdom. Not all people understand what true support means and here’s the reason why…

Sadly, most people never received genuine support themselves.

True support grows people

Even adults

So, for the people not offering you the true support you need, some times it’s up to you to be their support first. Show them what real support means

Then once they truly understand it, your special kind of long lasting support designed especially for you, will be in that person

Here’s the reason why your support will be long lasting… because in the first place you gave someone a learning experience so special, so powerful and unique to them, they couldn’t find it anywhere else

Encourage, protect, warn and guide them

Give them the support they truly need. Then, over time, you will be guaranteed in return, to receive the special kind of support you need to achieve your creative goals

In the supportive process, what do people need most?

They need you to love them , even if you don’t feel like it

After leaving high school I entered the Geelong Fine Art School (photo at top of the post). It was an amazingly nurturing campus led by Patty Semmler and Robert Drummond.

They gave me the love and creative attention I needed as a baby artist

I was cared for and supported by two very special people

They were very generous offering exceptional creative guidance and encouragement in my formative artistic years.

In the video below Patty and Robert give their version of the start of my art career and discuss the people in their lives who supported their artistic drive.

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What’s your story of that special person who encouraged, supported and guided you? Leave a comment below

If you’re interested to purchase an original Simon Brushfield painting, that will give the right kind of support to your home or office walls,