The responsibility of the artist

Home / Education / ARChives / Foundational Discussions

The responsibility of the artist

From Virgil Elliott

Published before 2005


Norberto wrote:
Art education is in dire need of reform and shouldn't just be available to kids who are well off. Ateliers are great, but somewhere in an inner city there is a kid with immense talent whose innate facility is being stymied by some public school's bogus, modernist curriculum. Perhaps even more likely, no art at all.

Norberto,

I would never turn anyone away who wanted to study with me but had no money. Of course I'm not running a school, just my own art studio, but I do make myself available to help out any aspiring young artist or art student who is motivated enough and would like to learn from me. I will gladly accept payment from those who can afford to pay, but my reasons for teaching are not related to money, and I agree with you that the opportunity to become a great artist should not be denied to young people who have the potential to get there but are financially disadvantaged. I can make a lot more money doing other things, so teaching is not something I look at as a lucrative endeavor. I see it as a responsibility that goes along with having attained a high level of knowledge, to share it with the next generation. Art is carried on that way, or should be.

There are always things I need help with around the studio, and students who cannot afford to pay me with money can help me with those things, so they need not feel like charity cases.

I was a young man with no financial resources myself when I got out of the Army a long time ago and wanted to go to college. I had to work at night in an awful job, and moonlight on the side as a small-scale black-market entrepreneur, risking jail, in order to pay my tuition and support myself at subsistence level, so I am not without sympathy for people who don't have family help. The worst thing, though, was that I could find no instructors at any of the colleges I attended or interviewed at who could teach me what I wanted to learn, which was how to paint better than I already could (I was already pretty good, but not good enough to be satisfied with). None of them were capable of it, which was obvious looking at their own paintings, but they were pushing the modernist party line as cover for their own deficiencies, and ultimately I left in disgust, determined to find what I needed to learn on my own if there were no other way. I saw that situation as horribly wrong, and the reason I teach is to help people who are like I was back then: burning with a passion to master realistic painting, and frustrated by the so-called institutions of higher learning's failure to provide instruction that would help. The idea of these aspiring young artists being denied access to that kind of teaching so offends my sense of right and wrong that I determined long ago that I would do what I could to help any of them learn who came to me for help, regardless of whether they had any money to pay me for their lessons.

Virgil Elliott