Should Professional Artists Take Workshops?

I spend a good deal of my time sharing with and teaching others and although I learn a lot from my students, sometimes I want to be in the student seat, having fun and making a mess with new ideas, new products and new voices.

Lately, I’ve heard criticism that professional artists shouldn’t speak about taking workshops or classes because they then are relegated to student and are thought of as not as serious about their work. Well, using the wise words of my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Colletello-that’s hogwash! I take workshops because I AM serious about my work, about growing and expanding on my ideas in the studio and realizing that this sometimes doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I spend a good deal of my time sharing with and teaching others and although I learn a lot from my students, sometimes I want to be in the student seat, having fun and making a mess with new ideas, new products and new voices. To be clear, I don’t make a habit of taking classes, mainly because I think that too many workshops messes with studio mojo, but about every third year I choose an instructor whose work I respect and take a workshop with them. I have about five on my wishlist of futures and last month I took advantage of being Covid-bound and was finally able to take a virtual workshop I’ve had my eye on with the extremely inspiring Stuart Shils

I took was a drawing class called Reframing the Ordinary, basically about deriving compositions and content from your surroundings as well as retraining your eyes to see. I don’t come from a painting background and never really took painting classes in school, so the class exercises were challenging but super fun. We worked in a timed format on drawings and collages using only black and white and the same scene-I used a corner of my studio as inspiration. Each drawing prompt was different and encouraged focusing on different things each time-ie. the darkest area, the lightest area, where does your eye go first, second, etc. The collages were made using black and white paper and are what I enjoyed the most, especially black on black. Representing value with only one color was also an interesting challenge and encouraged noticing side by side value changes, dark to lights first and then mid-tones. This exercise encouraged imaginative ways to represent lights and darks by shape and texture, especially when only using one color paper. I included two of these collages below as well as a few juicy quotes from the workshop.

In conclusion, the answer to should professional artists take classes is a resounding, yes! And yes, do share with others what classes you take. We all have to help each other out during these times.

All quotes are Stuart Shils unless other wise noted.

• Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing seen. Paul Valery
• Every moment of the day offers opportunity if we are paying attention.
• If you think too hard or plan too much, you make it impossible to embrace the situation with authenticity.
• Landscape is anything that is in front of you.
• Making it simpler does not mean eliminating complexity.
• I don’t think too much about the difficulties, because then I would get stunned or stuck. Pay attention to the feeling instead, the changing, the ripening, the growing.

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

6 thoughts on “Should Professional Artists Take Workshops?”

  1. Well said! I totally agree. Why would we artists not need or want to take classes? Sharing is such an important part of the process & a way to transform our own work. Thanks for putting this out there.

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  2. Good post Lorraine. I agree with you that workshops can meet many needs at various levels. If you look back over the years at community and public life drawing classes, you will find many professionals who attend to keep their eye and mind sharp. Drawing is much about skill and the camaraderie of a group gives opportunities for discussion. Workshops can help kickstart new directions and energize artists to pursue paths not yet taken. I have pursued many techniques on my own over the years with positive results, but taking a workshop with a fellow professional in a group setting can be highly beneficial and create stronger networks.

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  3. I have heard the same…and never understood it. I totally agree with you. It’s one thing if you are a serial workshop taker…and not digging deeply within your own work. But one of the best ways for me to expand skills and knowledge is to seek out the processes, materials, methods that I need to understand or get mastery over in order to use them more effectively within my own work. Love this quote from Shils “If you think too hard or plan too much, you make it impossible to embrace the situation with authenticity.” So true (and something with which I can struggle with). This one too : “Making it simpler does not mean eliminating complexity.”

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