Sunday, December 2, 2007

Art Center

I must admit that I was apprehensive about my visit to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. It has been over 25 years since I was a student there (I was only able to stay for two semesters), and I wondered how it had changed.

In the early 1980s the Art Center illustration program was focused primarily on modern-art inspired “concept” illustration. Students were groomed for painting trendy magazine illustrations and album covers. The emphasis was on style. There was no encouragement for careers in paperback covers, children’s books, wildlife art, comic art, animation, movie production design or landscape painting. A few teachers demonstrated the skills of traditional realism, but they were in the minority, and some of the best of them ended up leaving to teach elsewhere.

Art Center is a different school now, and the changes are all for the better. The school is housed in a long black building set in the hills above Pasadena. But gone is the minimal, sterile look of the 1980s. Glass cases filled with student work now cover walls that once were blank. One display held a group of beautifully-observed paintings made in Gary Meyer’s class based on a live model wearing an interesting clown outfit.

Bob Kato is one of the new generation of teachers. He was taught by Dennis Nolan (the Hartford teacher). Himself a master draftsman and painter, Mr. Kato leads his students to a high level of proficiency. During the fourteen week term of his Sketching for Illustration class, he starts with line and value, follows with a model lit from a single light source, and ends with costumed models lit from multiple colored light sources. Bob Kato also hosts extracurricular sessions called The Drawing Club.

We visited Gary Meyer’s perspective class, where he was discussing fisheye distortion. Because of its industrial design component, perspective has always been a strength of the school, and Mr. Meyer is ably following in the very large footsteps of Ted Youngkin, now retired, who taught the likes of Syd Mead.

Much of the buzz about Art Center now revolves around its new entertainment design department, headed by Scott Robertson. His students were responsible for the recent book Skillful Huntsman, an exercise in production design that holds its own in print with publications by working professionals. Combining industrial design with illustration, students in this new major learn the skills they’ll need for visual development careers at the nearby movie studios, with classes often taught by instructors from DreamWorks, Disney, and Imageworks.

The school now has a prop room, filled with costumes, mannikins, musical instruments, and everyday objects to use for staging an illustration. Students can check them out to take home, or models can pose with them in school.

Every Art Center student learns how to use woodshop tools. Here’s a display of working pull toys.

Illustration chair Ann Field typifies the exciting new spirit of the school, keeping right up with the times, but respecting timeless tradition. She told me that she respects the school’s duty to provide a strong foundation in traditional drawing and painting skills that can outfit a graduate for success in any career direction. “Some things will forever be true,” she told me. No matter how art and styles change, “you will always need to know how to paint and draw.”


GWhitehall said...

It was really inspiring having you here, thanks again!

Simon Ko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Ko said...

thanks again for coming back to the school to talk! it is fascinating to first be an admirer of your work as a child and THEN ending up at the same school without even knowing it. after listening to your story the future is now a bit less scary. =)

Jeff Doten said...

I went to the Alberta College of Art in the early 80's. They were busy burning the teachers in effigy, and illustrators were thrown on the pyre for color. They really hated illustration. Animation and anatomy were the only reasons to go there. Eventually I worked as a staff illustrator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology as revenge.

I had a chance years later to ask an instructor about the college and illustration years later. He very kindly explained what my youthful self had been dropped into. Yeah, everything was politics, conceptual and non-representational. What a bore. But now conceptual means the kind of stuff they hated then, as it should. :)

Stephen James. said...

Interesting, some of my classmates (former Art center folks) said that the school was now going towards a less traditional approach and more towards post modern stuff (instilations and stuff.)


Anonymous said...

Fantastic Story!
I went to Art Center from '77 thru '80 (Transportation), and you brought alot of memories (bad and good) back; remembering all those great teachers (Fluery and Youngkin) (and some "infamous" administrative members (like Ron Jernagon (looking for "boy toy" students).

Connor Johanson said...

Do you know of any good art programs at universities (rather than an all-art college)? I'm going to be a junior and should probably start thinking about this, but I have really no idea where I'm going

James Gurney said...

Venator, check out the "Art Schools" icon in the index on the side of the blog. You'll find a lot of reports, but you have to check them out for yourself.