Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Restoring Art Programs

Comic art legend Joe Sinnott grew up in Saugerties, New York. At age 83, he still lives there and he still works for Marvel.

When the Saugerties school board decided to cancel the art program, he wrote a letter describing how he owes his career to the encouragement of art teachers.

“I know that today it’s much harder to get into art schools and colleges, and that it is a necessity to have high school art credits to apply to these schools. The creativity starts in the early years, and I have lectured for the children at Riccardi, Cahill, Grant D. Morse and Saugerties High School to enthusiastic students. …Art is not just a fun subject. It is a career choice for many. Without it, many talents will be wasted.”

Joe Sinnott’s entire letter.
Report on hopes to restore the art program at the Sauguerties School District
Image from Wizard's Keep, which has more art and a bio of Joe Sinnott.


Shane White said...

A similar thing happened to our high school when I was attending. They cut back the art classes to two years and made the students purchase their own art supplies.

Yet they were handing out football scholarships.

As far as I can tell not one person from our school ever went on to play professional sports.

Besides, I don't know too many civilizations that showed the strength of their culture through sports over art. Last time I checked you needed motor skills and a bit of creativity to communicate...the most basic art.


Steve said...

Joe is right; art is a career possibility but it is so much more. I taught elementary school for 30 years. From my experience, there is absolutely no question that kids are nourished on many levels -- intellectually and emotionally -- by regular opportunities to interpret the world through drawing, painting, sculpting, and model-making. We impoverish the individual and the community when we devalue art.

By the way, is that a Boston "B" or old English "D" on his cap...a Tigers fan from Saugerties?

Jared said...

Unfortunately there are less Gordon Moores (Intel co-founder) in the arts that can step in and help with private funding to keep these programs alive. Am I right that high tech fields tend to yield more wealthy alumni, which tend to give back to places like MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, and the like? And of course the universities get the dough, not the alumni's high schools.

Joe Jusko said...

I'm a 1977 grad of the High School of Art & Design in NYC. When I attended your junior and senior schedule was 50% art classes taught by retired veteran professional illustrators. Bernie Krigstein, Max Ginsburg and a wealth of other amazing talents taught there. It was the only public high school in the country that geared it's students toward a career in commercial art, and many of the pros in our industry were born out of that wonderful environment.

Skip to a couple of years ago when the alumni committee asked me to participate in a Then and Now art show at the school.

After talking to several teachers and alumni committee members I was shocked to learn just how much of the art program had been cut. Entry standards (there had been a fairly intense entry exam and portfolio review) had been drastically lowered and the art curriculum had been cut to 25%, all to maintain funding and keep the school from closing.

Teachers I spoke to seemed resigned and many I had known retired rather than compromise themselves. The principal (not an artist any longer but obviously an administrator) actually commented on how "suggestive" my LARA CROFT painting was!!!!!! This is a school that once held nude life drawing classes for select students before the normal school day started.

It's pretty much a normal HS now with a slightly more glorified art program than most. I can't think of anyone in our industry coming out of that school in years when at one time thee at least 2-3 per graduating class.

I left that night feeling extremely saddened by decline of what was once such an elite and unique school.

Jaime Gervais said...

I live in the province of BC and we are currently going through dramatic cuts to the Arts sector.

I work in an art supply store and some elementary and high school teachers come in with lists and budgets that have dwindled down from 25% - 50% less than what was afforded to them only a couple years previous.

Recently a lady came and purchased $200 worth of student grade paint and brushes which she then paid for out of her own pocket because they were already over budget.

I would have been lost without Art class in elementary and high school. It was all that I ever dreamed about doing. Thank god for instructional art books though - for what school didn't teach me my books sure covered!

Can't wait for your new "Color and Light" book Mr. Gurney! I bought it on pre-order and shipment is in November! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences with all of us! Yay!


The fearless threader said...

I was positively discouraged at school. I came to art late, after my mum died, expressing her regrets that she hadn't done what she wanted to do. I decided to let nothing get in the way of my creativity. How many others have been discouraged and have never tried later?

Colin Boyer said...

It's a sad trend, and trying to fight it is a long and depressing road. That's why I respect what the VLP ( is doing so much. They're side stepping the issue of declining funds for high schools by giving away tools to high school students that would enable them to take art education into their own hands.

What it doesn't do is nurture creativity from a young age. I guess kids will have to just stumble into this obsession like most artists have for the past century.

By Scott Flanders said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

As a public school art teacher of 28 years, God bless you Joe Sinnott! Besides being a potential career choice regardless of what path a kid takes I know their life will be immeasurably enhanced by an understanding and appreciation of the arts.

Colin said...

That's great of Mr. Sinnott to write that letter in support of the arts. I met him a few years ago at small convention and he was very cool to chat with, regaling fans with stories from the marvel bullpen.

Claire Vrabel said...

It seems silly to cut art programs when we are increasingly becoming a very visual society... It doesn't make sense... Not everyone is an athlete or math wiz...
I had a great art teacher in High School. She would buy supplies with her own money so the students would be able to use quality supplies...
Unfortunately the year before I started they replaced the room used for oil painting with a snack store to raise money for the sports dept. :P
So... I didn't get to learn how to use oils in HS...

Steven K said...

I am surprised there is anything worth Joe's time to fight for. The arts died in California education years ago. My High School had 1 - yes, 1 - "art class" in the entire program. Most people didn't know it existed. It was never taught by a qualified instructor - it was where the School District and the Teacher's Union agreed to hide the short timers who were counting the days to retirement and couldn't be trusted with a real class. It was the district's answer to New York's "rubber room."
I read an interview with illustrator Mitchell Hooks, where he says he received all of the training he needed from professional illustrators teaching at an arts-focused public high school in Detroit in the 1950s. I had to read that quote three times to wrap my head around it. I wondered if I had somehow fallen into an alternative universe where public education worked.

Steven K said...

What once was (from a post on Mitchell Hooks):

"Mitch attended CAS Technical High School in Detroit, "A marvelous school," that had been created for those city kids who really had no hope of ever attending college. "The way we grew up,' says Mitch, "we didn't even know how to spell 'college'. CAS was loaded with professional illustrators, designers and such, just great people, who taught us everything we needed to know to get a job in the profession."

"I was thrown in with a bunch of kids who were really enthusiastic about illustration. We all knew what was going on out there in the magazines... knew about Al Parker and the Cooper guys and all that, and CAS prepared us to go out in the field - and we did - we all went out and got jobs in the field, straight out of high school!"

Ken said...

I certainly wish at times I'd had a program like this where I was, instead of fumbling my way through self-study. It is really sad to see the savaging of dedicated art programs, whether for young or old. Thank you to the art teachers here posting, and people like James Gurney as well, for passing along their knowledge and wealth of information through blogs, tutorials etc. so that struggling artists like me can learn even without the financial wherewithal to study in a dedicated art program.

James Gurney said...

Very thoughtful comments, everyone. Thank you.

Steve, I'm not sure what it said on his hat. I was sort of interviewing him (he was also a sports cartoonist) while I sketched his portrait, and I forgot to really notice the hat logo.

James Gurney said...

Steve, I found out what the letter on the hat says. It's a "D" and it's for the Saugerties Dutchmen, an adult amateur baseball team Joe was involved with.

RandolphG said...

I'm a graduate of Saugerties High School...(1996) same school Joe attended. I remember him speaking to me as a student in junior high and being a huge comic fan it was like a professional athlete speaking to you. Without Joe and the art program at school I never would've went on to attend Pratt Institute where I eventually worked for Marvel Comic now freelance lettering for DC Comics. Thanks for writing that letter, Joe. I hope it helps.