Monday, August 31, 2020

Quoting an Art School Professor

When I was in art school I stayed sane by drawing my professors while they gave critiques. I also wrote down exactly what they said. 

This is Joel Bass (1942-2019), who taught a class called "Visual Form." He looked at my picture and said: "We're alienated from this design. We're thrust in a domain that's totally alien to what we had before. We're in a situation of no more intimacy. When we put color down we materialize the decision-making about the physicality. There's a sense of closeness. There's a sense of intimacy. It's a giving source. The opaque domain will begin to happen if we can get information about the most simplistic relationships that are existing. The density confronts the density of other things. Push for more convincing densities."

As I listened to him talk I was lulled into a stupor by the smell of solvents and the buzz of the fluorescent lights. My head began to vibrate in unison. I felt the magnetic poles in my head shifting. Meaning became meaninglessness. Form became formlessness. All at once he made perfect sense. I've been pushing for more convincing densities ever since.

Art school days. That's me on the far right posing for photo reference for cartoonist Paul Chadwick (left), as Thomas Kinkade looks on, center.


markmors said...

It's no wonder you left school early. And that was at Art Center? I thought that they always had good programs? : )

CatBlogger said...

I'm curious, what was the assignment that your prof was looking at when he pronounced these words?
I'm glad you left art school, and followed in the footsteps of Rockwell and all of those other artists you have shared in this blog.

Susan Krzywicki said...

That is a gorgeous drawing. I love the curls.

And the critique, as you wrote it down, itself is fascinating. I somehow think there is a link between what the professor said and life in general, right? We, when very young, often thrust ourselves into places and expect everyone else to follow, fast. As we get older, we see that the fearlessness of youth can combine with a short path behind for those new to the idea.

James Gurney said...

MarkMors, Yes, that was Art Center in 1980. I've heard that it's much better now, but I don't know. The problem was that some of the teachers were great, knew their stuff, and knew how to teach it. But you were forced to endure classes taught by people who had very little real experience or useful knowledge. And it was very expensive, even then. Since my fiancé Jeanette was enrolled for the whole program, I figured I could crib from her notes from the good classes, and spend my time studying on my own at the natural history museum and the zoo, and get an animation job so I could get paid to learn.
Susan, I'm not completely sure what you mean, but I do know this. It's much easier to teach nonsense to youth than to people my age. There were some students on the GI bill in our classes. They had seen more of life than we had, and they had less willingness to put up with foolishness.
Catblogger, most of the assignments in his class were swatches and color wheels, which sounded scientific, but were weird experiments in subjectivity. As I recall the paintings we did for this particular assignment were abstract color field paintings.

Hocaesarspeaks said...

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Joel Fletcher said...

Wow, that teacher was a master of impromptu artspeak! I can see how the only way his statements would make any sense was by being under the influence of paint fumes.

sketch3460 said...

I would have loved to hear the response if you had drawn one of Ted Youngkin, and he saw it.

Teun Berserik said...

You can hear more of Joel Bass talks here:

Fascinating stuff!
It was artspeak and teachers like that, that in the early 70ties made me decide
better not to go to art school.
Never regretted that decision.
Coming to think of it,
they served a purpose after all.

André Mata said...

Somehow I think you were luckier than me, I had even worse teachers at university, who didn't say as much and taught even less, and if the students didn't showed the slightest interest in the classes, they would be harassed, discriminated and hampered in their efforts. If I could only turn back time...

Capt Elaine Magliacane said...

What DRIVEL.. even drawing him and writing all that down... I do think if I'd been in a class with a professor like that I'd have had to raise my hand and so WHAT? Can you say that again in English please.

bosveldr said...

No wonder you quit, and how thankful we are!

Loretta said...

The beauty of going your own way gives one a little fight, something to get you through with stubbornness.
Thinking your own way out of the bag is at least satisfying if you stick with it and TRY.
When I was 15 I read some criticism of Van Gough. They were commenting on his ANGRY green background. Did he write that somewhere, did he tell Theo he was in a terrible mood so he was going to use green?
I decided then and there they were cranks and I had to decide for myself what I thought.
Best idea I ever had.

Artists are cool.

Bill Marshall said...

Your post prompted me to look up my art professor of the early 70's during my studies at Glendale College, Martin Mondrus. Turns out he's still around at age 95! He was a wonderful teacher, and always encouraged me to pursue art as a career. Afterwards, at the San Francisco Art Institute, I had more experiences like you just described, prompting me to leave it behind.

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Interesting post. Reading the quote, I began wondering what your professor was coming down from. His art-speak demonstrates how far some people dig for treasure that isn't buried.

evan said...

James, I admire your and Kinkade's work in equal measure, but see you two
as almost complements to each other in terms of life philosophy. How do you view his life and contribution to art, in retrospect?

James Gurney said...

Evan, I'll let others judge Tom's life and career, but if you want to read some stories about our collaboration on Fire and Ice, check out this post:

James Gurney said...

Teun Beserik, thanks for that link. Brings me right back.

Lisa Bass said...

James Gurney, my name is Lisa Bass, widow of Joel Bass. I was sent your blog this morning from our son, Max, regarding Joel. I was excited to see the drawing you made of him as I think you captured his liking, but felt sorry you thought this - "The problem was that some of the teachers were great, knew their stuff, and knew how to teach it. But you were forced to endure classes taught by people who had very little real experience or useful knowledge." I do know Joel was passionate about his teachings at the Art Center as he was in his art career. These days were well before our time together. So it's facinating to hear about the stories of Joel in his art career.

To give you a bit of insight, Joel never talked about his art days with us. When he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2018, from a fall that led to a broken back, the doctors suggested I bring our children to come see him. After visiting him, our oldest son said he was going to google dad. He said he didn't know Joel had shown at the MOMA. I said yes, dad's pieces are in museums all over the world, let me see which one you are looking at? It was a show I wasn't aware of - "Printsequence" October 3, 1975 - January 18, 1976. Joel was the youngest of 17 great artist in the show at age 32. Some of the artists were Picasso, Josef Albers, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichetenstein, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, to name a few. Joel never talked about it.

The day before Joel's memorial, on July 5, 2019, an article came out in the NYT titled, "Mapping the Whitney Biennial", where it maps the most important artist of this century in the United States. Joel is placed in DTLA, between 1930-1970. Quite an honor and legacy he's left behind. Especially for someone who didn't call it out for himself.

I know he would have enjoyed responding to your comment, himself, to continue the dialog, as he did when former students reached out. I want to believe you endured your class by a teacher with real experience and useful knowledge.

My best,
Lisa Bass

Unknown said...

I had Joel as my instructor for Visual Form as a night class before starting Art Center full time for transportation Design. It was a transforming experience as someone who dreamed of attending Art Center since becoming aware of it as a Junior in High School. I had always drawn cars since I was very young. My father was a comic book artist so I had access to materials and the encouragement to make my art. My talent was a fraction of my father's but enough to believe in my dream and finally to attend and graduate from A.C.

I consider my experience with Joel as a cornerstone of my complete Art Center Experience which was very positive. Everyone had to take Visual Form as a foundation class. I was part of the students who were not considered "artist" (fine art, illustration, photography and film) but as commercial design (advertising, packaging, graphic, industrial and transportation majors). Joel's class set the expectations for the level of craft and execution that is part of the Art Center Experience. He demonstrated patience as we painted and re painted the hundreds of swatches that became perfectly gradated grey and color scales. We became intimate with the materials with the process and with the idea of finding perfection in what we did.
Joel also helped to open our eyes to the world of understanding and making art. He invited the class to his studio located in a loft in downtown Los Angeles. We got to see his work for the first time. I still have a memory of The Door's "The end" playing from the Apocalypse Now sound track.

My condolences to Joel's family and friends.