Friday, November 19, 2021

Inside the Famous Artists School

The Famous Artists School, which was formed more than 70 years ago, was an early pioneer of remote learning. 

Some tantalizing glimpses of the correspondence course were featured in a half-hour TV program called "Operation Success." The Norman Rockwell Museum has posted the show on YouTube.

The school hired a team of professional instructors who in turn had studied with the master illustrators. It was the job of these F.A.S. instructors to read and respond to the student work and to keep their files up to date. 

The voiceover says that this instructor is creating a painted criticism, based on student efforts mailed to the school from thousands of miles away.

The instructor redraws the student's composition and paints a "better" version. The amount of care and labor that went into this process is impressive, and the company became very successful. 

But alas, it eventually fell victim to corruption and mismanagement, as David Apatoff recounts in his book on Al Dorne. 


• Here are my previous blog posts about the Famous Artists School and its instructors. 

• It's still possible to find vintage sets of the Famous Artists Course

• The Norman Rockwell Museum produced a single book about the history of the Famous Artists School. 

• The other great source of instruction about mid-20th century illustration is Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis.


Stephen and Nyree said...

I have seen one of those original binders, they are so cool. Attending this school would have been so cool!

Ruth Squitieri said...

I happened to get my hand on those lessons years ago and love looking through them. It's amazing to see how detailed each critique was! 3 hours on each lesson, handpainted, dictated, etc! Really cool documentary. I wonder if each lesson had to be finished in a certain time frame. They sure are intense and very time-consuming.

Jim Douglas said...

At 1:57, Dorne says, "The Famous Artists School was founded on one fundamental principle: It takes success to teach success." Today, I think MasterClass Online Classes is founded on the same idea. Christina Aguilera teaches Singing. Steve Martin teaches Comedy. Natalie Portman teaches Acting. Gordon Ramsay teaches Cooking. Something about this approach to learning is tempting but dubious. Those who have "made it" ought to have valuable advice, but having a famous teacher does not ensure success.

rock995 said...

I took the course and loved their ring binder text books. It was, of course, a later iteration of the faculty but guys like Lyman Anderson were sending me great crit of my amateur efforts. That video just knocked me out! All of the short interviews with the Founders were entertaining and wow...Norman Rockwell had a deep resonant voice that belied his rather frail appearance. THANK YOU so much!! Rock

Stephanie Plunkett said...

Thank you so much for posting a piece about this video, Jim. We've been honored to act as stewards of the Famous Artists School Collection, donated to the Norman Rockwell Museum by former FAS owners Magdalen and Robert Livesey. We have digitized the school's films, including instructional and advertising pieces, they are a fascinating look at post-war attitudes about art as a transformative and viable profession.


Stephanie Plunkett, Chief Curator, Norman Rockwell Museum