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Atilly-what? Part I

It's a French word, so you get to say it with an accent: A-tel-yay.

The word itself simply means an artist's studio. But when an art school refers to itself as an Atelier, it means something very specific about the type of instruction that is offered.

For centuries up until the late-1800's, artists studied in a master's studio (or atelier) to learn and hone their craft. They practiced basic drawing and painting for years before attempting anything on their own.

They meticulously copied the best artwork that came before them--what we call Old Masters--to improve their skills. And they drew and painted from live models in order to produce the human form, which is the most difficult of all forms to reproduce and thus the benchmark of all good painting and drawing skill.

What these craftspeople knew and we have forgotten is that drawing and painting is a skills-based endeavor, which means it can be taught and learned. It is a rigorous pursuit that takes self-discipline, but it can be learned. So why isn't this approach taught anymore? What happened?

The Impressionists happened. And technology. In 1841, American oil painter John Goffe Rand invented the modern day metal paint tube, which made the transport of paint to the outdoors easy and accessible. Winsor & Newton acquired the patent, and the art world began an enormous transformation as painters took to the outdoors to capture light and shadow and color in nature as had never before been possible.

The Great Divide

The resulting Impressionist movement and the centuries-old studio approach (known as the "academic" style) weren't fundamentally opposites. But the heads of the French studios where skills-based techniques were taught and the impressionist artists who embraced the possibilities of new colors and transportable paints became serious enemies.

"Staid, out-dated, antique, false!" cried the Impressionists about the intensely accurate representations of the studio painters.

"Sloppy, vulgar, illegible, clumsy!" shouted the studio painters and leading artists about the vibrant colors and strange brush strokes of the Impressionists.

A great divide opened. A divide that had disastrous consequences over the following decades for skills-based

art instruction.

As Impressionism and its children--Cubism, Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism--ignited passion in the art world, the centuries-old practices of the ateliers were relegated to back rooms and basements.

Skills-based training and the practice of copying the Old Masters became dull and foolish to both artists and instructors.

As generations passed, the old methods of skills-based techniques were no longer taught at art schools and in university programs. Instead of the ability to paint the human form, "paint what you feel" became the benchmark of art.

The Atelier movement is small but energetic attempt to re-introduce the powerful skills-based training that has been displaced over the past 125 years.

Do you want to draw and paint in a realistic style? Are you frustrated with the lack of actual instruction in other places to improve your skills? Then Atelier training is for you.

In the next blog post, we'll cover the specifics of what atelier training can offer you.


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