Art Atelier vs. University: A Measure Of Degree

'Do I get a degree...? ' This is the most common question asked when a student is considering whether or not to attend a traditional atelier-based fine art programme. Unlike most university arts programmes which can offer degrees in art — whether baccalaureate, masters, or in some instances Phd — an atelier(or academy) usually cannot(some have been able to more recently). Why not? And more importantly, does that matter? To some it does, others not so much. An atelier is traditionally a private studio of a professional artist who teaches their craft to a select number of students. In some cases a large number of students gives the impression of a school rather than a private studio, however the core values of a private atelier are still there — namely an adherence to traditional values and methods of teaching drawing and painting according to (primarily) 18th and 19th-century principles founded in the Royal Academy of Art in London and The École des Beaux Arts in Paris.

... atelier-based training is specialised, refined, and, most rewarding of all — results orientated. So while you do not get a piece of paper stating you can draw, you do produce drawings showing you can draw.

However, as artist training has changed quite a bit since then, the fact is that specialised learning institutions and/or highly refined training programmes such as 21st-century ateliers are just too niche for current government bodies to recognise their curriculums as diverse enough to warrant granting a degree status. The idea behind most university academia is quite liberal — meaning open minded, and thus providing a wide range of learning courses from which the student can choose to refine(specialise) in one of them — either with more education(masters degree/phd) or by practicing on their own. To the contrary, atelier-based training is specialised, refined, and, most rewarding of all — results orientated. So while you do not get a piece of paper stating you can draw, you do produce drawings showing you can draw.

The problem for universities is that they no longer have any specialist training in the arena of classical/academic art. The twentieth century really turned the art world on its head, and where art courses previously contained mandatory skill-based training classes in drawing from the antique sculpture and life model — with an emphasis on realism, the ethos of art training in schools dramatically changed from that of the external to the internal; or from objective reality to the subjective mind of the artist. What art was became more open to interpretation, and sadly, the more real something looked, the less interpretation there seemed to be taken from it, and thus it was deemed less valuable. As a result the teaching of realism in schools quickly fell out of fashion and stayed that way for a very long time.

Thankfully some artists who were still fortunate to have received atelier-style training(think R. H. Ives Gammell & Richard Lack) never lost their passion for producing realist(classical realist) artwork and passing on their knowledge to their students, who in turn passed it on to their students , etc., allowing the current trend of atelier-based art training to thrive. And today, there are so many skilled and talented artists creating amazing artwork thanks to the survival of that training, and of the desire from students to practice it — even without receiving a degree in the process.

And so does not receiving a degree matter? Well, to some it does and to others not so much. For the student wanting to learn how to draw and paint like the Old Masters and become a professional realist painter to the level of proficiency once taught prior to the twentieth century in schools and universities around the world, the answer is simple — with very few exceptions, there is no equivalent training found in universities anymore. For the student unsure of what type of artist they'd like to be, university is still a good option as it presents lots of variety — but nothing in terms of classical realism or representational art. So for some it's a good choice. For many countless others, it’s an expensive way to find out that while they may have a degree, they still would like to be able to draw better.