T IS DIFFICULT for parents to know what to do for their artistic son or daughter. Should he or she even be encouraged? It is next to impossible to make a living as an artist, art supplies and classes are expensive, and moral debauchery pervades contemporary art. I believe that being an artist is a rare vocation, but it is a vocation nonetheless and should be encouraged despite its many difficulties. If your teen is about to graduate from high school and is serious about becoming an artist, it is his responsibility to provide the passion and drive in pursuing such a path. It is your responsibility to guide him.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Buy the best quality art supplies you can afford. It makes a difference whether colored pencils are Crayola (student grade) versus Prismacolor (professional grade). It is better to have a few really excellent art tools than a wide array of cheap materials. Creating art is hard enough without having to battle art supplies.
2. Surround your child with examples of good-quality art. Visit art museums and check out books from the library. Have a framed piece of original art in your home. Travel abroad if possible. This will train his aesthetic sensibilities even before he learns anything formal about art history.
3. Formal instruction is important and worth the expense. The self-taught artist will make some progress at first and then experience long plateaus. Sometimes just a few words from an experienced teacher will save months or years of time. It will also help your child to gain the humility and maturity necessary to grow after hearing a harsh critique.
4. Find the best art instruction available in your area. Larger cities often have an Art Students League or art colleges that provide Saturday classes for children and teens (including need-based scholarships). Recreation centers are good for introducing a child to a new medium (pottery, for example) but are useless for providing higher-level training.
5. Encourage your child to enter art contests. During my teens, I won certificates, apparel, sports memorabilia, a bike, and the opportunity to attend a reception for foreign dignitaries. I also lost a lot of competitions. Since I never knew which contest I would win, I entered them all. It got me in the habit of pursuing every opportunity and not taking it personally when I lost.
6. After high school, don’t send your child to an art college. I don’t know of any degree-granting Catholic art schools that provide high-quality training. Secular art colleges are dens of iniquity that sell very expensive, very useless degrees.
7. Encourage your child to get intellectual training first, then technical training. Artists are an integral part of culture. Artists need to have a solid formation in the language of Catholic culture before they can be capable of forming a visual sentence in that language. I would encourage future artists to get a degree in the classics, history, literature, or theology.
8. Your child will need to have a practical skill as well. Art does not pay the bills. Even if he does become a successful artist, it will not be for at least a decade or two. He should consider learning a trade or getting a certificate in a high-demand field. Future free-lance artists will benefit greatly from taking classes in small business management and understanding taxes, accounting, etc.
9. Professional training in the arts is best found in an atelier setting. An atelier is a professional artist who takes on a small group of students and trains them in the academic method. You can find a list of ateliers on the Art Renewal Center website www.artrenewal.org.
10. The only way to learn to draw the figure is to draw the figure. Nothing can replace the knowledge of form gained by life drawing, but it should only be undertaken by serious students in a professional setting. Figure drawing is not the lascivious event imagined by non-artists. It is an extremely challenging exercise that is far closer to the cold analysis of a medical professional. Students over the age of eighteen should have a talk with their parents and confessors before deciding to take a Life Drawing class.