Can you teach someone how to make art? That’s a tough question to investigate so first let’s say that it seems simpler asking if you can teach someone how to draw, to sculpt, to play music, to design a poem, et cetera.
Let’s take painting as our field of expression. Someone wants to learn how to paint artistically so they take a class on painting, and they learn rather well. After they finish the course they prepare to construct a painting, buy all the right brushes, paints, and buy a sturdy support as a board for the surface upon which they’re going to paint the imagery. And these are all the materials the instructor recommended.
So far, so good.
They already have a particular subject in mind, it may be their interpretation of a still-life or an expression of their mood, possibly both. They know how to paint, they have the right tools, and now they have subject and off they go. The confidence to do so is certainly there, they did very well in the class and are sure they will continue to do so outside the school studio.
Are they producing what we call art?
Now, if there were a school that claimed “study here and we will teach you how to make visual art” that would be quite a claim. Because if there were a formula or primer or recipe for making visual art I think it would cease to be art. I would say that would be more like a factory assembly line, similar to a paint-by-numbers image that does not re-present anything that the person wanted to express but only their mastery of the formula and technical skill in using the tools to get that result.
For instance, there have been and are those who are able to draw and paint as well as the 18th century painter Chardin (you may insert any artist’s name here), but they are not half the artist he was.
Don’t misunderstand me, technical skill and having the right tools to re-present an image are notable, maybe even foundational. Granted, both may be topics for a lively debate—what do we mean by technical skill in the field of painting, what are the right tools?—but here I only mean that these are what are necessary for the painter to achieve the desired imagery, however they construe “technical skill” and “right tools.”
Further, you see images that were painted on a rock surface from, say, 20,000 or more years ago and you think they are beautiful. You do not know the people who painted these images, don’t have a clue as to why they painted them, but you think that they are art. Why is that?
And if they are art, who taught them? Was there a “Bedrock School of Art”? Certainly, someone tried to do this previously however long before, then after one or several generations of artists they had a handle on painting at least as a craft. Although most of us would say that many if not all cave paintings fit what our society considers as art, it prods a re-thinking just what we mean by that term.
E.g., did our ancestors think that they were “making art”? If not, then what does that mean for the notion of teaching others to create art?