• Zoe Papas

The Atelier Way

Something strange has happened to art education in the past century. Many people with art degrees have never learned how to formally draw and paint. Instead, artistic skill is often seen as a hinderance to creativity, particularly at the MFA level. As someone who has an appreciation for classical art traditions, I struggled to find an MFA program that would allow me to hone my skills to create better realistic art instead of lofty, conceptual art. I have heard many stories from my students and friends about drawing professors who never did demonstrations for students, adopting the attitude of you either have "it" or you don't. To these professors, art could not be taught.


"If you felt you were "good enough," you would plateau and never get beyond your current level."

My experience in the drawing program at the University of Central Florida proved otherwise. It seemed that art could be taught because I saw myself and others improve through active instruction. At the end of my undergrad, I felt much more confident in my drawing abilities. However, something one of my professors at UCF said stuck with me. The idea was that if you felt you were "good enough," you would plateau and never get beyond your current level. In other words, you could be stuck drawing at the same level and never get any better.


A few years ago, I discovered the Florence Academy of Art online. I was amazed by the beautiful artwork I saw and knew I wanted to draw like those students and instructors. But the Florence Academy of Art's certificate programs are years long, very intensive, and there is no college degree at the end. Having a masters degree would give me the opportunity to teach at a college level and give me more opportunities as an artist. So the certificate program wasn't something that was right for me at the time, even though I really admired the vision of the school and the intensity of the teaching.



Drawing of a Bargue plate
In-progress drawing of a Bargue plate


This past March I discovered that the Florence Academy of Art was offering a brand new MA program, which focused on learning the atelier method as well as how to teach it to students. An atelier, which is French for an artists' workshop or studio, refers to an art school that teaches realism. So I could get the masters degree I was looking for without completely abandoning the classical art traditions I love. The program is also reduced-residency, so it was doable for me to spend 6 weeks out of the year for 3 years in the program.


So that brings me to today. I am now living in New Jersey and 3 days into the program. The instruction has been fantastic so far! It has taught me to slow down, look harder, and focus on the precision of my marks. The first 4 lines of my cast drawing took nearly an hour! The reason for this is I was using a method of measurement I was new to called sight-size. In this method, it is crucial to get an accurate rectangle defining the outer boundaries of the drawing, called a notional space box, at the exact size you see the subject. If this box is even slightly wrong, it will cause problems as the drawing progresses. So those 4 lines were also the most important! The level of intensity makes for a more accurate drawing and will help me to develop better drawing habits in the long run.


I'm really enjoying the program so far, and I'm very excited for the improvement this will make to my art practice and teaching. I'm looking forward to sharing more of the art I create in the program and beyond!



Drawing of lips
2-hour drawing study of a sculpture cast
"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." - Michelangelo

Additional Reading


There's some very interesting history regarding the Paris Salon and the Impressionists that lead art education to be what it is today.


More on atelier schools: http://www.davinciinitiative.org/what-is-atelier-training.html



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