Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Apprenticeships : Open Thread

One of the few solid (potential) solutions that came of #class seemed to appeal to artists theoretically, but not so much in practice. Or at least none of the artists who discussed it seemed all that enthusiastic about it. Still, I think it's worth considering more, because it has that rare quality of solving two problems at once. The first problem was how too many emerging artists must take themselves out of the art world/studio context to earn a living. The second problem was how once an artist has made it "big," they have an enormous amount of power to help other struggling artists, but no easy, structured ways to do so without taking their attention away from their own studio.

The potential solution to this that came up was to reinstate formal apprenticeships in accomplished working artists' studios as a means of 1) continuing an artist's education post-art school and, in particular, teach them things they would never learn in a classroom (like how best to structure your studio and/or staff [it is, after all, a workshop]; how to protect yourself with documents like consignment agreements, commission agreements, or stipulations for museum exhibitions; how to interact with wealthy patrons; meeting powerful art world insiders...things you might take years to learn on your own time and dime); and 2) provide employment so that newly graduated artists are remaining within the art sphere (learning valuable lessons) while earning their way to their own art market, rather than having to get jobs in restaurants or offices.

Now I know plenty of artists with larger studios hire other artists as assistants or take on interns, but the apprenticeship model we discussed would be more formally structured to ensure that education remained a central part of it (rather than just running errands or stretching canvases all day). Each artist apprenticing would, over the course of time in the studio, get opportunities to work in different positions, and time would be set aside for lectures and such covering a practicum style curriculum.

What the hosting artist would get out of this (other than qualified labor) could include tax breaks or other incentives from the state or perhaps grants from institutions. No artist would be forced to participate, obviously, but in discussing issues of "Does the System Work?" or "Access" one of the things that must be acknowledged is how very established artists have very little motivation to change the system, and in that way also become part of the problem. Apprenticeships could be their way of giving back and helping their fellow artists. Just like it used to be.

Of course, as in all such things, there are demons hiding in the details. Consider this an open thread on the feasibility/desirability of reinstating formal artist apprenticeships in the art world.

Labels: artists careers, open thread


Blogger J. Thomas said...

Ed, I actually think this is kinda brilliant. I graduated two years ago from a small MFA program (8 students) and now, just 22 months after getting out of school, only 3 of us still work on our art in any dedicated manner and continue to show. The other 5 are just as talented and intelligent, but I see them struggle with two things: a) finding the energy and time to make work after slogging away at other jobs for 40-50 hours per week, and b) finding the motivation to stay part of the art world conversation when they're holed away in some low-rent corporate job or whatever.

But in addition to providing continued training, compensation, and access to young artists, what I like most about the apprenticeship model would be a reconsideration of the relationship between young and value. It would set up an expectation that an artist's mature work comes about after an even longer incubation period. So hopefully we could get away from this notion, as one artist recently put it, that you've either become an international sensation by the time you're 28 or you will toil away in obscurity (she did acknowledge the number of artists who "emerge" in their 40s, but wasn't particularly keen on not being seen in her 30s). And maybe shows like YTJ and certain biennials would fall by the wayside as we collectively championed a longer period of time to hone one's work and (dare i say) craft. Thanks!

3/24/2010 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger christian said...

Well Ed, I think you 'hit the nail on the head.' I think it is a great idea that should really work across an entire spectrum of arts, crafts, and trades.

We need to revisit the revival of real vocational training in our schools, along with apprenticeship programs.

3/24/2010 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger scottewen said...

Crazy. I was *just* having this conversation with my wife this morning. I am a self taught painter and I was telling her that lately, I've felt like I've hit a wall. That I need direction and guidance from a seasoned artist I respect to help break through to the next level.

Unfortunately, every artist that I've reached out to thus far has responded with silence or evasion which I think speaks to your last point about the lack of motivation/incentive of the established artists part. In a way, I don't blame them. I realize I'm asking for something without much to offer in return beyond appreciation. I only wish I could somehow impress that I ask out of a desire to get better, not to cut corners.

We seem to live in a time of unhealthy competition and protectionism--having lost a sense of collective in the arts.

3/24/2010 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I'm not convinced. Why are aspiring artists paying exorbitant tuition fees? The guild/apprentice system has been replaced by the academic system and what the implication are behind these questions is that the academic system is failing their students.

So what I would ask is, what are the recent art school graduates missing? What do the wish they were taught or exposed to in art school?

3/24/2010 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree a bit with the last sentence of scottewen's post as being the biggest roadblock to apprenticeship. In fact, I think competition and a bit of hidden uneasiness on most artists' part concerning their and their work's self-worth have even hindered maintaining post-school relationships with many of my former art school classmates. No one wants to continually answer that question, "Are you still making art?"
Not wanting others to surpass you or take away opportunities you could have for yourself, fear of giving away your secrets. Or maybe it's just introversion...
I did actually work for a few different teachers in school, which was similar to an apprentice model, and mostly what I got out of that was that I didn't want to try to make a living off of my art starting out of the gate. A few other students I worked with had a lot of resentment at getting paid so little to work so hard.
Many printmaking studios do have apprenticeships, my sister did one, but it was also low paying and sort of like having a crappy job. She did learn a lot, though, and now has her own shop.
Of course, if you want to become a doctor, you have to work really hard at a residency for little or no pay, but there is a more guaranteed reward at the end of that tunnel.

It is a big problem that all support seems to vanish in thin air once you have your degree in hand, and I think apprenticeships are valuable, but they do happen now on a limited basis within school. Mostly they're seen as a way for teacher/artists to get low cost labor. They can help, but I wonder, how much?

3/24/2010 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what I would ask is, what are the recent art school graduates missing? What do the wish they were taught or exposed to in art school?
My school has an awesome career development class, part of which was grant writing that ended in some students actually winning the grants they applied for. Problem-- not enough people taking the class.
School time is so short, so valuable, artists would rather focus on developing their own work. In school you also have access to an awesome community of fellow artists to bounce ideas off of and critique your work, so you have to choose to give up a little of one or the other depending on which classes you choose to take.
Many artists choose to work outside of the art world after school because you can make more money and that in turn may make it easier to devote time to your work... it's a toss up, work in the art world and not make much money, or work outside the art world and risk never getting back in. I've done both, and I make more art working outside the art world.

3/24/2010 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

As John Luc Picard would say in Star Trek Next Gen: "Make it so, number 1"

Yes. This is a good start. My own experience in an art foundry/ fabrication shop was entirely self-driven (though it only offered one portion of the equation- the strenuous part, no business help, no studio critiques, etc), and art school rarely offers practical advice, but instead theoretical idealism. A bridging of the gap would be very helpful.

How do we make it so?

3/24/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

It seems that you infer the academic system is failing their students.
Which I agree with, I doubt there is a perfect fix, but I am open to any suggestions.
Unless struggling artists can unite themselves (like herding cats) and force change on a broken system (in which the break is still not pinpointed) no real change will come about.
I think the system is broken because of the shear numbers of those coming out of art school and so few opportunities.
Apprenticeships at there worst may only delay the inevitable failure of many of those artists.
At its best it could widen the field and spread out more opportunities.
Without human interaction differing feelings and expressions of art are simply ignored by those who never venture past their small circle of insiders.
Situations which cause more interactions will benefit art and artists.

3/24/2010 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

oopsy! It is "Jean-Luc Picard"

3/24/2010 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Problem-- not enough people taking the [career development] class.
School time is so short, so valuable, artists would rather focus on developing their own work.

The old wisdom (ok, ancient) was that the first few years after graduate school were for unlearning what you learned in school (there was no such thing as a "career development" class)

What is it with developing your own work? This is a never ending process. It's not like the artworld is going to go away, it will be there tomorrow. If one is worried that the stylistic rush will pass you by, you are in trouble already. Whatever is 'hot' when you are in school, it's not three years later. The art mags keep grinding it out.

3/24/2010 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

@George, about the last part:

Life for each of us on this planet is limited. I think an artist should do everything in their power to have their work seen under their own terms in the here and now. Consider how the Barnes Foundation is changing from its original intention, or the money vultures can make off of a dead artists' work. An artist has their work and their integrity and the blood flowing through their veins.
On a more practical level- my studio only has so much space.

3/24/2010 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get it either, but the fact is that schools are offering such things as career development classes and they are not the most popular item on the list. Surely such classes don't teach you everything, but they certainly help from a business point of view.

I think that many artists today fear that if they don't find their niche when they are in school and have unlimited time, resources, and support available, they never will.

3/24/2010 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

FWIW, I'm using "you" and "one" interchangeably, meaning I'm responding to the idea, not the person.

In fact, I think competition and a bit of hidden uneasiness on most artists' part concerning their and their work's self-worth have even hindered maintaining post-school relationships...

If you are an artist, who are you in competition with?

What do you mean by competition? Are we talking raw ambition? Or are we talking about the art?

Raw ambition = "How many artists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Ans: Two, one to screw it in and one to kick the chair out from under him"

Talking about the art? = You are in competition with only yourself.

3/24/2010 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I'm not exactly a big-time artist (as you say), but I do take on up to 3 interns at any given time from my department - and they are paid an hourly rate by the school. They're mostly undergrads, but I think my style is more in the vein of what you sketch out above. I never have them do admin, run errands or stretch canvas. They research, sketch ideas out with me in the early phases of a work or series, work with me and -sometimes- consultants as we move forward, manage my projects, and - with my ongoing critique - often even produce some of the components in my work. I also always insist that they take an additional 3 credits of independent study with me, where we do nothing but discuss their practice in relation to contemporary topics that interest them. It's the most rewarding and productive part of my job. One of my interns this year - who project managed my recent piece/solo show at Greylock Arts - just got a full scholarship and stipend to grad school, and is beginning to show more regularly where we live. I actually get emotional whenever he thanks me for my mentorship - which is often. I've both gained and learned a lot from him / them as well....

3/24/2010 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The guild/apprentice system has been replaced by the academic system and what the implication are behind these questions is that the academic system is failing their students.

So what I would ask is, what are the recent art school graduates missing? What do the wish they were taught or exposed to in art school?

I see it kind of differently. No one who graduates with an MBA expects to be a CEO in three years. No one who graduates with an MD expects to be head of surgery in three years. No one who graduates with a JD expects to be a Senior Partner in three years. But so many of the people who graduate with an MFA set their sites on being able to live off their artwork in a very short time, being their own boss, essentially the head of their own studio company. It's an unrealistic career path.

New doctors, lawyers, and business people all end up first working under the guidance of someone with more experience and then, as they prove themselves, work up to the Boss positions.

Coming out of college with a degree doesn't suggest you're necessarily ready to be the president of your own company in any other field, does it? Why should it for artists?

3/24/2010 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

@Bernard, You misread my remark. I was trying to balance off the idea of taking the "career development" class with the reality that whatever art a MFA student is making, it's less important than they think it is.

3/24/2010 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

an apprenticeship after art school sounds kind of ass backwards. finish school with a load of debt, work for free? how does this replace the day-job? and i assume we are talking about nyc.

maybe an apprenticeship INSTEAD of art school.

3/24/2010 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Uh...the apprenticeship is NOT working for's a paid position. As noted above "provide employment so that newly graduated artists are remaining within the art sphere (learning valuable lessons) while earning their way to their own art market, rather than having to get jobs in restaurants or offices."

Although an apprenticeship instead of art school is certainly an option, I tend to think established artists would also like to hire the brightest workers, just like any other employer, and they too deserve well-educated workers.

3/24/2010 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I'll agree the false expectation a MFA grad will be able to live off their artwork in a very short time, being their own boss, essentially the head of their own studio company. It's an unrealistic career path.

This implies that most graduates will have to find some other means of employment.

The value in being an apprentice, studio assistant, or TA is good for only a short time. In my opinion, the longer one does this the less likely one will become an important artist. One may learn what is required to have a reasonably successful career but the danger is that they become followers, members of 'the school of' their mentor.

I do not believe that being an artist is the same as a "profession" (law, medicine, engineering etc) What most people miss is that more is required than a skill set, good technique in some medium. Really good artists are like seers, they have the right instinct about what to do, (usually early in their artistic career, but not always). I don't think this can really be taught although it may rub off somewhat.

3/24/2010 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Let me spin this another way. It's about studio time.

After grad school, I worked as a carpenter. I made enough money working in a week to pay my rent for a month (Cheap studio, no frills) The mantra was one for the rent, one for the art. In other words, I worked a bit over one week to cover expenses and then banked a month in the studio. I would agree that this is harder to do today, rents seem higher, but it's the idea.

So rather than taking any kind of low paying job what one really needs to acquire is a skill set that will pay more than a low wage once you get established. Then you dance with the devil and find out whether you really want to make art, or buy a BMW.

3/24/2010 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

The "established" artists do not feel so secure, especially in handing over the rolodex to the kid stretching canvasses.

The competition is for attention from any and every part of the art world and art public and to deny this is to deny human nature.

The schools especially feature faculty hellbent on making sure they are not creating their future competition, hence the emphasis on students talking about theory instead of professional practice.

3/24/2010 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The "established" artists do not feel so secure, especially in handing over the rolodex to the kid stretching canvasses.

Simple confidentiality agreements can take care of that.

The competition is for attention from any and every part of the art world and art public and to deny this is to deny human nature.

The mistake in that assessment, in my opinion, is the underlying assumption that the more you keep to yourself, the more attention you'll get. I truly believe the more you give away, the more attention you'll get.

Let me spin this another way. It's about studio time.

yes, it's about each artists' own private studio time (which you'll have just as much of if you work 30 hours a week as a waiter or work 30 hours a week as an apprentice)...but it's also about what you're exposed to, learning, thinking about, and doing when you're not in your own studio that will benefit you when you are.

3/24/2010 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Teri Proschuk said...

Apprenticeships are unquestionably in great need and hard to find. I’m a student at the Art Students league and they do offer apprenticeships, however I don’t believe they are paid, which still leaves you needing to work full time. After I graduated from art school I was left feeling in shock and disoriented. I quickly realized I knew nothing about the business end of the art world. It was difficult going from living in a dorm and having time to focus on art all day, to paying rent by working low paying jobs that had nothing to do with art. Years later, I’m still working full time, but have managed to still produce a large amount of work in spite of a grueling work day. It’s a hard life that leaves you with little time for family or friends and until this past week the need for health care is a huge concern as well. On the bright side, working full time is great eye opener into the injustices of the corporate world, and thankfully I was able to put some of that anger and frustration into my art instead of allowing it to discourage me. That’s the life of a journeyman, and if you’re a real artist, you won’t stop making art even if you’re not recognized for it.

3/24/2010 04:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree w/ all of what you said in your 3:52 post, but how do you get enough artists to agree with you in order to actually create a market? The only artist with an apprentice-type situation to comment to this thread has them paid for by the school he teaches at, so I feel that money would still be an issue for artists in most cases.
The apprenticeships that I know of in existence are low paying enough to make artists consider other options over an apprenticeship, because you still have to weigh a potential learning experience over being better able to pay your bills and work in your studio in the method that George described.
Sometimes you learn things from working outside the art world that are also beneficial to your art career.
Like for example, I'm at work now, and if I didn't have a day job at a computer, I wouldn't have time to read your blog, and think about it all day long, LOL!!!

3/24/2010 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Mat, they are not creating their future competition

Bull, how can you make such a gross generalization?

The question of an emphasis on theory instead of practice may have some attachment to general academia. Regardless, if someone wants to learn how to draw, just draw, you don't need someone to hold your hand, there are no tricks.

3/24/2010 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

but how do you get enough artists to agree with you in order to actually create a market?

That is the trickiest part, yes. I would hope a university would pilot a test program to work out the curriculum and try out a series of motivations for the established artists. My best guess is that nothing will work as well in that department as financial incentives (i.e., tax breaks or perhaps grants).

3/24/2010 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous jen d said...

great post. 5 years ago, i completed an 18-month apprenticeship with a professional artist and it was an incredible learning experience (that i'm still learning from, as i check in with my mentor regularly). i did not go to art school, and the focus of the apprenticeship was the art career--maintaining a working studio, curator correspondence, exhibit planning and proposals, shipping artwork, legal documents and procedures (periodic art critiques, but she was very careful about not influencing my development too much)-- most lessons learned came about from decades of this artist's experience. she had belonged to a now-defunct master/apprentice alliance, and continued (continues) the practice of taking on and mentoring/guiding apprentices.

i need to point out that this apprenticeship was NOT paid. the alliance she was a member of actually forbid it because it changed the nature of the apprenticeships. apprentices who just thought of it as a "job" and were not serious artists actually ended up wasting the time of the mentoring artist. a surprising number would drop out after 3-6 months. so the guidelines became: the apprentice gives 1 day per week for a year-long committment. (of course the first 3 months are important for making sure everyone likes each other and wants to continue to the year mark.)

mentoring artists give lessons, time, training, mentoring (in the case of my mentor, the apprentice can call her for questions guidance for as long as they want). they get that extra pair of hands and good quality work. the apprentice gives their time, and gets invaluable lessons (my mentor put lots of energy into timing and integrating lessons into my one day a week). after seeing how many apprentices dropped out or flaked out on the apprenticeship before the 6 month mark, i see that for mentoring artists, giving that apprenticeship is a real gift to other artists and the community.

of course, some mentoring artists could take advantage of the system to get free labor and not give much in the way of training, but that's where a organization such as this defunct-alliance would come in handy. quality control all around!

3/24/2010 05:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mostly they're seen as a way for teacher/artists to get low cost labor. They can help, but I wonder, how much?"
I was enticed after graduate school into a studio assistantship/apprenticeship by an established artist who promised career guidance/introduction to galleries,curators/help with exhibition application,etc. What I received in turn for many hours toiling away and literally making her work for her was $10 an hour and being treated worse than chattal. There must be some sort of oversight so that this kind of abuse is not perpetuated. Unfortunately, I have heard many of the same stories from other artist assistants/recent MFA grads.

3/24/2010 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

My advice to artists in art schools is: take the technical classes, like woodwork, metalwork, heck, even a drawing class if drawing is important to your work.
Photography if you are doing video work.

If you find artists around you all have "something to say", and if you feel you don't, then.. Don't "try" to say something. Explore your materials, and let them speak for themselves.

Cedric C

3/24/2010 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I apprenticed with someone to learn how to carve wood, although my teacher was a stone carver, and I learned alot from working with him in his studio for a few years. I've also invited apprentices into my studio and it's been a great experience, all my assistants have become life long friendships.

3/24/2010 09:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Shilo said...

This is a great idea but it has what I see as two large holes in it.

1. Achieving commercial success as an artist is no correlative to the ability to be a half decent teacher or mentor.

2. Tax breaks or grant funding as incentive to artists to take on apprentices would have to be pretty damn significant for millionaire artists (or hell, multi-thousandaire artists) to give a crap about, especially if the artists in question are really busy or is expected to produce a high volume of work.

If the financial incentive WAS significant enough to get artists attention, the potential for abuse would be ripe - the "apprentices" would very likely find themselves as just another assistant stretching canvasses and getting coffee or dealing with administrative details of the artists personal lives.

I'm not slagging assisting or apprenticing as a job worth having for the development of an artists growth. My husband and many of our other artist friends have worked as assistants to notable and often blue-chip artists. Some have learned valuable skills or gained insight into others processes, but others have dealt with myriad ridiculous chores for drug-addicted or no-excuses douchebag artists. I beleive both experiences have a certain value.

Art & America had an issue in the late 80's where many now-prominent artists spoke about their experiences as assistants when they were first starting out. Many of those experiences were largely positive and quite similar to the idea that you have proposed here.
I have in my stacks somewhere I'll try to dig it out.

I think that somehow in the time since, the basic concept of having assistants has become much more accepted and as such you end up with a lot of situations where assistants are having experiences akin to anon 5:43.

The only way I can see the apprenticeship concept actually working properly is if there is serious likely MFA-program led oversight in the manner of the cited medical residency model.

3/25/2010 01:23:00 AM  
Blogger Tina Mammoser said...

For parties willing and able on both side, this would be excellent!

And why not integrate it either in school or supplemental to school? Perhaps a semester of apprenticeship or (dare I say it) just a part time job either in a studio or gallery.

I say this from the perspective of someone who studied with an artist rather than through art school, and then worked in a gallery part-time while starting out in my own studio. The benefits of being alongside (not apprentice really, I worked on my projects) a working artist was so educational. She always told me about her current projects, her galleries, her exhibitions. She encouraged me to enter shows and helped me prepare and choose work, and do forms. Her husband was also a professional framer (a bonus!) so I had advice on that side too. She helped me learn about the gallery world - giving me my first recommendation to a small gallery and thus my first solo show - and encouraged me through the early resume building. I met a lot of other older artists and joined societies or network groups through them.

The rather indirect benefit of an apprentice/mentor type relationship is that old cliche - it's who you know. Art graduates who want to work or practice outside academia need to network with people outside academia.

3/25/2010 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Ellen said...

Hello Edward,

Thanks for the for the post about apprenticeship. I would like to add mentoring as a teaching/learning partnership between two or more artists.

I graduated 3 years ago from art school and have been involved for two years in the school's newly-hatched mentoring program. Although there are wrinkles to iron out, the program has proved popular and successful to most of the participants. Some lasting friendships are developing.

This is strictly a volunteer program on a 1 to 1 basis. Information in the form of practical advice and lots of listening and support are offered. I can envision apprenticeships growing out of this program post-graduation.

3/25/2010 08:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one thing: I have yet to meet a recent MFA who expects to make a living off their work in the first three years in the field, or ever for that matter. Maybe this is a Brooklyn attitude, I don't know.

There is plenty of frustration about the studio/job/money equation though. Apprenticeships, with tax incentives etc. could be great. Though again, I know an artist, now mid thirties, who has worked for a blue-chip Chelsea artist for half a dozen years without much career coaching, for fifteen dollars an hour. This is NOT good. In fact, it has had the undesired effect of convincing this particular artist that there is a real class barrier that can never be overcome.


3/28/2010 07:30:00 AM  

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