Introduction to Art Schools: What Is Art? Who Is an Artist?

By Frederick H. Carlson

In the introduction to H.W. Janson’s classic “History of Art”, after much analysis, the author comes to the conclusion that a work of art is simply a creation made by human hands, not by nature. It is part of man’s inner nature to create, to communicate, to use symbols, and to seek approval for these activities while first satisfying the inner need to “make” something out of inanimate materials. Understanding two categories of what man “makes” helps us discern art’s motives in pure form, and will prove to be of assistance to those young people and their parents and guiding influences who will be using this site to help with planning for the future.

In the first category, man makes things that are reflective of the desire of the creator rather then the demands of the audience. Artistic creation in this first category is experienced by the viewer or audience for its own sake entirely. The artist has made a work that both serves his or her own need to express an idea through the use of particular materials, and uses a visual language requiring the audience to engage the message, motives, and skills of the artist.

In the second category, created objects, products and inventions that serve man’s desire to improve conditions and are meant to be utilized for a purpose, come from the same creative exploration, but have different end uses. In this second instance, the creator needs to engage the audiences’ or users’ needs to obtain a measurable efficiency of design and communication. In practice, there exist elements of crossover between these two categories, and people in the creative profession draw from both categories. It is useful for the young artist/creator to think about and gauge their comfort level within each relationship with an ‘audience’ or ‘market’ now, when planning for an educational experience in the art field, and in the future along their professional pathways.

Who is an artist?

Almost everyone begins life as one, as we have to conclude that the desire to create comes before the decision of what to create. Any observer of children past age 2 can see the universal activity of drawing leading into understanding of form and the world around the child, and later into the understanding and use of symbols and abstract elements which are the basis of art, language, writing, and other social activity. Unfortunately, the almost universal desire of the adolescent child to represent the world around them more and more “realistically” takes hold, and when the raw talent level does not respond to this misguided quest, the young artist often gives up the development of their own personal pictorial language entirely.

It would be naive to believe that everyone has the energy, desire, confidence or focus to express themselves artistically. It is impractical to guide every student to consider a career in the visual arts. Hard work and the desire to master one’s basic gift have to be grafted seamlessly into the pursuit of both educational and professional objectives. Personal vision in art, most importantly, should not be neglected. The users of this site should know there are many avenues in our educational and professional markets for the expression of creativity in art as part of any student’s individual growth and future career decisions.

Pursuing a career in art is certainly a challenge for all students, but in a world society that depends on imagination and communication in almost any field, no one should be discouraged from pursuing their personal visions. Businesses, entertainment markets, telecommunications entities, government and educational institutions, and companies involved in basic industry all share the need to present and communicate their own products and services more attractively and efficiently using people who have engaged the pursuit of excellence in imagination and technique.

The growth of the role of the artist in society has only the vision of the practitioner to limit their future. As you continue reading about more specifics involving advanced education in the art fields listed below, always remember that art is the substitution of “nothing” with “something”, and that “something” could be you and your vision as an artist.

  1. What Is Art?
  2. Professional Overview in the Arts
  3. Working as an Artist  
  4. The Challenges for the Artist
  5. What is a Portfolio?
  6. The Long View is Necessary
  7. Art Education
  8. Directions and Choices
  9. What Type of Art School Do You Want to Attend?
  10. When is the Art Major Important?
  11. Costs and Financial Aid
  12. Choosing an Art School
  13. Conclusion

About the Author

Frederick H. Carlson is one of the most well-known artist/illustrators in the mid-Atlantic region. No venue is too large or too small for his incisively drawn and lucidly painted pieces. He has executed everything from room-sized murals to LP covers. He drew over 150 portraits for National Review between 1990-1999.

Carlson is a 1977 Carnegie-Mellon University alumnus, and has been a freelancer for over 30 years. He has exhibited his art at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, the New York Society of Illustrators Cegep-St. Foy (Quebec), Dubendorf (Switzerland), the Manchester Craftsmens Guild, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and at Daystar/One World Gallery.

Fred was the National President of the Graphic Artists Guild from 1991-1993, the first non-NYC based artist to be so elected. He served on the Guild’s Executive Committee for 8 years. He has written extensively and has been published in national publications such as The Artist’s Magazine, Communication Arts, GAG News, Artists Market, and his work was featured in ART DIRECTION. He was one of the speakers addressing the Illustration Conference (ICON3) in Philadelphia in June 2003, and he served as a juror the same month at the 44th annual Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, PA.

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