Roots and Wings: The Tao of Teaching


Yesterday I received an email from my former student Roger Derrick, which jump-started this post in my mind. Roger wanted to show me some new works in progress. I was astonished to see how far he had come since being in my class. The goal of my teaching is to cultivate each student’s understanding of the underlying principles that inform the decision-making process, giving them the ability to come up with the appropriate course of action in any situation. This approach allows an artist to continue to develop just the way Roger has, through determination, hard work and applied logic.

Teaching is no different than parenting. When people learn that I am a father, the first thing they ask is, “Are your kids artists?” My reply is always, “No, they’re not me! They get to choose their own paths.”

Now, many parents want their children to follow in their footsteps. They want their kids to come back and ask for advice when there are important decisions to make, regardless of their age. Obviously, these parent’s intentions are good. They want what’s best for their children, but they base their counseling on their own priorities. It’s only natural to want what’s best for your offspring! Right? But natural for whom? I raised my children to think for themselves based on understanding and good judgment. I chose to support their interests rather than imposing my own. As a result, they grew up to be independent thinkers, more than capable of making their own life choices. I couldn’t be any prouder or happier of them, regardless of the paths they follow.

My goal as a teacher is the same as my goals as a parent, to allow my students to develop into the best artists they can be, and not a replication of myself. There’s a very famous poem by Dennis Waitley about parenting, entitled “Roots and Wings”. Here’s the poem:

If I had two wishes, I know what they would be
I’d wish for Roots to cling to, and Wings to set me free;
Roots of inner values, like rings within a tree;
and Wings of independence to seek my destiny.
Roots to hold forever to keep me safe and strong,
To let me know you love me, when I’ve done something wrong;
To show me by example, and helps me learn to choose,
To take those actions every day to win instead of lose.
Just be there when I need you, to tell me it’s all right,
To face my fear of falling when I test my wings in flight;
Don’t make my life too easy, it’s better if I try,
And fail and get back up myself, so I can learn to fly.
If I had two wishes, and two were all I had,
And they could just be granted, by my Mom and Dad;
I wouldn’t ask for money or any store-bought things.
The greatest gifts I’d ask for are simply Roots and Wings.

When it comes to teaching art there are two basic approaches:

1)You can teach what you do.

2)You can teach the underlying fundamental principles of understanding.

Those who teach what they do have very specific rules regarding not only technique but what to do in every given situation. In other words a strict edict to follow. Unfortunately this results in students whose work strongly mimics that of their teacher. The better the student, the closer the adherence. Everyone turns into a some version of the master!

I choose the fundamental understanding route. If you know why things work then you have choices in every given situation; you do what you do based on your artistic intent and not anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean I eschew technique. On the contrary, my teaching is very technical because it’s vitally important to have the ability to manifest the choices you’re making.

I love it when no apparent stylistic imprint of myself is evident in the work of a former student. It’s my understanding that Jean Leon Gerome – the great academic painter of the 19th Century and one of the most revered educators of his time – shared the same philosophy. This enabled him to develop students as diverse as Thomas Eakins and William McGregor Paxton. Each of those artists took what they learned and were able to form their own unique personality and point of view.

I thought about the past week, where I had the great privilege of seeing a new show of paintings by my former student, TM Davy, a series of beautiful unique and innovative paintings of horses at the 11R gallery in New York City. I also saw, on Facebook, two great paintings by former students Billy Norrby and Martin Wittfooth. I received an email from Steve Birmbaum, the Assistant Director of Media at SVA. Steve had interviewed another long ago student, Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), a highly successful Chelsea gallery artist. Steve wrote, “The interview went great and Brian had a lot of wonderful things to say about you and your class during his time at SVA.” A few weeks ago, I learned another of my past students, Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, was developing, for 20th Century Fox Animation, a feature film based on “The Dam Keeper”, his 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated short. The incredible thing about all these artists is that you would never know they all studied with the same teacher. They took their roots and flew to the heavens.

This week my new continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts will be starting. It’s a perfect opportunity to self-reflect and ask yourself, “Do I follow in someone else’s footsteps or do I want to grow roots and wings?”

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Fridays
12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Jan 27 – Apr 21 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Saturdays
10:00AM – 4:00PM  • Jan 28 – April 29 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page on my website.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

A special bonus field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and analyze some of greatest portraits in the collection will take place on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Fall Portrait Painting & Figure Painting Classes with Marvin Mattelson at SVA in NYC

Featured Artist: Carole Katz

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The Department of Continuing Education at the School of Visual Arts has a display case outside their offices where they exhibit outstanding work created by current students. For the month of September, my student Carole Katz is being featured. The work will be on view at 209 E. 23rd Street in New York City. Enter through the rear of the lobby.

I’m so proud of Carole and what she has accomplished. Despite running her family’s business and attending to her many familial responsibilities, Carole somehow manages to squeeze in my CE painting class each week. This is the only time she gets to devote to her passion of painting from life. The primarily focus of my teaching is on having each student develop the mindset of an artist. As Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.” I don’t teach a specific style, contrary to the way most academic painting is taught, today. It’s vitally important to me that my students do not to lose their sense of self. I feel teaching style, is the proverbial “throwing out the baby with the bath water”. The Japanese poet Basho said it best, “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old masters; seek what they sought.” Carole’s sense of soulfulness comes through loud and clear. I’ve tried to nurture her ability to put on the canvas what she sees in her heart and I think she’s doing splendidly well.

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Here’s what Carole has to say about her experience of studying with me:

“I’ve taken art classes for many years in both New Jersey and NYC. I’ve always felt that, being a realist artist, something was missing in every painting and/ or drawing class that I took. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I couldn’t explain what I was missing, but I knew there were missing pieces to the art instruction that I was getting.

And then I attended Marvin’s portrait painting class, and I realized I had found the teacher with the knowledge and technique that I knew I had been missing. He was the teacher I had been looking for. His talent, ability, depth of knowledge and generosity in his teaching sets him far apart from other art teachers and puts him in a class by himself.

I feel very fortunate to have found him and to have been able to study drawing and painting with a true modern-day master artist.  His portrait painting class and his drawing workshop have both transformed my skills and brought them to a higher level. I will continue to study with him because every new class brings new insights and knowledge that help me continue to evolve in my art.”

Carole_Katz2
I believe there’s a general misconception that in order to be a highly accomplished realistic artist one must put one’s life on hold and devote oneself to five years of intense study. Obviously the more you practice the better your chances of succeeding. According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. But practice alone guarantees nothing. The most important aspect of becoming masterful is learning to think like a master – it’s a contextual shift in the way one sees the world and I believe that’s what distinguishes my approach to teaching from others, and I know Carole, as well as many others, would wholeheartedly agree, as you can see by reading the feedback of many current and former students.

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This fall I will again be teaching two continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Realistic Portrait & Figure Painting
Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Sep 23 – Dec 16 • 12 Sessions
Register online for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Saturdays • 10:00AM -4:00PM  • Sep 24 – Dec 17 • 12 Sessions
Register online for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

Carole_Katz1

Register now, or forever hold your piece (of charcoal)

Marvin Mattelson interviews himself!

Detail of Marvin’s drawing demo from a previous year:
Dustin-draw2

My 5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop at the School of Visual Arts in NYC starts on this coming Monday, June 6th, and runs until Friday, June 10th, so I decided to pose some deeply probing questions to myself so that potential students could get a better idea of why they should sign up today.

Q: Why your workshop when there are so many to choose from?

A: Good question! First you’d be helping me line my pockets with gold. Just kidding, I will receive a check in payment for my services.

Q: No seriously. Why your workshop?

A: I think I offer a different level of understanding than what I’ve come to see in the teaching of others. The majority of teachers give rules and techniques to follow. Me, however, I feel very strongly that unless you know why you are doing something, you’ll never have free will.

Q: That’s a pretty bold statement. Care to explain more succinctly?

A: Yes, it’s like the parable about fishing, the difference between giving a man a fish and feeding him for one day or teaching him to fish and feeding him for a lifetime. Creating art is about making the appropriate choices, moment by moment. Rote reaction to any circumstance makes you a robot at best.

Q: What makes you think this rote way of teaching is so widespread?

A: I see students coming out of learning institutions and all the work looks pretty much the same stylistically. What other conclusions could I draw?

Q: Good point and clever pun (if I say so myself). So what will people walk away with if they sign up?

A: First they’ll have fun. It’s hard to learn in an uptight environment from people who take themselves too seriously. I’m a very irreverent person and I’m an artist because I want to spend my life doing what makes me happy. Being in a relaxed state encourages flow.

Q: Anything tangible beyond this new age mumbo-jumbo?

A: For those who want a more meat-and-potatoes kind of explanation, my students will learn, first, to see more accurately, also a function of being on the moment (Mumbo-jumbo or not…this is key!). They will learn how to convert what they see into a 3D representation on a flat surface. They’ll learn techniques that they can blend into their own way of working. Most importantly they’ll become far more adept at drawing, which is – as Ingres put it – the probity of art. To that end they can have far greater control whether drawing or painting or whatever their end game.

Q: Wow, you make a very compelling argument. I’d sign up for that in a minute. Any last thoughts?

A: Here’s the thing, far too many people get caught up in believing if they can only learn that one elusive technical tidbit, that’s the answer. I know, I’ve been there…and nothing could be farther from the truth. Basho, a Japanese poet said, “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the masters, seek what they sought.” I think anyone would benefit greatly from this approach.

Q: Thanks so much for the interview.

A: The pleasure was all mine!

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200

Where To Draw The Line; Marvin Mattelson’s SVA Summer Drawing Workshop

“Matt-Ellrod-2192"Workshop drawing by Matt Ellrod

G. K. Chesterton once observed, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” For advice on morality you should seek spiritual guidance, but as far as where to draw a line, I think I may be able to help. I will be leading a portrait drawing workshop at the School of Visual Arts here in the heart of New York City from June 6-10.

Workshop drawing by Mandy BisestiWorkshop drawing by Mandy Basesti

In this workshop you will learn to create a portrait drawing using charcoal and white chalk on toned paper. It’s my take on a technique used by the great French draftsman Pierre-Paul Prud’hon in the late 18th and early 19th century. This technique, which actually dates back many hundreds of years prior to Prud’hon, allows you to develop a drawing in much less time than simply drawing on white paper. For that reason many artists such as Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun (both of which are currently featured in museum retrospectives here in NYC) have used this technique to save themselves valuable time.

Workshop Drawing by Carole KatzWorkshop Drawing by Carole Katz

Although the technical aspects of making a finished drawing will be covered in great detail, the primary focus of this workshop is learning to see proportions and tones more accurately. This will greatly enhance your ability to not only capture a faithful likeness, but also to better assess values, allowing you to render form more effectively. In class we will be working exclusively from live models. I will be demonstrating and explaining all aspects of my drawing methodology and the underlying concepts that govern my actions. You will come away from the workshop with a deeper understanding and a sound strategy for approaching any subject.

Workshop Drawing by Barry GraysonWorkshop Drawing by Barry Grayson

You will learn how to develop the illusion of three-dimensional form bathed in light and surrounded by air. Whether your goal is to improve your drawing for its own sake, or to enhance your drawing skills as a conduit to further improving your paintings, this workshop will provide you with the tools necessary to draw with more confidence.

Workshop drawing by Paul BeaudoinWorkshop drawing by Paul Beaudoin

Throughout this article you are seeing recent drawings by my workshop students. These drawings were done in approximately one day, not obsessively rendered over a period of either weeks or months. Notice the diversity of stylistic approaches. Rather than dogmatically insisting that my students draw in a particular way, my goal is to assist you in becoming the best possible version of yourself.

Workshop drawing by Pete GrillWorkshop drawing by Pete Grill

On Wednesday, May 11, there will be a Fine Arts Information Session: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture and Printmaking at the School Visual Arts at 133/141 W. 21st Street, room 602C, sixth floor from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. I’ll be there if you have any questions about my drawing workshop or my two-week portrait workshop from August 8-19, or just want to stop by and say hello.

Workshop drawing by Matt EllrodWorkshop drawing by Matt Ellrod

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM • No class August 7.
Find out more information about the workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.

Marvin Mattelson’s Winter/Spring Classes at SVA in NYC

New York City Portrait and Figure Painting Classes

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I’ll be teaching two classes at SVA in NYC for the Winter/Spring semester on Fridays and Saturdays. Each course is comprised of 12 six hour-long sessions.

Most of the class descriptions I read all sound pretty much the same but the question remains, do they deliver on the promise? Are all instructors created equal? My students tell me that isn’t the case and they’re so glad they found me.

…one of the greatest teachers ever. Marvin Mattelson changes the lives of anyone paying attention. I know I wouldn’t be half the painter I am without his guidance.

Dorian Vallejo

With numerous classes being given in a wide variety of venues I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why choosing to study with me will not only teach you the technical aspects of painting but transform the way you approach painting altogether.

For me as an artist, being told what to do in any given situation was not nearly enough. Painting at the highest levels goes way beyond following dogmatic rules; it’s about making intelligent choices.

Michelangelo said, ”A man paints with his brain and not with his hands.” This can’t happen unless you understand the full ramifications of the options you have available to you at any given moment. Basho, a Japanese poet from the 17th century said, “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the masters, seek what they sought.” My teaching is about empowering students.

You will learn how to easily mix the colors you see, how to create the illusion of solid form in three-dimensional space on a flat canvas, how to capture a likeness and create lifelike figures and portraits, but most importantly, gain great insight to the mindset that informs the choices available to you.

During the course of the semester, I will be demonstrating every step of the painting process. (The above image is a detail from a class demo painting.) I will progress from the underpainting, to the color lay-in and and to the finishing stage. As I paint, I explain not only what action I’m taking, but also my reason for doing it. During the semester we will take a Sunday field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I will dissect many master works to reveal that the same logical approach that I am teaching you in class is in the DNA of all great paintings.

We will have two set-ups at all times, a figure model and a portrait model. Every student will have an unobstructed view of their model. The lighting is classically inspired. The duration of each pose will last for approximately half of the semester.

The rapid growth I experienced at SVA was only made possible due to the quality of your instruction. It was your roadmap for me to follow. Like a sage boxing couch you showed me what to train and how to go about it. Above all else you fostered an incredible appetite for oil painting and a strong desire to know more, be that through rummaging through yellowing Vermeer notes or staring down Raeburn at the Frick.
What was so enthralling and captivating about oil painting anyway?
I’d like to think that a huge part of the allure and magic, was just how fun and endlessly rewarding you made the medium out to be. You turned what ought to have been a basic freshmen introduction painting class, into the veritable quest for the holy grail.
It takes a very special artist and teacher to set up such an environment. To design such a system of approach and reward, and do it with such seeming ease, that even maddeningly counterintuitive principles comes off as the most natural and beautiful thing in the world.
Your training and the mission you gave me was so jam packed and undeniable that SVA was nearly bursting at the seams to contain it. I am forever indebted to your brilliance as an artist, as a teacher and the deep generosity that powers both.

Billy Norrby

You can read more about my portrait painting and figure painting classes here.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting • FIC-2221-CE
Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM • 12 sessions • First class: Jan. 29, 2015
Click here to register online for the Friday class.

Realistic Figure and Portrait Painting • FIC-2221-CE1
Saturdays • 10:00 AM – 4:00PM • 11 Sessions • First class: Jan. 30, 2015
Click here to register online for the Saturday class.

These courses may also be taken for undergraduate credit. For more information please call the Registrar’s Office (212) 592.2200.

I will be attending a fine art information session on Wednesday Jan. 6 at 133/141 West 21st Street, room 602C, 6th floor, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. Please stop by and say hello.

Until next time…