||Art Academy Live
A revolutionary concept in art instruction: With a click of a mouse, you can watch a demonstration on your computer screen and even interact with the instructor via your keyboard without leaving the comfort of your studio or home.
ick Mitchell is an entrepreneur and an enthusiastic but fledgling artist. After buying countless books on art instruction and traveling inconvenient distances to attend workshop classes, he had, as a businessman, a revelation. What if he could film top-notch instructors demonstrating techniques and broadcast those demonstrations as they were happening? Instead of a TV screen, the film would appear on a computer screen live?
"The concept," says Mitchell, "is based on the need I had as an aspiring artist to get elementary instruction. I bought books, took private lessons and workshops, yet I still couldn't carry those lessons to my palette." After leaving one such workshop in Boone, North Carolina, Mitchell walked into an art supply store and was attracted to a painting on the wall; the style was drippy and loose; the artist's name was Chuck McLachlan. "As I went around the room, I saw another one by Chuck, and then another one," says Mitchell. "After the third time, I decided maybe he was the one I needed to take lessons from." Learning that McLachlan lived in Greensboro, Mitchell called him and booked a one-on-one lesson.
"If you don't bond with Chuck, you need to see a psychotherapist," says Mitchell of the genial McLachlan. Though Mitchell was attentive during McLachlan's engaging and informative lesson, he realized, by the time he got back home, that he couldn't remember how the artist had mixed a certain green. "I said to my wife Yvonne, I'll just call Chuck and find out," recalls Mitchell. "Then it struck me that I shouldn't do that. It was a way an artist made a living, and I shouldn't take advantage of that with a phone call. There's got to be a way that I could pay a nominal but still-fair-to-the-artist amount for his input, when I needed it."
The new age
The vehicle for what Mitchell had in mind was the Internet. Mitchell knew that just as technology had advanced, Baby Boomers' familiarity and comfort with computers had similarly progressed. Mitchell conceived of an online art academy, where struggling artists could watch an accomplished artist like Chuck McLachlan demonstrate a technique or proceed step-by-step through a painting. In contrast to waiting until a DVD was delivered to his mailbox, the student could watch a demonstration as it was happening in real time.
Art Academy Live, the business Mitchell will launch November 1st, will allow a student to attend a virtual workshop-watching a computer screen as an instructor explains how he or she progresses through a painting. A second, even more exciting component is that the student will have the opportunity to interact with the instructor by typing in questions or comments on a keyboard. Those questions, flashed onto the instructor's screen, may prompt the instructor to elaborate on a process. The interactive component is what makes Art Academy Live distinct. In place of a DVD, which a student would watch passively, the art student gets an opportunity to influence the instructor's demonstration, by offering questions, by asking for clarification, or by making other comments.
More than one option
Art Academy Live will work this way: An aspiring artist can visit the site, see what classes are taking place either that day or in the next few days and sign up for a class (each live broadcast will last between an hour and an hour and a half and cost between 30 and 50 dollars). He can also browse through the archives of recorded versions of classes that took place in the past and download as many as he wants (for 25 dollars each). If the student just wanted to try out the concept, he could sign up for what Mitchell calls a "snippet," a ten or fifteen minute mini-lesson. The first snippet would be free, requiring only that the student type in some demographic information; subsequent snippets are eminently affordable at 10 dollars each. Once either a class or snippet is downloaded, the student can play and replay it until he masters the lesson.
Sterling Edwards, one of the accomplished artists who will be offering classes as part of Art Academy Live, sees the lasting, as well as the immediate, value of these snippets: "They will be a goldmine to the beginning artist. I wish, when I'd started learning watercolor--15 years ago--there had been something like this available," says Edwards. "Instead I bought every book and spent a fortune going to workshops. Workshops were fun, and I still refer to the books, but if I could have sat down in front of a computer screen and seen how to paint a cloud or how to paint reflections, I could have gone directly from the computer to the worktable. And I could have watched the lesson as many times as I needed-until I got it down pat."
Mitchell, determined to "give students what they need when they need it," will offers these bargain-priced snippets on topics as specific as "how to paint rocks with a credit card." "The beautiful part about the snippets," says Mitchell, "is that they can be purchased and paid for and downloaded 24/7."
Seeing the snippets' vast potential is what attracted Morgan Samuel Price, a versatile artist and popular instructor, to Art Academy Live. "Having taught for 4o years, I realized the importance of the idea behind the snippets--of learning in incremental steps," she says. "All the time during a workshop class, people come up to me to ask, Can you please demonstrate this piece of a process. The snippet concept drew me on board because I know it works. People who are visual learners, like artists, have to see things demonstrated. If you're a visual learner, you can read all you want to, but until you see it, you don't understand."
Implications for the future
Morgan Samuel Price sees the possibility of reaching not only Baby Boomers but another category of aspiring artists. "Children who are attending schools that no longer have the funds to hire an art teacher could take classes at Art Academy Live," she says. "When I was a little kid, I would have given my right arm to see an artist in person. Because the technology is so advanced, seeing a class on Art Academy Live will be like being there with the artist."
With the launch of Art Academy Live, Mitchell sees the potential for larger and larger audiences and the accomplishment of a greater good. "Bringing affordable art instruction not only to children in public schools but also to adults who don't have the capacity-either financially or physically-to get to a workshop or buy a DVD-people in nursing homes or in assisted living facilities, people who are handicapped or recuperating from injuries--that's part of our mission."
And while stay-at-home students will be able to access the instruction easily, they'll also be able to have needed materials shipped to them quickly and affordably. Mitchell has entered into a contract with a retailer so that students can order, with a click of the mouse, the materials the instructor recommends. Art Academy Live will be launched November 1st. Visit the site at www.artacademylive.com.