Friday, May 11, 2018

OCA is not for me!

The Open College of the Arts ( has been offering distance learning art courses since 1987 and they have been part of the University for Creative Arts ( since 2016. The offer 16 undergraduate degrees and a MA in Fine Arts.

I had bookmarked their website some time ago when searching out online painting and/or design courses. Right now I’m literally between two places. Our current house in Ypsilanti is for sale and I’ve moved most of my art materials to the new house in Plymouth but we haven’t moved there (yet). So my frustration of not being able to make art was moderated somewhat by browsing through my bookmarks and clearing out some of the junk and dead links when I followed the bookmark to OCA.

Maybe it was all ego, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve been giving serious consideration to going back to school! Yes, a really old fart, is considering going back to school, no less University! Most university students would consider anyone 25 or older, really old. Really old in this case is someone that could have had their ‘Bus Pass’, 4 years ago.

Maybe it was all ego but the thought of earning a BA (Honors) in Painting is/was a big incentive. But the more I investigated the less the idea appealed to me. Firstly, I read through the curriculum several times and a first year course ‘taster’ that appeared to be the first couple of weeks example notes/assignments. Interesting, but it did not engage me and it did not make this a ‘must have’ course. This could just be my reaction to this subset of a full course.

Then there was to omission of a visual composition/visual design course. Perhaps elements of these subjects are incorporated inside one of other courses. The first course you must take is a drawing course. Nothing wrong with that except that you must complete this course before you can start on any of the other courses. As a mature student, I have reasonable facility at drawing and would embrace a drawing course to add polish to my existing skills and as a fundamental element to a painting course, it is a good idea. I do object to it being a gating function to all other course. I am here to learn painting. It why I’m taking this course. Don’t make me wade through 400 hours of drawing coursework before getting to do any painting.

Looking deeper into the course work description, I find repeated references to a ‘learning log’. Documentation of your work on each assignment, results, thoughts, musings, whatever. The suggestion is that you should spend 20% of your study time writing this ‘learning log’. You can not view the learning log documentation until you have registered, so you really don’t know what you are committing to. So do the math: .2 * 400 = 80 hours of writing a learning log.

Then I find that 2d and 3d year courses have a large written component in what appears to need to be written in ‘art speak’.

“You will need to undertake your own research into these areas by doing a lot of reading and researching, and by developing research strategies.”


“You will develop a broader understanding of your work within a range of contexts, including an awareness of the social or ethical impact you have on the world or how other contemporary practitioners operate”

This isn’t what a painting course is about IMOSHO. But I haven’t completely dismissed the idea of taking this course so I did a bit deeper digging and look over the tutors, their education, experience and art making activities. I surveyed more than 20 tutors connected with the BA (Honors) Painting course. Most of the painting tutors don’t paint as their primary art making exercise!

And then there is this statement: “you are expected to move towards taking more responsibility for your own learning and demonstrate this through more personal explorations and personally led project work, with increasing independence and through your own initiative.”

I’ve been have taken responsibility for my own art making and painting education and have been doing so for the past 8 years. I have to ask myself: “what could this course of study provide me that I could not find locally or online?”

The final blow came in a weekly e-mail newsletter from OCA that I had subscribed to in an effort to better understand why I should enroll and what I could expect from the instruction provided. The e-mail newsletter was titled: “What is drawing?” The following quote drove the last nail into the coffin of “not for me”:

“... he attached traditional drawing tools to the bottom of weeping willow tree branches and allowed the elements to dictate the marks created.”


Postscriptum: While reading Jackson’s Art blog I came across “Are Art Schools a waste of time?” (ref. Hugo Grenville says: "... right up until the late 1960s, anyone could go to art school and be robustly assured of being taught to draw and paint. From the mid 70s onwards, art schools abandoned their commitment to educate students in practical and technical skills, in favour of a conceptual approach. The result today is that anyone wanting to learn how to paint will have to attend a private art school."

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