The Famous Artists Course

May 8, 2013

Latest Post My epic journey from Orchard to Orchard by Owen Soule

We recently inherited a number of art books from my wife's grandfather, John Silvasi.  A few of these are even signed by the artist themselves, such as an Andrew Wyeth book signed "To my artist friend John."  It turns out Andrew Wyeth and my wife's grandfather served together on the board of Sanderson Museum for a number of years. That's very cool considering I saw Wyeth's Helga paintings at the National Gallery in Washington when I was a kid, on a trip up from Florida, and now I'm living twelve miles from his Chadds Ford studio with books signed by him!  But I digress, this is really about the Famous Artist Course books we received from John.

The Famous Artists Course books, fanned out and ready to ensnare their next victim,NeverEnding Story style...

So what exactly is the the Famous Artist Course?  The books were part of an art curriculum first published in 1948 by a bunch of... wait for it... famous artists!  The coursework was intended to teach an individual the tools, concepts, and skills necessary to make it as a professional commercial artist/illustrator.  The publish date on our copies of the books is 1954.

The Famous Artists and the largest mirror I have ever seen...ever

The books are actually large three ring binders, this lets you add your own art/notes or remove pages and use them as reference material.  For example, one of the facial drawing chapters refers you to an anatomy section and even suggests removing the skull anatomy drawings and viewing them while drawing faces so you can get a better understanding of the underlying forms.  I'd say that's some darn good advice, but then again that should come as no surprise since the authors were pros.

Page from a section on composition, it appears to be a magician and his audience getting liquored up?

This sounds nice and all, but I want Norman Rockwell and/or Albert Dorne looking at my art, dammit!  Don't worry, that was part of the course too.... sort of.   To receive a grade you completed a lesson's drawing assignment and mailed it to "Famous Artists Course, Westport, Conn.".   Literally, that was were you mailed it, no street, no zip, just mailed to a town.

The whole town must have been crawling with famous artists.

Once the art was received, a professional artist would critique your work and mail back the graded piece along with suggestions.  I imagine them all sitting around in suits, smoking and drinking highballs as they pore over submitted works and argue feverishly until a consensus is reached on grading.  While the likelihood of that actually happening is slim, I can dare to dream?  At the very least a professional artist graded and critiqued your work, maybe not a famous one, but one nonetheless.  Honestly, what's the point of being famous if you can't foist critiquing and grading duties onto a lackey?I haven't located many of John's submissions other than a few small exercises which were mailed in, graded, returned and later inserted back into the course's three ring binder.   An example of one of these is below - looks like A material to me but those famous artists were demanding.

The top one is printed on the page and the bottom was created by John, pretty darn good if you ask me!

I shouldn't be surprised at the tough grading, one note in the course forward even states grading will be very stringent so expect to have your dreams crushed... or something along those lines.   Along with theory and art exercises, the books contain some very cool artwork.  For example, below is the charcoal detail of Normal Rockwell's famous Saturday Evening Post cover entitled The Gossips:

Oh no he didn't!

After leafing through the books I jokingly said to Laura that I may start these drawing exercises and mail them in just to see what happens - assuming they would go to some defunct P.O. Box bin filled with 40 yrs of old drawings which never got critiqued because the Famous Artists School boarded its doors - but that isn't the case!  The Famous Artists School is alive and well and even has online courses now - all of which can be seen at .   So I could feasibly send in drawings, but I'm pretty sure they would still get rejected since I don't plan on paying the $1,295.00 course fee.

Owen Soule

Published May 8, 2013