I am scrolling down my recent e-mails when I notice one from “Artists Newsletter.”

Curious, I click on the entry and am taken to a Website where I saw an ad from Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC. It is an invitation to join one of their online courses. I am curious to see what the subjects are, so I follow their link and find myself reading the descriptions with increasing excitement.

It is actually possible for me to enroll in an art class now and be virtually transported from my small studio in Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin to a room at MoMA in my favorite city in the world (second only to Paris) and partake in a bounty of fantastically interesting art courses.

I spend a great deal of time reading the class syllabi for both leader-led and self-guided courses. It turns out that all of the classes with leaders are closed; but, I prefer being able to engage at my own rate in my own time. I choose “Materials and Techniques of Post-War Abstract Painting.” It promises information on Barnett Newman, Robert Ryman, Willem DeKooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Ad Reinhardt and Frank Stella as well as others in “The New York School.”

I am familiar with the work of all of these men except Robert Ryman. I am thrilled just thinking of getting a more in-depth knowledge of these “abstract expressionists.” This is a ten-week course and the cost is $200 which is a substantial amount of money. However, for me to have exposure to all this information and the opportunity to learn the methods of working with color palettes and other techniques of these outstanding artists makes the cost worth it to me. I sign up!

Wednesday is the day I set aside each week for painting and writing, so it was with great anticipation that I log into the link which is provided, insert my “invitation code” and am taken to a full-screen video shouting, “Welcome! Hello From New York.”

Then, an interesting man dressed all in black and sporting a short, rounded beard and a dark mustache with a receding hairline enters and says, “Welcome. My name is Corey D’Augustine, and I created this class for MoMA Courses Online. I’m an artist and a conservator of modern paintings and sculpture, and I’ve worked at MoMA since 2004. I’ve also studied a lot of 20th century art history.”

He continues stressing the goal of the course is to learn art history by painting: “We will learn to paint by not only becoming familiar with the materials and techniques used by abstract painters at mid-century, but also by understanding the perspective of an artist – what a studio practice means, how ideas develop from close looking and from a sensitivity to the physical qualities of paint.”

I am thrilled! First of all, I am a student at heart. Learning is a priority in my life. Second, I am an artist (oil painter) who has made the transition from representational art to abstract art over the past year and a half. When I look at some of my previous works, I am aware of the increasing simplicity of themes, from landscapes to abstract landscapes where the important motifs are the shapes, colors, texture, lines and energy in the paintings.

Jackson Pollock: Full Fathom Five (1947)

The first part of the class is an art history lecture; the second section involves watching videos “In The Galleries,” direct from the museum. Not only can I see the artists’ works as they hang in the various galleries, I can click different links to see museum shows, including the paintings and all the commentary which is associated with each piece.

Along with these videos there are recommended readings and a list of optional textbooks. I am planning to work on Wednesdays and expect to spend, in total, about three hours working my way through the site and its’ offshoots. I am going to spend the first hour perusing my way around the site. Next, I will continue with this first module which has two more parts: “In the Studio” and the additional resources”page which leads to MoMA audio and related Websites.

I feel energized and open to this process. I know my time will be well-spent and I know I am entering a new phase in my exposure to the ground-breaking artists of the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s.

I did take a few notes I’d like to share with you:

  • “the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak” – Hans Hoffman
  • “immerse in process”
  • “figure on ground/ground on figure – no center of gravity, all-overness” used to describe the work of Franz Klein
  • “action painting” the painter’s expressionistic encounter with the canvas
  • “not a picture, but an event” – emphasis on the creative act – Harold Rosenberg
  • “abstract expressionism” and “radicalism of color field painting, excludes extraneous ‘literary’ material.” – Clement Greenberg

If, as you read this post, you have questions about me and my artist’s process, the course, or the aforementioned painters, please go ahead and post a comment or question. I welcome sharing.

Click to find out additional information about other MoMA educational programs.


Myrna Leigh

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