The following is from the blog of Robert J. Simone, a gulf coast artist who has participated in both of Christensen's workshops over the past two summers.
Scott Christensen’s 10-Day Workshops - Worth the Money?
December 18, 2008
September 25 - October 4th, 2008. I attended Scott Christensen’s 10-Day Advanced landscape painting workshop in Victor, Idaho. As a prerequisite I also attended his 10-Day Intensive workshop in the fall of 2007. This article, based on personal experience is my official review of those events. As a preface to the article I think it is necessary to say that Victor, Idaho is a beautiful city that embodies all that is good about small towns in America. The people are friendly, the restaurants surprisingly good and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. On both of my visits mother nature held little in reserve when it came to fall color. Also in preface, and at the risk of sounding like I have a man crush or something, I want to say that Scott Christensen is a great artist who clearly understands what it is that makes his paintings work. He is also able to articulate that information in an organized fashion. Scott’s teaching is about studying outdoors in a way that focuses on gathering critical information and fostering steady growth.
The 10-Day Intensive had 40 students whose painting experience ranged from very little to quite a lot. The diverse group of hobbyists and professionals held one thing in common. We had a keen interest in learning how Christensen paints his magnificent landscapes. Approximately 60% of each day was spent attending lectures and demonstrations. Clear emphasis was placed on the writings of John F. Carlson and Edgar Payne. Equal emphasis was placed on Sargent’s five types of light and the use of a three color palette. Overall the atmosphere was one of studious reverence for the fine art of landscape painting.
In addition to the daily lecture/demo period there were painting excursions and assignments. It was during those assignments that the workshop experience seemed brutal. We all struggled to make use of the limited palette while incorporating new concepts into our work. It seemed the higher one’s expectation to excel and “show off” the greater was their frustration. It was a humbling experience. I saw grown men and women brought to tears. Not that Scott was hard on us but because we became acutely aware of how difficult it is to be a truly great painter.
Through ongoing correspondence with classmates from that workshop I know that several regard the event as a turning point and still refer to handouts and notes for inspiration. I am also aware that a couple of participants felt their expectations were not met. They were looking for a life, if not, art changing experience and thought they didn’t get it. The common thread with them was that they wanted more personal time and one on one critiquing from Scott. This workshop was never presented as such therefore the criticism is unfair. It stands to reason that a group that size will include some who view the “glass as half empty”. To those relative few I have two things to say:
You got a life changing experience. Give it time to bear fruit!
Most of the student work produced during the workshop spoke for itself. Mine especially was not worth critiquing. I knew it stunk. That wasn’t Scott’s fault. And I’m glad he didn’t critique it.
In the month’s that followed this event I struggled with my painting and frequently second guessed my conversion to the limited palette. I persevered and got through it. In hind sight I’d say my attendance accelerated the learning curve exponentially. The workshop was what I expected and well worth the investment.
As much as the 10-Day Intensive met my expectations The 10-Day Advanced completely exceeded them. This time around there were only 13 students. Each held in common a profound respect for Christensen’s work and teaching. We also had the benefit of time to digest the material presented in the 10-Day Intensive.
Our usual routine for the Advanced Workshop was:
meet at Scott’s studio at 9:00 AM for a brief informal lecture
go out as group to paint for the remainder of the morning
return to classroom for lunch and critique
go out as a group to paint for the remainder of the day
every other night dinner upstairs in Scott’s studio
This workshop was geared toward personal time and critique. As the days progressed Scott gained momentum. He fed off of our energy and put more of himself into it each day. He routinely went well beyond the call of duty. If not demonstrating on location he was moving from easel to easel, answering questions, encouraging, teaching and advising. Some days he was still out demonstrating for us at 5:00 or 6:00 PM. Other times we drank beer together on his back porch, ate dinners together in his studio and sometimes at local restaurants. There was great camaraderie and mutual respect.
Much more was learned than the intricacies of color and value. Beyond the technical we were exposed to the methods Scott uses to foster his own artistic growth and cultivate fresh ideas. He clearly demonstrated, through his approach, how to prepare, practice and perform at the highest level. Seemingly no part of his creative process was withheld.
Abstract colorist Josef Albers was fond of saying, “Good teaching is a matter of presenting the questions of painting.” One of Christensen’s main tenets is that “painting is a matter of finding good answers to difficult questions”. Not only was Scott able to articulate the questions he showed us how he answers them. He generously allowed us access to his library of books so we could also see how the “great captains of the past” answered those same questions. The workshop was total immersion!
Returning home to St. Petersburg, Fl., I could not escape the feeling that something profound happened to me in Victor. Unable to clearly articulate the feeling, my sense is that it will continue to unfold in the subsequent months and years. I find myself more clearly focused on my own identity as a painter and more confident in my ability to answer the difficult questions. Like many others I will have to credit Scott Christensen for whatever heights I reach as an artist.
How does that credit card commercial go? Airfare: $500, Lodging $1000, Ground Transportation: $400, Tuition: $1750. What we learned at the 10-Day Advanced: Priceless!. I am certain that no one left disappointed.
Oh yeah, and we had a close encounter with some local wildlife!