How to get an art education for free

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Art education, barring the degrees and recognitions, doesn’t have to be expensive. After all, the information is free. One just has to figure out where to get it. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Delving into art and trying to understand it can be an overwhelming and intimidating experience for the casual viewer. With all the different kinds of art — especially now with new media and other less traditional forms of expression — it is easy for things to go over one’s head. But expensive and time-consuming higher education is not the only way to get a better understanding of art, in the many different ways a person can look and experience it.

And although we may never quite “get” it, exposing one’s self to more than just passive viewing may help in forming more substantial or grounded opinions on the art that one sees and consumes, and even help in an artist’s process, going beyond just making a pastiche of influences without fully understanding what they might mean.

Art education, barring the degrees and recognitions, doesn’t have to be expensive. After all, the information is free. One just has to figure out where to get it.

cos2 Cos Zicarelli takes the conceptualism behind his work to the next level by conjuring up more of his personal life, as seen in his exhibit “Dear Father, Show Me the Stars. Dear Mother, Show Me How Far.” Photo by JL JAVIER

Exhibits and shows

The easiest way to get some type of art education for free is to roam around the exhibits in (or outside) of your area. There are dozens of galleries scattered across the metropolis and they usually mount shows every two to four weeks. You can spend an afternoon gallery-hopping or visiting museums, immersing yourself in the work and getting to know your taste in art better. There is a wealth of art styles and statements, so it’s good to go to as many shows as you can.

Exhibits are also accompanied by exhibit notes, which are helpful when trying to understand the artist’s intent, or if you’d like to know more about the context in which the shows, or the artist's work in the case of retrospectives, exist. The galleries and museums will often have these copies of these writeups on-hand, online, or visible somewhere in the space.

To start off, try visiting Silverlens Galleries, MO_Space, West Gallery, Finale Art File, Artinformal, Blanc Gallery, and Underground Gallery.

jose tence ruiz.jpg Artist talks and Q&As are a great way to interact with the artist, as well as to get a deeper understanding and a broader sense of the art. In photo: artist Jose Tence Ruiz. Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

Artist talks

Some galleries and museums also hold artist talks in conjunction with their shows. These talks give the artists opportunities to speak a little more about their show or oeuvre in general, their process, or external situations that surround and inform their art. In the case of group shows, the curators may be invited, too.

Usually announced alongside the exhibit, artist talks and Q&As are a great way to interact with the artist, as well as to get a deeper understanding and a broader sense of the art.

Classes, podcasts, and vlogs

Documentaries have always been a go-to for bite-sized and visual introductions to artists, artist movements, and critical theory. However, not all of them are readily available, even for those willing to pay. A pretty good alternative are free resources online.

Countless platforms have provided ways to make educational series available online. There are courses and classes on art history and theory by way of iTunes U where universities and institutions like Academy of Art University, Oxford, La Trobe University, and the Asian Art Museum, as well as various professors and experts, have made their courses and lectures available for free download.

There are podcasts like BBC Radio 3’s “Arts and Ideas,” The Museum of Modern Art’s “MoMA Talks,” and one by The National Gallery of Art that offer discussions of ideas and interviews with artists and experts, not unlike the lectures outlined above, though a bit more casual and less academic, at least in terms of structure. Check out The Modern Art Notes Podcast, which has been publishing new episodes each Thursday since 2011, SFMoMa’s “Raw Material,” and KCRW’s “Art Talk,” too.

There are also different vlog series that have found a home on YouTube. PBS’s “The Art Assignment” takes on broader art ideas by way of introducing specific artists, and then invites collaboration from its audience. There are also series like Art21, which produced Peabody award-winning, Emmy-nominated, PBS-broadcast television series "Art in the Twenty-First Century,” and hone in on specific artists, their work, and how they have changed the landscape of art and society. A more interdisciplinary approach to art theory can be found on Nerdwriter1’s channel, where he mostly dissects other media like film and television, but has also touched on modern art, “reading a painting,” art and the internet, photography, and Picasso … And this is just to name a few.

bellasartes.jpg Bellas Artes Outpost has a reading room with a wide range of art and design books available for browsing. Photo by RAYMOND ANG

Libraries and reading rooms

Though we have public libraries such as the National Library and CCP’s Library and Archives, private institutions and companies have made their more specific and niche collections available to the public either for free or for a small day fee.

Among these places are Bellas Artes Outpost, which has a reading room with a wide range of art and design books available for browsing, and Thousandfold (₱200 admission fee), which focuses on photobooks, zines, and monographs. Ateneo de Manila University’s Rizal Library and the De La Salle University Library also open their doors for researchers for a small day fee of ₱100. You may also want to try looking at the browsing copies at Artbooks.ph, a small, independent bookstore focused on Philippine art. They have most of the books available for sale, too.

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