oil vs acrylic, and should I go to the head of the department?

Here is the backstory (and please if this is in the wrong forum feel free to move it…it’s kind of about the arts? I dunno. I struggled with placement)… I’m a fine arts major–specifically, painting. I started at Kennesaw State University just outside of Atlanta and had a couple of fantastic professors who do amazing artwork, (for example, this guy). I learned in oil, which is all they use at that school. I learned the method of making a grisaille painting and then overlaying color glazes to achieve the final color. In the process, I fell in love with monochromatic painting.

I do paintings like this (unfinished) and like this (also unfinished, and possibly NSFW)

Fast forward now. I’ve moved to Ohio and am currently finishing my degree at Cleveland State University. It has a much smaller art department. There is only one painting professor (there were at least four at KSU) and Painting I, II, and III meet at the same time in the same room (versus several different classes of each level on different days at different times at KSU). The CSU art department teaches acrylic painting. Or I should say, makes you do acrylic painting. I have yet to see any actual teaching, and my classmates who have been here for several years say that our professor doesn’t ever do any actual instruction. I’ve seen some of his work in a nearby gallery, and one of my classmates shared this picture with me of a painting the professor did last year. Let’s just say that his taste and mine don’t overlap much, were you to do a Venn diagram. I’m not going to say that he isn’t good at what he does, just that I don’t happen to care for the type of art that he is into. I’m skeptical of learning lots of useful stuff from him, if he’s trying to teach us “what he does,” let alone using a different medium.

I am now in a dilemma. My major is painting. Oil painting is what I plan on doing, and have no intention of ever doing acrylic painting seriously (I won’t say never, because I do tend to dabble when curiosity gets ahold of me). So now I feel like the rest of my time at this school I’m getting non-instruction in a medium I never plan on using in the class that is supposed to be my primary focus. I have to take this class at least one more time (Painting III has to be taken at least twice) and then do another painting class (with the same instructor, assumedly, since he’s the only one). I feel like I’m giving them a ton of money and getting squat out of my investment.

So… I’m considering going to the head of the art department and asking him to get my professor to let me do my assignments in oil, given that I’ve been doing that all along, and it would be the natural progression for my particular degree, and that as a transfer student I’m atypical… This is my first semester here and I don’t want to get a reputation as “that girl who causes trouble” but at the same time I want to actually GET SOMETHING out of my college education. The professor let me do my first assignment (copy a Rembrandt) in oil because my financial aid hadn’t come in yet and I needed it to buy acrylic paint, but he seems pretty stuck on having me do the rest of my class assignments in acrylic, so I feel like if it’s going to change, it’s going to mean going over his head.

Anyway, this has been long and rambly, but I’m stressing on it. On the one hand I really want to work in oil. I kind of feel like acrylic just isn’t suited to the type of painting that I do. On the other hand, I don’t want to alienate myself in the department as being troublesome or whatever. Advice?? Should I be the squeaky wheel? Or should I just resign myself and hope to go to grad school somewhere better and learn more then?

Drop the class. Enroll elsewhere.

Why are you attending a non-arts college?

Pretty much. Any college that uses acrylic in their painting classes is pretty much worthless. Unless it’s something like color theory, design, or along those lines, it should be oil all the way. Perhaps talk to the prof. of the individual classes?

Then allow me… I hope that was an early version of the painting, because if it was in a high school art class exhibit, I’d chalk its display up to “gotta show at least one project from every student.”

What do you intend on getting out of this investment? I don’t imagine that the degree alone is worth terribly much, outside of becoming an art teacher. Making a living in art has much more to do with the art you create than the diploma on your wall.

If you were hoping that getting the degree meant you would learn more about painting, then this curriculum doesn’t seem to fit the bill. Even if he let you do oil, if he isn’t instructing you, teaching you better techniques, helping you grow as an artist, what good is he? Put up an easel in your home, spend your tuition money on supplies and start painting.

I like your paintings, Opal. Can’t advise you on the schooling, though.

I find the insistence on acrylics kind of strange and counter to tradition (AFAIK).

But I wonder - is it because of the fumes? Back in the day, nobody cared about turpentine. At the U of Cincinnati we used to paint in an old car barn just north of campus using vile chemicals. But it was a fairly big, drafty old building with tall ceilings. Perhaps the HVAC at your school doesn’t support oils?

I do know that the mentality on materials has changed drastically, I’ve seen much more stringent limits nowadays. Maybe that’s all it is?

Speaking of which, do you use that eco-orange stuff (in the green can) as a cleanser? I used to put a little in my medium, too. That and Dr. Brower’s soap bars did a great job of cleaning my brushes.

Personally I’ve never liked acrylics - but I’m kind of surprised you don’t (other than the cost of outfitting yourself with a whole new palette). The sheer layer thing you do would be well-suited for acrylics. Very nice Rembrandt.

As far as working in manners and styles that are different than that to which you are accustomed…I feel your pain, BUT a lot of people would argue that that’s how you learn. Sort of the visual equivalent of “If you don’t understand your opponent’s argument, then you don’t understand your own.”

And I imagine they’d argue that the time to settle in to your specific style is grad school. But that’s academia for you, they have a product to sell.

Personally I can’t preach that since I didn’t live it - and it’s part of why I never finished my BFA. And I don’t regret that, BUT I did seek out many different teachers in subsequent years (and will continue to do so when life permits).

I don’t blame you for being homesick, you had a GREAT experience at Kennesaw. It is really tough. The timing seems to be really bad since you were at a point of blossoming in (Atlanta?) - it’s natural that you would want to continue that growth.

Perhaps you and some students could arrange to work on your own a bit? What we learn from our peers can be SO valuable.

I don’t think your dislike of your professor’s style is at all material to the issues at hand, unless he’s one of those people who demands that all his students follow him to the letter. In which case I would’ve thought that was part of the school’s marketing?

Switch schools NOW. Opal, you’re obviously too talented to work under a prof who forces students to work in acrylic :eek: :eek: :eek: not to mention that he has a serious lack of ability. I might be biased, but the time-honored medium of oils seems way too important to eliminate from an art school curriculum. It’s egregioous that this school is allowing their art department to get away with such a radical departure from fine arts traditions, and the mere fact that they’re allowing this shows the depth of their ignorance. Anything but transferring seems a waste of your time.

My question for you is this: If acrylic isn’t suited to the type of painting that you do, and the instructor prefers that you use acrylic, how well will the instructor evaluate your works in oil? How much will you learn from using oil to do assignments designed for acrylic?

NOTE: Not a painter, and I’m not really clear what the difference between oil and acrylic is in terms of what can be accomplished, how they look different, or even what a typical assignment for a painting class is.

There is a part of me which thinks that even though you aren’t interested in the long run in using acrylics, you ought to seriously consider learning to use acrylics, because I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t learn things which might be useful in the future, but the other part of me refers you back to the whole I’m not an artist, so why you’d want my advice is beyond me thing.

I certainly think that in your position it might be worthwhile to go to the head of the department and ask for his input. Don’t say “If you won’t let me paint with Oils I quit” but see if the head of the department is supportive of you trying for the best education you can get–which strikes you as the education you can get using the most oils, and maybe see if the head of the department can give you insights into how this instructor will grade you/critique you if you insist on using oils.

If you water down acrylic paint you can do, essentially, watercolor.


Acrylic might not be quite as good as actual watercolor of course, but it allows you to play around in it in places and go back to layered painting in others. But watercolor, if you can learn, is something that would be useful. You have one chance to draw each line, shadow, and the better the control of the brush you have, the more impressive things you can do. Not all of that will be applicable to oil, but a lot of it will. Add ink lines (like in my second picture) and you can do something more graphic-artsy and less painterly, which is also a bonus.

I’d agree though that it sounds like you’re somewhat wasting your money with that school.

I hope Opal gets back to us with the school’s reason for acryllic-only policy. WAG: if you were to make a living as a commercial painter, cranking out vanity portraits of corporation heads and happy families, you’ll need to work on volume and meet deadlines; so you’ll want to use a medium that dries fast. Perhaps the art professor demographic has passed from ex-hippies to ex-yuppie syncophants

[unsolicited advice section] Opal, you might remember me telling you in person at the Georgia Doper picnic how I earned my BFA by sizing my canvasses with powdered rabbit skin melted on a hotplate, and painting them with beezwax, turps and linseed oil with ground raw pigments mixed in. I simply loved the natural feel of the stuff. If you find yourself in a craftsman’s relationship with your substances you’ll eventually master them and you will find your market.[/unsolicited advice section]

Grisaille and impasto painting techniques.

Perhaps a parallel could be drawn (nyuck nyuck) between writing a lengthy novel and ripping out short verse.

Why not see about getting into or transfering to the CIA (Cleveland Institute of Art). That seems like the best art school in your area, and seems more suited to your considerable and profound talent. I’m sure the curriculum at the CIA would be much more useful and present more opportunities than your current school, and the degree you earn would probably be more recognized and respectable.

RE the picture your new instructor (I’m not about to call him a professor, even if he has a PhD)—perhaps he’s a Republican? It’s a nice elephant; kind of Babar-ish.

compared to your work (yeah, I get I can’t quite compare 2 such different approaches. bite me)–his looks like a middle school entry for the end of year Art exhibit, and I might be insulting the middle schoolers!
You obviously have talent–I like your first painting linked very much (and the Enlightenment one and Secret Illumination). Why are you in a place where that talent will not be challenged (appropriately) or allowed to develop? Have you talked to your previous profs about what is happening in Ohio? (did you have some sort of mentor in GA you could share your doubts with?)
I dunno from acrylic vs oil, but it seems obvious to me that you want to continue your exploration of the guitar and your instructor is telling you that the ukelele will do you just fine. He’s wrong. Perhaps a better analogy is you want to write fine literature and he wants you to explore Harlequin romances. It’s not that there is nothing to be learned, it’s that so much more can be achieved in the right setting. Good luck to you.

Missed the edit window. Hell, yes go to the department head.

But first be absolutely SURE of your facts. Lay out your expectations clearly, non-judgmentally and be very courteous and professional re your instructor’s er, abilities. Stick to your concern re challenging your skills in oil (or whatever). Remember, Dept Head has MORE invested in Babar Wannabe than in any student.

IOW, tread carefully, so as not to wake the sleeping monster of academic politics. Hey, you could paint that… in acrylic! :wink:

There are now something called “water-based oils” that don’t need turpentine, if the fumes were a problem.

I personally like acrylics because I like the canvas to be reasonably dry when I put it in my car to take it home after class. But seems silly for any art class to insist on using one or t’other (unless the class is specifically aimed at a certain medium, obviously.)

I’ve tried those water-based oils, they’re disgusting.

Before moving to Cleveland, OpalCat asked the wise posters of this message board for advice on colleges in the Cleveland area. She comments in that thread that the CIA was not her first choice because it’s a dedicated art school, and she wanted an art department within a broader university, and also the CIA is way out of her pricerange, tuition-wise.

Of course, she may now be having second thoughts about the merits of her present school. But I’m guessing that advice to cut and run isn’t really what she’s looking for.

(Ending unsolicted providing of background for other people, NOW!)

First of all, this is not the college for you. Withdraw and find somewhere else to learn painting. They don’t really have a painting department.

Now, let me ask you this: are you really only allowed to work in acrylics or are you also allowed to work in other, non-oil based media? Can you work in oils off-campus and submit that work? (I work at an art school and we do have places on campus where oils aren’t allowed because of the age and ventilation of the building - they don’t house our painting department. Theoretically students could submit work done in oil if it was done elsewhere.) As an artist, I think you should be open to any material. However, as a painter, I wouldn’t attend a school where oil paint is completely forbidden.

First, I don’t have a choice about what school I go to. It’s essentially the only school that I can afford that is close enough and has an art department. Yeah, it would be great to go to the Cleveland Institute of Art. I’ll get back to you on that once I win the lottery. (Don’t you hate how everything comes back to money?) So it’s CSU or nothing, basically, and I really don’t want to quit school and go start waiting tables somewhere killing time until I eventually move closer to a better school.

I can’t relocate for school because I relocated to here because my boyfriend is in medical school here. We are living together now and I will not go back to the situation of being in a long-distance relationship like we were for 3 years. That and I also don’t want to uproot my son yet again, and move my house full of crap, etc. Anyway, the point is that where I live for the next 4 years is pretty much based on Dan finishing up his last year of medical school, and then doing 3 years of residency, which is sort of up in the air location-wise. Eventually he wants to end up back in Georgia (where he’s from) and there is a chance that he could get a residency in Atlanta, but that wouldn’t be for another year still.

I want the degree because I want to go to grad school for art. I am not going into art education–don’t want to be a teacher. A master’s degree would allow me to teach at the college level in the future (which is the only teaching I’d consider–I don’t want to go to prison for murdering obnoxious children) as another income opportunity if I needed it, but mostly I think that I could learn a lot in grad school. I’ve only been painting for a little over a year, so I feel like I want to experience all the instruction and guidance that I can. Unfortunately I don’t feel like I’m getting that here.

Eureka: to answer your question, the assignments aren’t so rigid that they “need” to be done in one medium or another. Except for that first one, copying a Rembrandt, they’re pretty flexible. Our current assignment, for example, was just a list of words and we have to choose one and make a painting inspired by it.

I don’t see the ventilation issue as holding much water. The stuff they have available these days isn’t as stinky and dangerous as stuff like turpentine. I use turpenoid, for example, and it hardly smells at all unless you stick your nose in it. The painting room has tons of windows, all of which open, and the whole art building is a massive open place (used to be a factory) which would be easy to add ventilation to if needed. They do plenty of other things in the art building that are far more toxic. For my next sculpture assignment, for example, I will need to use a chemical respirator for part of it.

One thing I’ve considered, though it might extend how long I have to be in school by another semester or two… I’ve considered changing my focus from painting to sculpture. The sculpture teacher is AWESOME and she’s also a painter. I could still paint on my own time, and then resume the focus on painting when I get to grad school. I don’t know. The whole thing is just pissing me off :frowning:

See my other post re: switching schools.

We are only allowed to use acrylic for the in-class assignments. There are also a certain number of out of class paintings that we have to do over the semester which can be any subject, any style, and any type of paint. So there is that, at least. But even if I get grades for some of the oil paintings I do at home, I’m still not being taught to further that skill, which is the whole reason I’m there. :confused: