Art Education: Atelier versus Art School

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Art Education: Atelier versus Art School
Deidre Riley, ‘Contemplation’, 2016.

By Deidre Riley

Deidre Riley is an American award-winning artist and educator, having studied both fine art and illustration. As well as having her own commercial success as an artist, Deidre has taught throughout her arts career, most recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Her work can be found at or on Instagram at @deidreriley_.

Throughout my art education and career, I have had the privilege to experience both the worlds of the atelier and art school. Learning and teaching, I have encountered artists, students and teachers from both contexts, gaining a wealth of insight into the varied paths art education can take.

My art journey began at university, where I studied art history. Inspired by my degree, I sought to improve my practical art skills in painting and drawing and found Paul Ingbretson’s atelier in New England to be the perfect place to do so.

As a studio with more traditional and skill-specific offerings, Ingbretson’s atelier attracted students with a very similar background to my own: those who had been through the art school, college or university systems and were now seeking a new environment where they could master specific art techniques and styles.

It was at Ingbretson’s where I learned about other ateliers through my new peers. Oliver Maughan, an English student, told me of his prior study at Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy. There, his experience very much aligned with the classical atelier tradition, with Charles Cecil himself closely following and working with students to develop their projects and skills.

Cecil’s studio has its own specialisms, as does Ingbretson’s, but their core philosophy as ateliers is largely similar. Both aim to train their students to achieve strong painting and drawing skills, to uphold the higher beauty in the arts, and ultimately to produce artists who practice as professional painters.

Oliver himself continued his career as a professional painter, specialising in landscapes and the ‘en plein air’ method. I took a somewhat unusual route, moving from an atelier to a higher education institution to complete a Master of Fine Art and enter the world of teaching at a New England art college.

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