Val Sivilli



To Draw or not to Draw…

…. Is that really the question?

I would love to get your ideas about this. Do you think that photographers/videographers/filmmakers benefit from foundational art classes? What do you think would be the up side or the down side of this?  I am really searching here.  I have some ideas, but I would love to hear from my community.

Learning to See through a Lens vs Learning to See by Learning to Draw. 

I was recently made aware that, at Bucks, the basic foundations of art – drawing, 2D design, color – will no longer be required for students that declare their major as Photography or Cinema or Video – aka Communications as of 2019.  I was a bit shocked at this decision,  but as technology advances, I am always concerned that we, as art educators, keep up with shifting technology. As we fine tune our own practices along with these changes, our teaching must also shift. The needs and skills of our students is always changing. To teach as well as we can and to be relevant regarding the shifting landscape of creative human expression is our biggest challenge. Ultimately, students are human beings and the fundamentals of being human does not change quite as quickly as technology.

Many years ago, after earning my MFA in Printmaking, digital prints were becoming as visually amazing as lithos, etchings and silkscreens.  It was faster, cleaner and cheaper. I could no longer justify spending the countless hours in a printshop making labor intensive plates and printing expensive huge editions. So, for the most part, I stopped doing it.

Being an adjunct,I am not always privy to policy decisions in the Visual Arts Department. Those decisions are left to full time professors. Adjuncts are sometimes consulted, but are rarely if ever included in the true policy decisions. I firmly believe that we adjuncts are closer to the pulse of the changing times than the world of tenured professors. The actual quality of the food on our table hinges on the fickleness of the changing times. Our opinions and input are very valuable. I wish that the departments that I works for would reach out to us more often.

In our media driven society, sound bites rule. Drawing classes, as most art foundations classes, serve to  teach the student HOW TO SEE. Foundational instruction introduces the visual art student to the basic elements of visual thought. Foundation also exposes the visual art student to various traditional art making materials and the possibilities inherent in their expressive and communicative qualities. Somewhat understandably, the argument on the side of the Photography/Cinema/Video faculty is that these students can learn how to see through a lens. Hinging this policy decision upon a sound bite, the department has clearly stated that an art student does not need to learn to draw to learn to see.  For the Photography student, and the Cinema/Video student, they can learn to see through a lens. To me, this decision just smells bad. It smells of faculty politics. But, I though that I might be biased, so lets break this down, because the argument has some good strong points. The community college degree is limited to 60 credits.  As it turns out, the enrollment in the Visual Arts Department has shifted drastically from traditional fine arts over to Cinema/Video. Those department professors feel they need to expose their students to as much technology as possible so they become adept at using it to make their art. This is a good sound argument, although I believe it is fundamentally flawed. So I have decided to explore this idea.

If a Visual Communications student learns to “see ONLY through a lens” as opposed to learning to see through the slower paced, muscle memory building, technology free skills of traditional media such as paper, pencils, charcoal, paint, printmaking, sculpture.. what would that mean?  What would they gain?  What would they lose? What do they really need?  I have been asking myself a lot of questions in the past few days.  It is not unlike my own reluctance to continue to edition prints.  I know I am biased because Drawing, 2D Design and Color Theory are the course I teach.  They are key to my own ability to make a living. I teach Foundations. It is my life blood. So I am biased. So to understand if I am being only biased, or if my argument actually holds weight, I have taken on the task of breaking down the PROS AND CONS of this decision.  I hope that you, as my reader, can add to this list.


  1.  You cannot photograph or film a “CONCEPT”.  Sketches are visual aids for ideas.
  2.  A Camera that does not warp the picture plane, is very expensive, limiting access to great tools to those students with resources.
  3.  Drawing increases the details in observational skills.
  4.  A student registering for Cinema/Video might be being baiting for a career, shortchanging their exposure to the larger world of the  visual arts.  They might very well connect to a process without even knowing it existed.
  5. Simple observational skills using traditional media are time tested.


BLOG: Why would a Photographer Benefit from Sketching?

Photographers benefitting from learning and exploring other media.


Henri Cartier-Bresson


Leave a comment

5 At the Mill

Come celebrate with us on Saturday Night, May 5th, 6-9PM.


Art Colony Prallsville Mills

24 Risler St, Stockton, New Jersey 08559

Directly across route 29 at The John Prall Jr. House – parking available at the Mill.

To help celebrate THAT, “The Hunterdon Art Tour” we are having a little party! Enjoy the work of Susan Mania, Cindy Besselaar, Val Sivilli, Consie Bassett and David Cann in the historic John Prall Jr, House directly across Route 29 from the Prallsville Mill.

Bruce Fredericks of JB Rocks will be performing live music for us and Laura Swanson of River Union Stage is rumored to show up incognito with a special thespian treat for all of us.

And of course ,come celebrate Cinco de Mayo!
A variety of refreshments will be served.

You can park over at the Mill just walk across route 29 – you will see all of those THAT signs! You might want to visit the Watercolor Society’s exhibition at the SawMill while you are there.

Leave a comment

A Righteous Old White Lady

“Nevermind if you think an angry black man is scary …  try dealing with an old white lady when her food order gets screwed up – now that’s scary.”

Incorrectly recalled quote posted via Instagram, tagged to me, her mother, by my 25 year old daughter currently living and working in Philadelphia.

When I get angry I am certain that it is justified. I think of myself as righteous, speaking to power, taking down the man, confronting injustice. Granted it’s mostly when my food order gets screwed up, or when someone is smoking outside an open window while I am eating my lunch, or when someone is at a red light that just turned green and they are still texting, or a cop pulls me over for no apparent reason. It’s always an irritating inept activity that interrupts the illusion of my potentially perfect day coupled with the expectations that we should all do our best all the time.

Like I said – righteous. The scary black man part of the quote was totally lost on me – it was all about me – the scary old white lady.

As a white woman in this world – having been young up until just recently, by the way – I am fully immersed in the illusion that by speaking up I can actually make a difference in the limitations of my fellow human’s activities. If someone is following my car too closely on the one lane road that leads up to my house, I have been known to stop my car, get out and full out tirade on the rudeness and ignorance of such an act. Screaming inconsolably stuff like: “Not only are your headlights blinding me, but there are animals everywhere! Do you know how many deer I have hit on this road? I am not going to kill an animal just because YOU are in a rush! SLOW DOWN! Get off my ass!” Stuff like this. As a young white woman, most of the time, the driver was rendered speechless. As an old white woman, they seem to just want me to die, disappear, evaporate – like some irritating tick bite or bat flying around the house. The response is very different as an old white woman as opposed to a young white woman. Although, if I were a black man – or a black woman for that matter – or just simply just a man (I like the word ‘man’ and ‘simple’ in the same sentence – sorry, knee jerk reaction) 911 would have been called after my license plate was recorded, and I would have been arrested of course assuming that the driver behind me were an old white woman. Because, y’know, that would have been really scary, a violation of an old white woman’s almost perfect day.

What I have come to love about that quote is that, as an old white lady, I am merely a demographic. I am not just an old lady, I am an old WHITE lady. This fact speaks volumes about how people of color have become more viable, more powerful.

This scary old white lady has come to be more ‘woke’ – although I am not totally comfortable using that word, it does feel correct just about now – I have become more and more aware of how race and circumstance effect our behavior.

As an older woman, I am also keenly aware of how I am perceived differently than when I was young. As a young woman, it was difficult to speak to power without being looked at as a sexual object, and a little ‘cute’. Like ‘ok honey,’ whatever you think – that kind of thing. Although I recall, more often, a heightened level of engagement that I do not experience anymore. As an older white woman, when I have almost any interactions, the perception of the lack of my sexuality has become palpable. Almost as if there were something in their heads saying, “she must have been hot when she was young”. Although not sure how much of that is just me. Conversations become tainted by our obsession with youth, as if youth is something to honor in and of itself. We are living in the illusion that being young and sexual is being alive. Now that I am no longer ruled by sexuality, I feel as if I have been freed by the limitations that youth and sexuality had placed upon me. I recently heard a quote on NPR – yes I am one of those old white, righteous ladies that listen to NPR – “If you are lucky, you get to age.”

When we stand up for ourselves we should all expect not to be arrested or shot. We all should expect a perfect day here and there, and not simply the illusion of a perfect day. Hopefully this might happen more often and for more of us regardless of our whiteness, non-whiteness, or for that matter, our age.