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 will no longer be required for communications majors:  Photography or Cinema or Video.  I was a bit shocked at this decision.  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.  To teach as well as we can and be relevant regarding the shifting landscape of creative human expression is our biggest challenge. The fundamentals of being human does not change as technology does.

Many years ago, after earning my MFA in Printmaking, digital prints were as amazing as lithos, etchings and silkscreens.  They became faster, cleaner and cheaper. I could no longer justify spending countless hours in the printshop. Those labor intensive plates and expensive editions seemed seemed excessive. So, for the most part, I stopped editioning.

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 work 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