An interview with Ted Seth Jacobs: guidance for the art student




Ted seth jacobs is a painter, teacher and author. He was born in 1927 and has an artistic career that spans over five decades. Ted has had over seventy solo shows and executed hundereds of commissions. He is also the author of best-selling books: Drawing with an Open Mind and Light for the Artist. He began teaching from the age of 18 at the historic Art Student’s League of New York. Subsequently, he taught at the New York Academy of Art, before founding a school in France, which he called L’ecole Albert Dufois, after the mayor of the village who welcomed him. Since, many of Ted’s students have become notable artists and teachers. Ted currently lives, works and teaches in Les Cerqueux Sous Passavant.

Ted has gracriously agreed to answer a couple of my questions concerning art-student matters. The interview was conducted at his home in the late autumn of 2014.

MN : Your thoughts on choosing a teacher to study with?  

TSJ : From the start you don’t know, look at the Artist’s work and select the one which you would like to most reproduce. To pick a teacher, look at the student works and see whether it is a style you would like to learn. It’s impossible to know whether the teacher can transmit his style, or teach, in other words, you have to try. I didn’t realize realism was based on principles. I started with a teacher who was really academic, was really well-known, he was like an institution, he had a very good reputation, most of the well-known painters had studied with him (in the 1940’s), but after a few years, I recognized the work was not real, as I saw it on the model stand, but constructed. Painting, drawing, and sculpture. He was a painting instructor. Drawing teacher, the same, a cut and dry system, in general, a really artificial mechanical style. But I didn’t know from the start. Sometimes I subbed for him, I knew his style thoroughly. Follow steps, get style of work, but little to do with reality. After 2-3 years what does it look like, I asked myself, in opposition to what I was told. 

MN: What attributes, if any, are key for an art student to have:

TSJ: Open attitude, most difficult is to accept a new way of seeing things. The most useful attitude for a student starting out is to say to one’s self, I know nothing. The most productive way the student is to use the time is to accept what the teacher is teaching, use it , but then also, it’s very imporant to ask yourself, does it correspond to what I am seeing. First: understand and absorb, then, ask: does it correspond to what I am seeing?  If it doesn’t, then the person asks what am I actually seeing.

If I could remove from my mind all my preconceptions, all my verbal descriptions, all my personal preferences, then I must ask myself, what are the eyes actually transmitting? Then to go really deeply into that approach you have to constantly ask yourself, whether what I am putting on the paper or canvas looks like what the eyes are sending to my brain, you have to have the courage and the relentless determination to find the optimum match that can be made with paint. In general the most productive aproach is to assume that you can always get it closer.

Ted provides further information concerning the subject of learning in art, in his book, Drawing with an Open Mind, which abounds with invaluable knowledge about drawing and beyond.