You Probably Didn’t Learn Jack Shit From Youtube

From time to time, I have students imply they “already know how to do something” I’m trying to explain or demonstrate to them. Unsurprisingly, they actually don’t understand it at all and in fact also have a huge issue trying to do the thing they are insisting they know well. These things that they “know” range from shape finding, establishing lights and darks, and more, but the things they are having trouble with more often are the beginning stage elements of a drawing and painting.

Very often, I hear the same phrase from a student… “I’ve been watching youtube videos by this one person…” and they go on to explain in detail what the person in the youtube video said to do. The amount of misdirection, I’ve seen people led to via these videos are dumbfounding.

Now, before I go ahead and rant more about this subject, I do want to say that there is a ton of great information on these platforms… youtube, vimeo, gumroad, etc… But there is no quality control. Beginning artists have almost zero gauge to know if the information they are receiving is actually helpful… or completely bogus and misleading. Beginning artists especially need to know how to pick out the useful information out of a sea of bullshit.

One of the biggest problems I run in to as an instructor is getting people to un-learn things that are making their progress harder for them. I tell my students all of the time. “Your goal as an artist is to develop and learn a way that makes your lives easier, not harder”. Things that will make your life harder include:

  • rushing to put down marks
  • not double checking how your shapes relate to each other
  • falling back in to the mode of making detail up, under the guise of “artistic license”

These things are often overlooked in even some of the GOOD youtube tutorials, but artists that are starting out would not know to look out for that.

Similarly with the perception of how a novice would look at a finished work and not see the beginning rough stages, they do not realize there are these little nuances that make a huge difference in the outcome of the finished product. Hell, in my classes, I even go over basic posture and stretching techniques… and even how high up your work area should be, so you can properly set up your easel. It makes a huge difference. These things make your job of putting down the right marks that you want much more easy.

Why is this a problem? These youtube videos that are made horribly that make novice artists unknowingly cut the wrong corners and led in unhelpful directions? Why do I care? Why does it matter what other people do?

When a novice artist learns something a certain way, there is a certain level of stubbornness that comes with it. There are multiple ways to skin a cat. I’m not sure why that is a saying, or why my second grade math teacher told us that, when I was young, but it’s true. And when a student is resistant on what an artist that is actually qualified to teach them how to draw is telling them “these approaches are going to be helpful for you and will strengthen your understanding of how to go about doing similar things in the future” or “doing this thing that you are doing is acting like a crutch and is going to hurt you in the long run”…. Whatever it may be… and then they keep falling back to the things an experienced artist is advising against, it’s obviously frustrating for the instructor, but even beyond that, it is frustrating for the student. It’s frustrating for the student because they many times are doing something they have been taught is right. Sometimes they do these things without even realizing it, thinking that they are doing the technique that they just got taught by their instructor. They say “I did it exactly like you showed me” when in reality they did the opposite.

What is the takeaway from this rant, though? Unfortunately, I doubt this will stop the influx of shitty youtube tutorials. I also don’t think this will stop people from watching them. I do suggest though, that new artists looking to learn from these videos do a bit of research on the artist. Does this artist have a portfolio? What does their artwork look like? Does it look in any way competent? (this should trim the list of videos significantly) Does this artist have students? What does their artwork look like? Have they shown a positive change from before they started learning from this artist? (this should trim down that list even more)

The beginning of your artistic career is very daunting. There is not a lot of footing and not much way for someone to decipher which way is up. Once you do gain some footing and start to pick up a strong understanding of what makes drawings and paintings work, you will have a better time picking apart how to decipher these videos, just by looking at them. Even just looking at a painting, you will have an easier time picking apart the process of how to get to that finished product.

-Stephen Yavorski

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