Du spinnst

Spinster © Samantha Groenestyn

The foundation year in most art colleges today, asserts Marshall Arisman, ‘is based on the Bauhaus.’* The backbone of the interdisciplinary school was the first year–a tasting plate of ‘painting, drawing, photography, typography, 2D and 3D design, materials, and so on, in addition to literature, creative writing and art history.’ The key to the Bauhaus philosophy in terms of curriculum is that all arts–those of the artist and of the craftsman–are interconnected and even, in Gropius’s words, exhibit ‘logical interdependence on one another.’ Arisman argues that modern art schools tend to mimic this smorgasbord of a first year but ‘without the Bauhaus philosophy.’

Arisman argues that offering a broad range of creative subjects is not enough. What matters is that the school and its teachers truly adhere to the philosophy that there is no hierarchy between arts. Where modern schools go wrong, my own feeble commercial arts college included, is in tacking some arts on as an afterthought. Illustration generally suffers this fate. What results is confusion, and my own story illustrates this.

I started studying a Bachelor of Communication Design as a seventeen-year-old, fresh from high school, and was quickly enamoured of my illustration class and the gouache and dip pens that ensued. My teacher always demanded ‘more zingy dark bits,’ and I worked on my shadows with reckless abandon. However, a larger component of my degree was digital design. I enjoyed this aspect of the course, though it wasn’t my strong point, and before the year was out I lost interest and applied for a philosophy degree. The course wasn’t what I hoped university would be–it wasn’t in any way intellectually stimulating. I hadn’t signed up for a HECS debt to learn how to use Photoshop.

The amalgamation of illustration and graphic design–indeed, the tacking on of illustration to a graphic design degree–muddied my career aspirations as a teenager trying to make bold decisions about my future. I simply didn’t know one could be an illustrator. One just dabbled in it to supplement one’s graphic design.

I wouldn’t be wrong to think this, according to the job market. Illustrators in Brisbane at least are expected to be bricklayers, Scrabble champions and qualified counsellors to boot:


‘Advanced skills in Adobe Creative Suite’ are industry standard. To be an illustrator, one must already be a successful graphic designer, but absolutely not the other way around. Some colleges don’t teach illustration at all. For some time I flirted with the idea of studying at Shillington College, a wholly digital course. My current school ‘teaches’ illustration, though I would say that it begrudgingly tolerates it. My teacher photocopied us elephant pictures to practice shading in, so we wouldn’t get scared of drawing. As we inked away portraits from the stock images, he whipped out a pen and said, ‘I feel like drawing. I can’t remember the last time I did drawing.’ One must be expert at InDesign to be an illustrator, but one needs no artistic ability to be a graphic designer.

Du spinnst–you’re crazy.

My Nanna gave me this lovely spinning wheel last year. We bundled it up in the car on our way back up to Brisbane. Pa likes to call me ‘the spinster,’ I suppose because I’m unmarried at the ripe old age of twenty-five!

* Teaching Illustration. 2006. Eds Steven Heller and Marshall Arisman. Allworth: New York.


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