Back To School or…What I learned in my MoMA Class



Back to School might be exaggerated but for six weeks I visited a class every monday at the Museum of Modern Art called The Modern Studio: Rauschenberg, Johns, Cage.



I knew the instructor Corey D’Augustine already from other classes and knew he would do a great job . Since my husband is an avid fan of John Cage and schlepped me once into a concert where the 4’33” piece was performed…I was really interested in this workshop. My husband and I discuss music and art and their connection and places in history a lot. You have to know the musician of 4’33” of whatever instrument is instructed to not play for the length of 4 minutes and 33 seconds. I can tell you this – when I watched/listened/attended/experienced the piano player in silence in concert  it made me extremely awkward. I remember thinking   “What the hay?” …”Am I missing something?” …”What are the others doing?” …”Am I stupid and just don’t get it?” …”Brilliant..and I paid for this” …”I wonder why?”

If you are interested in this- read about the exhibition at MoMA  “There will never be silence”.  John Cage influenced a huge variety of artists and still does and so I was really curious about the class.


In every session we began with an art history lecture, then we wandered around the empty gallery and talked about the artwork, and then we had some studio time. We mostly had to work in oil but also used some wax  and we were free to use whatever was available in the studio. I never really worked with oil so I was curious how I would like it. We also learned how to stretch a canvas- which I didn’t master until the end- my canvases are all saggy sad little buggers- but oh well- some day I will tackle it. The fun part about this class was visiting it with my friend Julie :) and it was a very cherished time together usually with a nice dinner before or after class.

Here is what I did after a Rauschenberg inspired Lesson:




While I was not unhappy with it – I felt bored…because somehow I did all the stuff I usually do. It was still very controlled and not really out of the box for my usual approach ….yes there is more personal hidden meaning in the whole thing- but from the outside it is just the usual textured stuff.

The next lesson was Jasper Johns inspired and we visited the new exhibition at MoMA called “Regrets” -amazing- I will go there a couple more times. I really tried to do something different from my style this time and in a non typical german behavior screwed up the order …on purpose…and I guess you figured and I will be honest…I also was tired of cleaning up the oil paint brushes …yes …it might not be my medium as the cleaning is soooo hideous- LOL





That was interesting and fun…but not quite me….

When we went to the current Sigmar Polke Exhibition: Alibis – which I already saw- I love Sigmar Polke and I love finding cultural references – It is a very “hard” exhibition for a non-German and even for a German to get some of the references- and yet still you do not understand fully. I appreciate the free-ness of his experimenting with colors, stencils and materials and  word plays. BTW- without meaning it disrespectful in regards to our wonderful and super knowledgeable teacher,  – it was the only lecture where I felt I had a slight advantage of knowing some of the references – because of the language and the icons used. Again- that doesn’t mean I know the meaning behind his work. I get it that Sigmar Polke would have liked the exhibition shown as is with no explanation and yes it puts it down to just looking at the materials and making your own connections but MEH – a little bit translation/explanation of the figures used so that people can then still make their own assumptions would be ok and still  leave lot’s of things open for interpretation.

We had an all evening studio lecture where we finished our works and then we had kind of an art critic circle where we showed one piece and talked about what we liked/meant or what we didn’t like about the work and then it was open to the public opinion. I was amazed by some of the pieces-a lot of the students never painted, we had several musicians, graphic designers, performance artists, poets, an art dealer, and people just interested in doing something creative in our class.



It was really interesting to see and then hear what influenced everyone from the lectures and I loved seeing how much fun everyone had. This is my piece I showed- it was my first canvas – started in the John Cage Lecture – again very usual for me : texture, colors – the only difference to what I usually do was the oil paint – and then in the end I came back to it and stretched some plastic tarp over and screen printed on top and did some marks. It is a hard to see in the photograph but you might get an idea from the detail pictures.





I like it because I played with different materials and with the texture – non texture appearance – I find it pretty interesting. So ..

What did I learn in this class:

  • I don’t like not being in the know about my medium. It is not that I dislike oil- I  just hadn’t had the feeling I was mastering it – it mastered me.
  • Art can sometimes only be understood with the same cultural background as the artist – but you do not need to understand art completely and it can still speak to you.
  • Many great artists never studied art – so get over the fact you didn’t study art.
  • All artists we talked about learned craft or did craft work to  support their living and they all took something away from that right into their art.
  • In the 50s /60s there seemed to be way more cross inspiration between all fields of art going on – musicians, performance artists, calligraphy artists, dancers, painters, writers …they influenced each other and exchanged ideas

What I take away for the future:

  • I would like to reach out and meet up with other artists from different fields in my community – I think it can be only highly inspiring
  • I want to work more with different substrates and play more with texture – non-texture- push and pull in my art work
  • It is fine to stick to one concept for a while and work on it before moving away and do something different – you will see more city canvases for now ;)
  • Some things I do are just fine the way I do them…just because you taught them yourself doesn’t mean they are not good. Stop doubting.

So that was a long post- but I hope you enjoyed it a bit – it is what influences me in my artwork- and I am sure this class will have a share of influence in the future

Is there any class/workshop you took (doesn’t have to be art related) that influenced you a lot in the past?

Have a gorgeous day


Comments (5)

  • Karen D


    I really enjoyed your post on your classes at MoMA, how amazing it must have been to do those classes and see all the artwork of those legendary artists. I have just recently finished a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Creative and Performing Arts and I have to say that it has really informed my own artwork. I have been painting in acrylics for a number of years and dabble in stamping and now art journaling, but it is always hard to find your own voice. Studying about all of the artists you mentioned, as well as many others has given me a great insight into art, why we do it and how to create. I would love to be in your position of being able to go to MoMA and attend classes there. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience.


  • Kelly Belton


    I have probably learned more from watching my son work ( he is an artist), and living with his art all around me. As he works in several different media with absolute confidence that has inspired me to forge ahead and not fear “mistakes”.
    Several classes I have taken from you Nat, have reinforced that sense of freedom and introduced me to techniques previously unknown.
    I appreciate more and more being able to find the beauty in all that surrounds me, whether it is intentionally art or not.
    I have had access to some great instruction and art history at the AGO here in Toronto and have concluded from that – and indeed all of the above – that life truly is art. Every day.


  • Sue Clarke


    I really enjoyed that post Nat.
    One class that I took at CKC a # of years ago made an impression on me. The instructor said that there was no reason that we couldn’t scrap the same photo more than once and that we didn’t need to scrap chronologically. I found and still find this freeing. Can’t say why it clicked for me but it did.
    I also had a great time at one of Julie’s classes at AE and learned about using deli paper and other cool techniques. I’m still learning to let go of the finished product and just play.


  • Denise


    Loved the post. Good info and learning. I really do love your art and your city canvas’s. And your walks in the hood. I always look forward to your posts. Can’t wait for Create TX.


  • Gina Sismilich


    Nat – I have been so inspired by your paintings of buildings – yours are just so lovely – I’m not quite there yet but I mentioned your website in my blog post this week – right here It’s an abstract cityscape WIP and I am trying to brighten it up without overworking it – If you get a chance to take a look that would be great. If not I just wanted you to know that I mentioned your blog this week.


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