Back to the Future: The New Masters Academy
The Culture Dish- With Masha Savitz
The New Masters Academy, the Internet’s subscription-based art education website is democratizing, revitalizing, and revolutionizing art education. It is a brilliant paradox- classical art training presented with the most cutting edge technology and innovation, via a business model that make this instruction accessible to everyone.
I toured the impressive Huntington Beach facilities where the content is created and met Joshua Jacobo, the passionate, articulate, founder of NMA who almost seems to time travel; preserving and promoting the techniques of the great masters of the past, combined with forward thinking expansive tools and methods.
Perhaps the master he is most like in this regard is Da Vinci!
Jacobo explained that their inventive, constructive, approach to art has influenced all forms of art and artist, including comic artists, hobbyists, tattoo artists, landscape painters and portrait artists.
“It even inspired new how-to books to be written and brick and mortar schools began popping up from the heartland of the US, to places not traditionally known for figurative arts like Thailand,” said the California native.
Since the website’s launch in 2012, it has grown to include over one thousand hours of content from over twenty instructors, with Master draftsman Glenn Vilppu, figurative painter Steve Huston, monumental sculptor Ed Fraughton, Disney art director Bill Perkins, Juliette Aristides, John Asaro, Mark Westermoe, David Simon, Johanna Schwaiger and Rey Bustos.
“We have reached millions of artists online and we have educated tens of thousands of students from around the globe, empowering artists with the highest quality art instruction ever produced.” Asserts their website.
Jacobo challenges the high art school tuition fees saying, “what if instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars in art school tuition, where most instructors were not leading artists, or hundreds for master weekend workshops, where most of the information learned was forgotten within a few weeks, everything on one website was available for twenty dollars per month?
“The idea was to create training that was better than anything in the market, online or in-person and to charge an incredibly low amount for everything.”
“Our goal is to offer the world’s most affordable, most comprehensive art education and to get it in the hands of anyone who wants to learn the craft of drawing, painting, or sculpture. We want NMA art to be in schools, studios and homes around the world,”
Raised in a creative home, Jacobo was encouraged by his mom to draw and use his imagination. However, life changed drastically when his mom and stepfather died suddenly in a car accident. Jacobo, then a twenty year old college student, had to work to support himself and his younger brother, shifting the priorities from curious creativity to the stress of survival.
“Putting all of my skills towards earning money, I worked as a designer, copywriter, salesperson, software developer, videographer, photographer and anything else I could, to try to make ends meet.”
“After almost a decade of living my very serious, responsible adult life, the feeling of panic and survival started to abate. I had some financial security and a range of professional experiences. I was working in independent political media, a rewarding but exhausting and sometimes vicious field, and moonlighting as a business consultant helping small companies convert their business models to an increasingly ‘online’ world.”
“I felt a calling to return to my creative passions which had been somewhat delayed, but not extinguished.” He said, “I began to draw again. Part-time at first but with an increasingly insatiable greed.”
Now an adult, he felt like it was time to study art full-time.
“I had fantasies about creating masterpieces that rivaled those of the Old Masters. I felt I had the aptitude and talent and only needed the right training.”
This proved much more difficult that he imagined,
He was shocked to discover what many art students eventually come to realize, that most of the fundamentals of the craft of drawing, painting, and sculpture were no longer being taught.
“Something had happened to art training, and art itself and I struggled to piece together the enormity of this disaster.”
“I learned how the 20th Century’s radical culture shifts had dramatically altered the visual arts. In most of the West, the figure was proclaimed to be dead. In some countries painting itself was considered irrelevant.
The craft of making art had somehow been separated from this ineffable notion of “Art”, which was highly subjective, infinitely inscrutable but quite lucrative for a select few.
Late to the party, I didn’t realize that artists had been “liberated” from the authoritarian, nationalistic, bourgeois, power structures which had “apparently” so oppressed it.”
“So, rather than enrolling in an art program, I purchased a four-volume set of beautiful reproductions of the corpus of Michelangelo’s drawings from his home, now a museum called Casa Buonorotti in Florence, and began the exercises given to apprentices for hundreds of years: I copied the handiwork of the master. I spent nearly three years, painstakingly copying hundreds of these drawings and added many other books to the collection, creating my own independent curriculum.”
But it was connecting with prominent art educator, and industry veteran Glenn Vilppu, that ideas and goals began to coalesce into a mutually beneficial alliance.
“Learning about Glenn from another artist, I was astounded when I first saw his drawings. Here was a living person who could really draw like the Old Masters. I had no choice but to hunt him down and demand that he teach me. Perhaps having watched too many kung-fu movies as a kid, filling my head with delusions, I should have thought better of the plan but that’s precisely what happened.”“Glenn confirmed many of my suspicions about the state of art education and the craft in general. We agreed that what was needed was a return to traditional foundational training and Glenn had made it his life’s mission to do his part with his teaching around the world.”
“My own experience being what it was, I couldn’t help suggest that he take his business online to reach the maximum number of students. The fruit of these conversations was a new business for the family called Vilppu Academy, an online school where students could sign up for prerecorded classes with Glenn.
The classes included live feedback from Glenn himself, digital draw-over critiques and a weekly Google Hangout video chat with students. The small online school was transforming Glenn’s business, winning awards and generating a great buzz throughout the art community.”
“This first step was such a success that I decided to reach much further. Rather than selling individual recorded classes, what if there was an online art school that functioned like a modern subscription site such as Netflix.”
‘What if instead of one master artist there were dozens, each providing expert training on a range of art subjects from anatomy, perspective, painting technique, creature design, the portrait, and of course the figure?”
“Glenn, a lifelong rebel, loved the idea of bringing the best artistic knowledge, from leading minds, to the world for really affordable prices. The goal was to democratize the craft of making art. Thankfully, Glenn wasn’t the only heavy-hitting artist who was on-board; within a few months, we had brought on other famous artists like painter Steve Huston, Disney art director Bill Perkins, art book publishing titan Juliette Aristides, and renowned western monument sculptor Ed Fraughton.”
The content was initially recorded in the garage of Jacobo’s home in Newport Coast, before they eventually moved to a studio space in Huntington Beach. The website went live in March of 2013 with about 100 hours of content in the library, thousands of beautiful reference images of LA art models in dynamic figure poses and portraits, as well as photos of animals in motion, shot by animal painter Joe Weatherly.
They have even developed the world’s first 3D art reference viewer, where artists can study scans of real humans as well as anatomy references and scans of master sculptures. Real word measurements can be taken from the web app and transferred to real life drawings, paintings, or sculptures, perhaps even the envy of Michelangelo, Durer, and Raphael.
Jacobo explained the how the business operated as a generous, and industry-changing revenue-sharing model, “Where artists might earn one or two dollars per copy of art book or DVD sold. At NMA they would take home a proportional share of 50% of all profits, distributed based on the amount of content they had recorded in the pool. This model was written about at length by John Warillow in his Penguin book The Automatic Customer.”
“Our focus is to empower artists from every background, with many different stories to tell, with a solid education in art fundamentals, as well as an historical context for how these crafts have evolved. Just as scientists stand on the shoulders of giants, we believe that artists should as well. That’s why we have our students learn lessons from many different periods and masters of the past. I think if we can move away from some of the artistic ‘nihilism and obscurantism, that is often commercialized by the ‘cognoscenti of art,’ and return to humility and the discipline of our craft, we can create an almost magic and sacred experience in the minds of our students once again. The “new masters” part of our name is in honor of the students we hope will continue to move art forward.”
“Our emphasis on fundamentals rather than just teaching techniques, or how to use the popular current software packages set us apart. Our content doesn’t “age” the way other sites who teach that sort of thing do. And as many aspects of the art industry have come around to our way of thinking, our influence has only grown.”
“Our idea has grown legs and it is influencing artists from beginning to professional level. The momentum we are experiencing is helping us attract more top artists as instructors and our roster is growing. Our video library has swelled to include thousands of video lessons.”
“We knew in the first month that New Masters Academy was going to be a success. It turns out that many other artists and art students around the world were also dissatisfied with the educational options available and looking for something exactly like our website.”
“We started seeing the influence of our instruction early on. The quality of work being produced and shared online on art forums, Facebook, or Instagram was improving and many artists were crediting us with their changes of understanding and thinking. Some of them quite influential and well subscribed.”
“Today we have millions of followers in our network and have taught tens of thousands of students. We produce free content on our Youtube channel and we donate subscriptions to underprivileged communities via a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization called Art Empower.
Our goal is to see NMA in the hands of anyone who wants to improve their life by learning new skills in the arts.”
Plans for the future?
“As important as art education is,” says Jacobo, “it’s just one part of our larger mission. My wife, and fellow sculptor, Johanna Schwaiger and I are working on building a sculpture workshop in California to produce monumental public works to get high-quality art into communities around the world. We are collaborating with many of our colleagues, putting all of the knowledge contained at New Masters Academy into practice, leading by example in the art community.
We are also interested in entering the art market with alternative business models for creating and selling art for artists and art collectors, including changing the common conception of who an art collector can be.”
“Also in production, is an art series for young children, called Little Masters; Think Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood meets Bob Ross, designed to teach children fundamental skills as well as life lessons about the power of creativity and how to find beauty in the world around us.”
“That will also be available to all subscribers as part of their subscription.”
“This year we’re adding the world’s most comprehensive landscape painting courses to the website, produced outdoors in the US and Europe. We are also bringing some of the Academic and Realist approaches to the website to complement our constructive approaches. We have invited many international artists from China, Russia, and Europe to bring their traditional cultural arts to the website; from Tyrolean wood carving, to traditional Chinese Ink Painting. We are building an artist store and new ‘art news’ area of our site called the Canvas. We are also looking to teach more entertainment arts and find new ways to make the site more interactive and strengthen our community.”
“If we think about how our society moves increasingly towards the automation of mechanical and increasingly cognitive jobs, we must discover new ways to structure our economies. One way I think that can happen is for us to place a higher value on the creative work of other humans. This is what is so beautiful and unique about art. It is created by the human mind, for other humans minds to experience, and its the profound similarly of human experience, as well the ambiguities and differences between those minds that create the “magic” of art. It’s a connecting of minds that can stretch across thousands of years and yet feel as intimate as a conversation.”
“I think art should be increasingly precious in the future. As we cultivate our sense of humanity, beauty, and community, we can make our lives, from the architecture, decoration and planning of our spaces, to what we see on our screens and in our homes, a more aesthetic experience. Every aspect of our lives can be refined with art and with an increasing harmony with nature.”
Jacobo is impassioned about what he does. He believes that we can make our society better, despite new challenges and crushing setbacks, and he believes in the alchemical power of art.
“What I love most about art is its ability to connect us with our intrinsic nobility and love for each other and for nature. I love how great art can inspire, challenge, and comfort us. I believe art can elevate us, that it is anything but useless. In some respects, our artistic creations represent the best of our natures.”
Visit their website at: https://www.nma.art/