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What I Did After Art School — 5 Comments

  1. Queens College was notoriously harsh to art students in the 70s and 80s with many students in tears from harsh reviews. Words like dilettante were thrown around continually. There were (fortunately) many extremely talented professionl artists teaching there as well so at least there was balance. I had one not so supportive dude tell me I wasn’t painting I was only doing tinted drawings. Or I’m not an artist I’m an illustrator. Being a smart ass NYC kid who had a fabulous mentor since 15 I swatted back at him regularly. He never gave me a high grade even though I certainly deserved it. I was lucky. I heard many students told they should take up anothet hobby. Thank god the good teachers were fantastic artists as well. My sr review was a sweet victory when I overheard the panel saying wow! Who did these? Even the beasts.

    In the end I am grateful for even the harsh critics. Being a female Artist you have to be tough and that early commando training comes in handy.

  2. Yes indeed Virginia the critiques were harsh but I appreciated them because they motivated me and toughened me up. The art world is tough as a female artist but it’s not all that easy on the males either. Experiencing those critiques and learning where to store them so they didn’t destroy me helped me in the equally difficult world of sales. I thank my Professors Robert Birmelin & Herb Aach who were my mentors and truly encouraged my work and my style. My understanding and love of color was instilled in me by Prof. Aach. Wolf Kahn on the other hand praised my work if I painted in his style and was extraordinarily harsh to me if I didn’t.

    I’m eternally grateful for the comprehensive art education I received at Queens College. I’ve carried those lessons on a daily basis in my studio and elsewhere throughout my life. .

  3. Dear Mary Ahern,
    So good to hear the story of your courage and perseverance. It’s heartening to know that your experience at Queens Art Dept., eventually found a use at a later point in your remarkable career. In looking back I realize that many of the dismissive things said in crits were often often made from the too narrowly focused ideological positions of faculty members, sometimes, myself included .
    Even so the faculty( almost all men) was made up of serious artists who took their profession seriously.
    Were women students often undervalued and treated as less worthy than the men? YES. Women had to work harder and be more assertive to receive the same level of attention as men. The ingrained sexism of that generation of us men (artists included) was pervasive and often unconscious ( I don’t exempt myself either). It took the courage and determination of many of women, like you to move the dial toward greater respect and equality.
    If you imagine from this that I have been influenced by a smart ,strong woman you would be right. My dear wife, Blair and I have discussed,and often argued about these issues for over 50 years.

    I enjoyed seeing the photo showing your paintings.You still love color.
    I’m fortunate to be still painting and drawing, working in my studio in Midtown Manhattan, following out my imagination.
    My best regards,

    • I am so pleased to hear from you Prof Birmelin! It is such a treat to be able to thank someone for the support they gave you 40 years ago during the difficult formative years of my art school education. You encouraged me to pursue my own style and that my voice had merit. You took me aside when you saw that I was attacked cruelly by another professor and confirmed that I was an Artist, that my own personal work was strong and that I should stay focused on my vision. That was such an important gift you gave me and one which I still carry through my art to this day. Thank you!

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