Back to School! 4 Artists I Remember From School

max ernst landscape painting eye of silence 1943-1944

We’re going back to school – high school that is. The art room was my sanctuary in those days. My art teacher was such a huge influence on so many kids and she was the main reason I ever thought I was any good at art.

With art classes came art history lessons. As a teenager I loathed any sort of history-related learning, so I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and see what stuck! Here are four artists I remember studying and what I remember learning about them.

Georgia O’Keeffe

She was, and still is, one of my favorite artists. O’Keeffe was referenced a lot in the art room and my art teacher even kind of looked like her. We painted the obligatory close up of flowers in one class and in another class we painted buildings in her Precisionist style.

georgia o'keeffe portrait photo back to school
She was beautiful in every photo Stieglitz took of her

My art teacher lived on a farm and brought in stuff for us to draw. There was a cow skull we often sketched, Chinese Lanterns, and so many eggplants. Seriously. So. Many. Eggplants. I don’t eat them, don’t like looking at them, please don’t ever let me have to draw an eggplant again… Still, it all takes me right back to school days.

O’Keeffe was a woman of many layers. This biography is an excellent look at her life and offers a perspective on her work through her eyes.


Is there a kid that took art classes that didn’t have to do a Cubism project? Most of what we learned about Picasso left my brain long ago, but I do know we didn’t learn about the double entendre in his work or that he was an infamous womanizer. It’s extra funny to me since we spent a fair amount of time studying The Dream.

The Dream. Painting by Picasso. 1932.
The Dream. 1932.

Most of what we focused on was cubism (we had to paint a study of Guernica at one point), but “The Old Guitarist” is what struck a chord with me. Picasso’s Blue Period has always been my favorite because of the raw emotion it exudes.

The Old Guitarist Painting by Picasso. 1903.
The Old Guitarist. 1903.

Salvador Dali

If I go digging I might still have the pastel recreation I did of The Persistence of Memory (the melted watches). I also did a huuuuuuge study of Sleep, which didn’t need to be so huge except I made the thing longer than it was supposed to be and just went with it.

back to school Sleep painting by Dali
Sleep. 1937.

I don’t remember learning much about Dali himself in art class, but we did learn a bit about him in Spanish class. I drew an entire scene of aliens and ninja turtles (which I still have) on the article we had to read about Dali in Spanish. He was muy prolifico! The article talked a bit about how eccentric he was, but didn’t really mention his sexual predilections. As 10th graders we probably didn’t need to know that he was a butt man.

Dali was pretty kooky (and kinky) to say the least. I recommend his book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship if you want a peek into his process. Take it all with a grain of salt and enjoy the ride!

Max Ernst

The first surrealist I learned about wasn’t actually Dali. It was Ernst. This one might be more from elementary school, but there is one word that is permanently in my brain from our lessons about Max Ernst: decalcomania.

First you lay some paint down, then you push something into it to create texture. Then you use that texture as part of your composition. It leaves some of the process up to chance and I don’t recall having much luck (or patience) with it as I smooshed tin foil and crumpled paper into my paint. Ernst, on the other hand, often used the technique to create his Surrealist landscapes. I still love his work. Maybe it’s time to try decalcomania again…

max ernst landscape painting eye of silence 1943-1944
The Eye of Silence. 1943-44.

Back to School Bonus! The Dadaists


That’s how this video starts and transitions through this hour-long documentary about the Dada art movement. It’s so burned into my brain that it’s all I can remember from the video. I don’t know if we had a substitute teacher that day or if the video was planned, but it gets your attention even if you aren’t paying attention. We only watched it for that one class – I think. Something about it makes me feel like I saw it more than once.

And now, I pass the experience on to you! DADADADADADADADADADADADADADADADA!

What kind of art takes you back to school?