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APPart – Art Backgrounds with Mel Harrison


We’re delighted to publish Mel Harrison’s latest article to her Column, APPart. This time Mel laments her art education but questions the style of art teaching and why it can either inhibit or encourage your natural creativity. A great piece to ponder, over to you Mel. (Foreword by Joanne Carter).



“My New Years resolution was to start contributing to my column here at The App whisperer on a regular basis.

I opened this document in the Pages App and stared at it for a long time. I was getting a bit terse with myself because writing and art is something that usually comes freely to me. Then I realised I have to just let it flow. I am never going to be an artist that will work well with consignment work. For me art is a roller coaster I have to be in the mood to ride, ready to take the ups and downs, the thrill of the ride. I sit back at the end looking at the work and often my thoughts are wow! Where did that come from?

Staring at this blank document I was taken back to my high school art class experience. I changed schools half way through an important year. My old school had an art program that was free, expressive and suited me completely. It is truly where my love of art evolved.

My new school was a different kettle of fish. I walked into the new classroom and was greeted by a stern looking woman asking me who I was and why I was there. She declared I couldn’t just ‘join’ her class ‘was I good enough?’

That day I had new emotion associated with art, FEAR. Fear and all it’s associated feelings if self doubt. I was sat at a desk and asked to draw what I saw in the corner. I sketched in detail the mop and bucket, the broom and paint tin. I added as much detail to the drawing as I could. The scale was out I knew it, and I was worried! I had never before been ‘worried’ by art. The teacher gave it nothing but a cursory glance and told me to sit with the rest of the class.

Art in her class was a formula. Plans had to be made before starting a project. Sketches done, methodology written down.

I longed for the free and expressive art curriculum of my old school. Where it was never questioned if I was good enough and where my creativity blossomed before it’s wings were clipped.

Needless to say I didn’t go on to study art at a higher level.

What was your art education like? Did it encourage your or discourage you? Did you go on to study at a tertiary level?”





Mel Harrison is an Australian digital artist, iPhone photographer and writer. Her work has been shown in exhibitions around the world including the LA-MAF. She has been honoured with Artist of the Day and Artist of the Month at Mel is active in the IPhoneography community and is part of our sister site staff team at You can follow Mel's work at and her work is a available to purchase via As a Columnist for, Mel will focus on digital art and collage images. Her column will be called APPart and she will be incorporating a different 'mainstream' editing app each week and will hopefully inspire you to try your hand at some APPart of your own.


  • Tracy Mitchell Griggs

    Never studied art. Took one photojournalism course in college – got an “A” and then did two independent studies and also got “A”s in both. After college, did not do any photography ( no darkroom or equipment ) and did not really pick up a camera until two years ago when I got an iPhone – been a very steep, but interesting learning curve, learning a digital language – not sure I would have survived DSLR and Photoshop, but after being on the iPhone, I want to go “backwards” and get a camera and learn Photoshop 🙂

    Art education seems like an oxymoron – at best, skills to learn tools can be taught, but art’s foundation is really more an approach to life, no?

  • Mel Harrison

    “Art education seems like an oxymoron – at best, skills to learn tools can be taught, but art’s foundation is really”

    Completely agree Tracy!

  • Jennifer Sharpe

    What a good question, and I’m joining this discussion very, very late.

    I grew up with art because my father came from an art background. I started drawing and painting habitually when I was very young. I also was good at “regular” school, and though I took art classes here and there over the years – life drawing, sculpture, painting, enameling, soldering and casting for jewelry pieces, etc – I had this gut worry about art schools. The quality of the teachers always seemed so arbitrary from my experience in both for-credit and non-credit classes, I was kind of afraid to learn art in that particular way. Since I was good at academics, I got a lot of encouragement to get a bachelor’s degree, so I did – in East Asian studies. But once I graduated, I was back at trying to figure out how to incorporate art into my life while being able to earn a steady income. I never was one of those people who could be “supported in the style to which I am accustomed,” as my father used to joke about people who could perfectly well earn their own living, instead of leaning on someone else. I guess I inherited a bit of that particular work and community ethic, fitting in with the average person. But economic realities aside, I have and still do work at what would be considered a “normal” job, and in the meanwhile I have always done my artwork separately.

    And I have found, that in the age of the internet, and with pure passion, it is possible – shockingly – to make art, have a complex life that even includes children, and earn a living that does not force one to compromise one’s vision. It is not easy, but it can be done. Sometimes, the alternative choices you face are worse than that, so that is what you do.

    Also, I really believe that all artists who want to pursue an original vision MUST move away from school environments eventually to become confident in their voice, and really good expressing what they need to express as incisively as possible. Schools can provide a mentor, perhaps, some technique (depending on what you specialize in), and a community you can get together with in person, hopefully. Although, I’ve found that you can do all of that through the internet these days too – if you prefer to.