Old In Art School – What Have I Learnt So Far?

Sep 16, 2023

Ecole des Beaux Arts, in Versailles.

In September 2022, I started the second year of a three-year programme at the Art School in Versailles France, at the age of fifty eight. It is a small regional school and just what I needed. I had been attending life drawing, photography and painting lessons of and on, for about ten years, but I had become frustrated with the limited stimulation that only  a few hours tuition a week can offer. Also adult classes are necessarily a money making enterprise and the teacher generally feels obliged to be gentle with her students.

I wanted an artistic kick in the arse and to be challenged to fulfil my potential, if indeed I have potential.

At the beginning of the year we were approximately 60 students with around 30 in my second year. My classmates come from many different countries, only about a third are French and our ages range from 20 to 60 yrs, with five mature students.

An original way of hanging my Daphne etchings.

Ecole des Beaux Arts – Curriculum.

We had two compulsory subjects: Art History and Art and Space, which is learning how to hang and show your work most effectively, a far richer and interesting topic than you might first think. As well as the two non-elective subjects, we were required to choose five different disciplines to study. I chose painting, etching, sculpture and creating with digital images, an introduction to digital animation. We had around 30 hours of lessons a week, much of which was quite theoretical and set homework projects. Also, on the first day of school in September we were told that we were expected to develop work on our own personal project, across all disciplines. Our project could be about anything we wanted, but the topic should ideally be something about which we have very deep feelings. Topics of social, societal or political importance were implicitly encouraged.

I have always been a feminist and personally, I do not see how you can be a woman and not be a feminist, but that’s just me. There are of course different levels of feminist thought and action, from the militant and bare breasted Femen to quiet feminists such as myself, who until recently only sought to encourage my daughters to be strong independent women.


I knew straight away that in my future work I wanted to denounce violence against women, but what images to create in order to do that was unclear for me for quite some time. Over the first few months I floundered going in one direction then another and then settled on denouncing femicide: “the intentional murder of women or girls, because they are female”, more often than not at the hands of a partner, ex-partner, or family member.

This is the plexiglass plaque that I engraved with a female version of La Mort de Marat, a famous French revolutionary painting.


The second year curriculum at the Versailles art school is designed to introduce students to a wide variety of different techniques and to encourage experimentation and the development of a personal style. The first term was exciting, exhausting and destabilising. At the first meeting with the faculty, our painting tutor said:

“Forget everything you have done in art until today. I will deconstruct you and put you back together”.

I had no idea what she was talking about, but soon found out. We were told by numerous tutors in no uncertain terms that “academic” technic in drawing or painting is of no importance and that if we wanted to learn to draw or paint in a traditional way, we could look at You Tube tutorials. The only job we had was to create and provoke an emotional response.

Etching and Sculpture.

In etching, an exhausting all day class, we learnt traditional etching techniques on copper or zinc plates that are dipped in a bath of acid, inked and then covered with wet printing paper and rolled through the press. Towards the end of the year, I created two series of large etchings on card, preferring the bigger format and dispensing with the strong smelling acid bath. You can see my etchings here. I also attempted wood block printing, which you can see here.

In sculpture we learnt some basic techniques using plaster, clay and wire, but also art theory such as the difference between Place and Non Place, a real brain teaser, or the necessity of capturing the viewers attention and provoking emotion. Below is a model of my fist that we sculpted first in clay, then made a plaster mould around the clay and then a plaster cast in the mould.

Filling The Well .

Thanks to our fascinating art history tutor, I can now appreciate and have some understanding of contemporary art, even of the conceptual genre such as installations. Previously, I had had little experience of seeing contemporary art, except for the big names like David Hockney, because I didn’t dare go into  galleries,  where living artists are on show. I thought that such places were only for collectors, for the rich and educated. It turns out that the gallery staff have no problem with students and other art lovers trolling through their exhibits and they are often quite welcoming and happy to chat about the art.

To fill the well of artistic inspiration we are encouraged to see as much art as possible. So, once or twice a month my classmates and I take a day to visit galleries and museums in Paris. I haven’t made a precise count as yet, but we must have seen about forty exhibitions between September and June this year. That is a lot of art! It’s easy to tell who the students are though, we are the ones peering at the surface of the work, setting off the alarms, while we try to figure out how the piece was made. The contemporary work that has most stuck in my mind this year is the British Canadian artist Megan Rooney, whose exhibit we saw at the Thaddeus Ropac gallery. I am probably a colourist* more than anything else and her use of colour in this particular series was fascinating and vibrant.

One of my classmates and gallery buddy, enjoying the painting.

What’s next?

In a week’s time I will be starting my final year of the three year course. With three separate assessment panels in December, March and June, it is going to be intense.

While photographing my work for this new site, I felt proud of what I have achieved and learnt in this past year. So remember that it is never too late to follow your dreams.

Wish me luck.

Henrie XO

What’s That* ?!

Colourist painting is a style of painting characterised by the use of intense colour, which becomes the dominant feature of the resultant work of art, more important than its other qualities. It has been associated with a number of artists and art movements throughout the 20th century. I think that David Hockney’s work is a good example, although he might not agree with the term himself.

British artist David Hockney in front of his work entitled Studio #4, at the launch of an Exhibition of his work called David Hockney: Painting And Photography at Annely Juda Fine Art in central London, 2017.



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