Art teacher challenges myth of innate artistic abilities
Meredith Grenier

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES – “I can’t draw a straight line.”

How often have you heard this lament — often coming from your own mouth? Maybe you are convinced you have no artistic talent — no natural ability, no gifts from the visual arts gods. Your hands are tied by fate and you can never learn to draw, much less paint.

Nonsense, says Larry Gluck, founder of Mission: Renaissance Fine Art Studios. The Glendale-based business operates a studio in Rolling Hills Estates and 18 others throughout Los Angeles County.

“Anyone can learn to draw — and draw well,” says Gluck.

It is not that difficult, he says. You can learn to play the piano, to speak a foreign language, or master the game of golf. Why is learning to draw so special.

“Any complex activity can be broken down into understandable and simple steps. By learning the correct steps in the proper sequence, you can acquire any talent,” says Gluck.

That’s the premise of an art program he conceived more than 20 years ago, after spending nine years as a professional watercolorist in St. Thomas, where he sold 3,500 representational paintings of the Virgin Islands. Soon his art program will spread to studios in Orange County, San Diego and San Francisco with long-term plans to go nationwide.

Judging from increased attendance by children and adults at South Bay art schools, fewer people are intimidated by what Gluck calls the “natural talent myth,” which for years has frozen would-be artists into a creative dead zone.

Even with a plethora of art classes offered in adult education programs and community centers, local art schools are thriving. In the Peninsula-based Mission Renaissance children’s after-school program alone there are 12 classes a week (each with an average of 15 students). And throughout Los Angeles County 4,000 adults and children are enrolled in Gluck’s Mission: Renaissance program.


In this system, students with no previous experience progress at their own rate, but the average beginner takes about 10 weeks to master the basic line drawing course, beginning with learning how to hold a charcoal pencil. Students then advance into the basic tone drawing course (averaging 12 weeks) in which they complete three-dimensional, shaded charcoal drawings before delving into their choice of oils or watercolors.

Bernadette Chao, 62, of Rolling Hills, enrolled in Patricia Merrill’s Missions: Renaissance class after her children left for college. On a recent Tuesday morning she worked with oils on a still life.

“I started a year and a half ago, and I never thought I could do this at all,” Chao says. “I feel like I am a new person. All my life I was a housewife, mother and took care of my aging parents. Finally, this is something I can do for myself, and my family is really proud. I have become more comfortable with my art because I see I am really improving.”

Chris Olton of Rancho Palos Verdes has completed about seven classes in the beginning drawing program. She is working on a drawing of a camel from a three-dimensional model.

“I come to class religiously. I don’t miss a day,” says Olton. “I am enjoying the process, and I am in no hurry. I’m learning the terminology and techniques. The time goes by like that,” she says, snapping her finger. “It is just you and the pencil. You are concentrating so much on what you are doing. It is very rewarding.”

Merrill, a San Pedro artist, has taught the adult classes at the Rolling Hills Estates location for about seven years. She loves her job and calls her students “family.”

“I have seen people’s lives change dramatically from taking these classes,” she says. “Some of my students have had extreme tragedies in their lives and I have worked with people with various types of disabilities. Finding they can do something they never thought they could do makes their self-esteem skyrocket along with their art ability.”

JoAnn Hood of Palos Verdes Estates has attended for two years, but is often out of town and misses classes, sometimes for three months at a time. She is able to make up all missed lessons, however.

“It’s amazing. Patricia remembers right where I left off, and she is able to come down to my level, and we continue to make progress,” says Hood, who has completed both drawing programs and is working on a watercolor exercise using washes, in the beginning watercolor course.

In his book The Talent Myth, Gluck points out that the natural talent myth has been perpetuated for decades by successful artists and art dealers, who want to keep art from flooding the market and deflating the price of artwork by the most sought after artists. Gluck points out that talent can be learned and natural creativity exists in everyone.

He adds that you don’t have to make art a profession to enjoy it. Nor do you have to be excellent in the eyes of others as you learn.

“Creating art is for you first — then others,” he writes in The Talent Myth. “Art helps strengthen an awareness of ourselves. It reveals the best there is in us. There are no losers in the arts — only winners. Not everyone can be a master. But anyone can be an artist.”