Alan Rickman and David Bowie: A Foundation In The Visual Arts

Two major figures from the entertainment world died this month – David Bowie and Alan Rickman. As I was reading some of the many tributes to these media stars I noticed an interesting common thread in their careers. Both men started out in the visual arts.

Photograph of Davie Bowie

Bowie attended Bromley Technical School where he studied art, design and typesetting in addition to music.

Photograph of Alan Rickman

Rickman attended the Chelsea College of Art and Design as well as the Royal College of Art. He even had his own graphic design studio before he decided to pursue a career in acting.

I mention this similar background for these two men because it makes me think about the many ways in which a studio art education adds value to a person’s life – even if they don’t become a visual artist. Let me explain…

A high-quality studio art education is built on the principles of independent thinking, rigorous investigation of ideas and craft, invention and reinvention, and the ability to find resources. These principles may not be presented to students in quite this straightforward way at the beginning of the process, but by the time a student successfully finishes the program they should be well-grounded in all these points. Anyone who stays seriously involved with art will become quite adept at them.

Art students quickly learn to be self-motivated and inventive because they are surrounded by colleagues who continually come up with original and unusual solutions to assignments. They learn to be resourceful because really good ideas and solutions are not the byproduct of formulas and recipes. They are the byproduct of exploratory adventures using new or unexpected materials and processes. Art students learn to be self-critical and hard working because there simply is no other way to become an artist.

At the end of the day, studio art students come away from the process with skills that allow them to create unique worlds…time and time again. These skills are essential to the visual arts but applicable to many other professions.

Alan Rickman and David Bowie are ideal examples what I’m describing here. They both had a foundation in visual arts and then went on to multifaceted and critically acclaimed careers outside art and design. Rickman created memorable characters on stage and in the movies. He was also an award winning playwright and movie director. Bowie – possibly the most “visual” rock star in history – reinvented himself time and again. Over his lifetime he was a songwriter, musician, actor, and even a performance artist.

Rickman and Bowie were exceptionally gifted individuals and it’s a disservice to their talent to claim that art school alone made them the great stars they became. Both of them, however, spoke fondly of their art school backgrounds and it’s obvious that they used some of the spirit and attitude encouraged there as guiding forces for developing their careers.

What can you do with a studio art education? Well…quite frankly, a lot.

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