“Revitalizing, revolutionizing and democratizing art education”: The birth of New Masters Academy

‘This is the space where I think my political and artistic lives intersect.”

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Joshua Jacobo has been certainly been called ‘radical’ before in regard to his earlier leftist political activities or views, but now it takes on a new meaning, or rather, a very old meaning, as it pertains to the genesis and mission of his subscription-based art education website, New Masters Academy – revitalizing, revolutionizing and democratizing art education. 

The word, ‘radical’ come from Latin which means ‘returning to the root’, going to the ‘origin or essential’, as Jacobo has done by returning to the roots of classical art training, to the renaissance, while making this training available on a large scale, aligning with both his aesthetic and ideology.

I met the Jacobo at the impressive Huntington Beach facilities where the content for NMA is created. Here, the passionate, articulate, founder of NMA almost seems to time travel; preserving and promoting the techniques of the great masters of the past, combined with forward-thinking expansive tools and methods using the most cutting edge technology and innovation, via a business model that make this instruction accessible to everyone.

“Our goal is to offer the world’s most affordable, most comprehensive art education and to get it in the hands of anyone who wants to learn the craft of drawing, painting, or sculpture. We want NMA.art to be in schools, studios, and homes around the world.” Said Jacobo in an interview. 

He explained that their inventive, constructive, approach to art is influencing all forms of art and artist, including comic artists, hobbyists, tattoo artists, landscape painters, and portrait artists.

Jacobo challenges the high art school tuition fees saying, “what if instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars in art school tuition, where most instructors were not leading artists, or hundreds for master weekend workshops, where most of the information learned was forgotten within a few weeks, everything on one website was available for twenty dollars per month?

“The idea was to create training that was better than anything in the market, online or in-person and to charge an incredibly low amount for everything.”

Looking back at Jacobo’s life, one can trace the conflux of influences and circumstances that lead to this endeavor, creating a perfect marriage of his skills and passions.  

Raised in a creative home, Jacobo was encouraged by his mom to draw and use his imagination.

In high school, Jacobo read, political science professor, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History it the United States which was “transformative” for him, and later lead him to read more, particularly Noam Chomsky.

However, life changed drastically when his mom and stepfather died suddenly in a car accident. Jacobo, then a twenty-year-old college student, worked to support himself and his younger brother, shifting the priorities from curious creativity to the stress of survival.

“Putting all of my skills towards earning money, I worked as a designer, copywriter, salesperson, software developer, videographer, photographer and anything else I could, to try to make ends meet.”

“I took a job with the nonprofit independent progressive site Truthout where I was hired to help improve the organization’s online presence. I ended up being a union organizer at Truthout and we created the world’s first online-only unionized newsroom with the help of the Communications Workers of America Guild. Later I ended up helping to run the organization and I was appointed to the Truthout governing council.

“This was the time where my interest in politics became much stronger.”

While working in independent political media, Jacobo was moonlighting as a business consultant helping small companies convert their business models to an increasingly ‘online’ world.”

After a decade of living a very serious, responsible life, and as the panic of survival started to abate, with some financial security and a range of professional experiences amassed, the call towards creativity returned- it was time to study art full-time.

“I had fantasies about creating masterpieces that rivaled those of the Old Masters. I felt I had the aptitude and talent and only needed the right training.”

This proved much more difficult than he imagined, discovering that most of the fundamentals of the craft of drawing, painting, and sculpture were no longer being taught.

“Something had happened to art training, and art itself and I struggled to piece together the enormity of this disaster.”

“I learned how the 20th Century’s radical culture shifts had dramatically altered the visual arts. In most of the West, the figure was proclaimed to be dead. In some countries painting itself was considered irrelevant.

Traditional art was replaced by the “highly subjective, infinitely inscrutable, and quite lucrative for a select few,” he said.

He hadn’t realized that art had been “liberated” from “the authoritarian, nationalistic, bourgeois, power structures that had apparently so oppressed it.”

“The newly liberated artists … dispensed with restrictions like drawing fundamentals, humility, and a collective sense of artistic tradition in favor of individual expression, originality of style, and above all, the edgy concept. 

So rather than enrolling in a deficient or misguided art program, Jacobo created his own independent curriculum, laying out a self-imposed training regimen of copying masters, studying anatomy, and drawing from the imagination, practices he continues daily and that he thinks are vital.

But it was connecting with prominent art educator and industry veteran Glenn Vilppu that ideas and goals began to coalesce into a mutually beneficial alliance.

“Glenn confirmed many of my suspicions about the state of art education and the craft in general. We agreed that what was needed was a return to traditional foundational training and Glenn had made it his life’s mission to do his part with his teaching around the world.”

“My own experience being what it was, I couldn’t help suggest that he take his business online to reach the maximum number of students. The fruit of these conversations was a new business for the family called Vilppu Academy, an online school where students could sign up for prerecorded classes with Glenn.

The small online school was transforming Glenn’s business, winning awards and generating a great buzz throughout the art community.”

“This first step was such a success that I decided to reach much further. Rather than selling individual recorded classes, what if there was an online art school that functioned like a modern subscription site such as Netflix.”

‘What if instead of one master artist there were dozens, each providing expert training on a range of art subjects from anatomy, perspective, painting technique, creature design, the portrait, and of course the figure?”

“Glenn, a lifelong rebel, loved the idea of bringing the best artistic knowledge, from leading minds to the world for really affordable prices. The goal was to democratize the craft of making art. Thankfully, Glenn wasn’t the only heavy-hitting artist who was on-board; within a few months, we had brought on other famous artists like painter Steve Huston, Disney art director Bill Perkins, art book publishing titan Juliette Aristides, and renowned western monument sculptor Ed Fraughton.”

Since the website’s launch in 2012, it has grown to include over one thousand hours of content from over twenty instructors, operating as a generous, and industry-changing revenue-sharing model.  

“Where artists might earn one or two dollars per copy of an art book or DVD sold. At NMA they would take home a proportional share of 50% of all profits, distributed based on the amount of content they had recorded in the pool.”

What’s next for NMA?

“As important as art education is, it’s just one part of my larger mission. My wife and fellow sculptor Johanna Schwaiger and I are working on building a sculpture workshop in California to produce monumental public works to get high-quality art into communities around the world. We are collaborating with many of our artist colleagues and putting all of the knowledge contained at New Masters Academy into practice to lead by example in the art community.

We are also interested in entering the art market with alternative business models for creating and selling art for artists and art collectors including changing the common conception of who an art collector can be.  

Our focus is to empower artists from every background, with many different stories to tell, with a solid education in art fundamentals, as well as a historical context for how these crafts have evolved. Just as scientists stand on the shoulders of giants, we believe that artists should as well. That’s why we have our students learn lessons from many different periods and masters of the past. I think if we can move away from some of the artistic ‘nihilism and obscurantism, that is often commercialized by the ‘cognoscenti of art,’ and return to humility and the discipline of our craft, we can create an almost magic and sacred experience in the minds of our students once again. The “new masters” part of our name is in honor of the students we hope will continue to move art forward.”

After working in several different areas, from tech to media, retail, business consulting, design, marketing, and political activism, my decision to pursue my love for art as a full-time career was the best one I ever made. 

I am healthier, happier, and I have found the woman of my dreams in my wife, Johanna Schwaiger all as a result of taking the plunge and betting on the risky world of art and art education. So often, we separate our work lives with our personal passions and interests. I’ve found that this leaves far too little time and energy for our passions as we spend far too much time worrying about our future in the jobs that we don’t like. While I understand that this isn’t a possibility for everyone, I think many of us after making the change to a more creatively fulfilling career would ask themselves what in the world took so them so long.”

Jacobo is impassioned about what he does. He believes that we can make our society better, despite new challenges and crushing setbacks, and he believes in the alchemical power of art.

‘This is the space where I think my political and artistic lives intersect.” 

Returning to Jacobo’s sociopolitical roots, Howard Zinn, a playwright himself who believed inherently in the power and importance of art said, ‘Social movements all through history have used art to enhance what they do, to inspire people, to give them a vision, to bring them together and make them feel that they are part of a vibrant movement.’

Jacobo’s radical nature has found his true calling, enriching his life and ours as well.

“What I love most about art is its ability to connect us with our intrinsic nobility and love for each other and for nature. I love how great art can inspire, challenge, and comfort us. I believe art can elevate us, that it is anything but useless. In some respects, our artistic creations represent the best of our natures.”

Editors note: Joshua Jacobo, founder of New Masters Academy for the first time is sharing his story in this interview. In full disclosure, Joshua is a founding board member of NationofChange.

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