America’s Original Television Art Teacher

While getting ready for my “History of Teaching Art” graduate class tonight, I searched through my book shelves for some books that have been written over the years to help art teachers teach drawing. For instance, I always highlight Kimon Nicolaides’ “The Natural Way to Draw” and Betty Edwards’ “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” as two books I know many art teachers have turned to for guidance, including myself.

I also have a copy of “Jon Gnagy’s New Television Art Instruction Book” (1950) that includes a series of lessons on drawing. Gnagy is an unique figure in the history of art education in this country. He became known in the 1950s to millions as “America’s art teacher.” Each week, he led his television-viewing audience through his step-by-step drawing method. The popularity of the program was due in part of Gnagy’s conviction that “everyone is an artist” and that it was simply a matter of learning how to transfer the images imprinted in your brain to your fingertips and on to paper or canvas.

As a history buff, you can imagine my delight when I found the above video on youTube that shows Gnagy presenting one of his TV art lessons. There is also a nice commemorative site maintained by Gnagy’s daughter, which includes a biography, sample lessons, and a link to a wonderful 1985 article written by Susan Morgan on Gnagy’s beginnings on TV.

According to Morgan, In 1939 Gnagy read about Vladimir Zworykin’s experiments in television and decided television was the “ideal teaching medium.” If he were alive today, l’m sure Gnagy would be presenting his lessons online, perhaps in Second Life.