A Celebrated Instructor

Charles White at Otis Studio, © The Charles White Archives, photo by Frank Thomas
Charles White at Otis Studio, © The Charles White Archives, photo by Frank Thomas

White was the first African-American faculty member when he joined Otis in 1965, and was the head of the Drawing Department when he passed in 1979. White mentored artists across generations, as well as racial and cultural identities, and he encouraged them to produce work regardless of subject matter. He went beyond simply teaching technique; he was generous with his encouragement and urged his students to think about their work in an authentic and informed way that would create a lasting impact.

White wanted his students to stay informed and continue their education about history, music, and politics. He would tell his students to educate themselves visually, to know what had come before them—how the creative process demanded conviction and that there was a period of exploration. White encouraged his students to have the courage to be authentic, to challenge the status quo, and to believe in their ability to make a contribution.

“Unlike other fields of endeavor, the impact of an artist on his students is hard to gauge. However, in the case of Charles White, all you need to do is look at the impressive group of artists he gave to the art world in the late 20th century by helping them find their own visual voices by honoring ‘the line’ and its ability to describe form. He led by example and his generosity to his students had no limits. He was the artist-teacher par excellence.” 

—Judithe Hernández (near right), Artist and Student of Charles White

(Above) Video celebrating the life of artist Charles White as part of the exhibition Life Model: Charles White and his Students. Research and interviews by Sarah Jesse and C. Ian White; directed and edited by Matt Kresling.

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