Perin Mahler Title

Perin Mahler is an Associate Professor of Art at Laguna College of Art and Design, where he directs the Master of Fine Arts program in Painting.


I believe that learning how to see and make art is more than the attainment of a craft – it involves a fundamental change in consciousness. I’ve found that it is such a radical change that it must proceed gradually from an initial set of logical rules to a state of greater freedom and spontaneity.

I believe that the first goal of art pedagogy is to provide a thorough exposure to the received languages of visual communication, including linear perspective and fundamentals of design and color. Although individual expression is the ultimate goal, my teaching experience has convinced me that this can best be achieved by giving students as many basic tools and concepts as possible. Although the student may ultimately reject many of these rules, it is important to emphasize the possibility of a coherent visual language.

Although art making is based on fundamental principles, the ways it is made is as individual as each practitioner. The student must discover a set of personal rules of form making, and the best way I have found to do this is to work initially from observation. This provides a familiar platform from which to develop a logic of form, space and color. It is important to emphasize that the translation of reality is not the same as copying reality and that the materials of art have their own set of rules and characteristics separate from what is observed.

As students gain confidence in their materials, they can begin to relinquish some of the rules they have acquired if it serves their ideas. I continually stress the importance of the process of discovery in art making. The willingness to renounce preconceived notions of what the work will look like is perhaps the most important and difficult achievement in an artist’s education. I find that students need to be given specific projects that lead them away from familiar modes of creation and toward a mind-set that allows them to discover the work through the creative process. It is only when artists can make this leap into the unknown that they can make work of individuality and substance.

My experience has taught me that the student population spans a variety of learning styles. My approach in teaching is to deliver information in many different ways. Some respond to verbal explanations, some written. Many students learn best through primarily visual means such as slide and video presentations and demonstrations as they receive verbal description. I believe that every student can master visual language with proper instruction and dedication.