How the Meaning of "Studio" Has Evolved

Interior of Rembrandt's Studio, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Panoramic Images/Panoramic Images/Getty Images

The studio has long been an essential part of being a successful painter. After all, an artist needs a place to paint, a place to keep supplies and materials and be productive, and a place to escape from the demands of everyday life and focus on ideas. This has not always occurred in the same physical space.

David Packwood, on his website Art History Today, writes that during the Renaissance, there was the studiolo, from which the word studio comes, meaning a room for contemplation, like a study, and a bottega, which was the workshop.

One was for the mind and the other was for physical labors. (1) He goes on to give the example of Tintoretto, who worked and supervised studio assistants in the bottega, and would contemplate ideas for his paintings or attend to other business in the studiolo. Not everyone had both, though. Raphael would work in his bottega while simultaneously contemplating his work, his studiolo existing in his head. (2) There was a melding of the physical and the contemplative. As for images of artists working in their studio, these did not appear until after the Renaissance, when daily life became accepted subject matter. Rembrandt was one of the painters who depicted himself in his studio. (3)

Artists have always had to adjust to the culture and economic times in which they live, find a place to practice their art, and figure out a way to integrate their work and their life. In America, studio space has gone through many transitions paralleling art world tastes and the process of making art.

Katy Siegel writes in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists,"What has always attracted me to the studio as a kind of place was something closer to the original meaning of the studio apartment….In New York at the turn of the twentieth century,…"studio apartment" meant an apartment for an artist, built to accommodate both domestic and artistic needs, usually within a cooperative building arrangement.

Often but not always one room, these apartments usually featured double-story ceilings to accommodate large artworks and tall windows for light. Even as the studio apartment drifted away from this earliest purpose, one aspect lingered: rather than having a dining room, a living room, and a bedroom, different rooms dedicated to different functions, the occupant does everything in the same room - sleeping, eating, and "living," whatever that means." (4)

As performance art and installation art became popular after the 1960s, and painting and sculpture were perceived as less relevant, some artists didn't even have studios. Those who did, though - the painters and sculptors - melded their everyday lives with the making of art in live/work spaces.

Siegel continues, "Just as the studio apartment was originally a home to work in, the studio was and for a long time continued to be a workplace to live in." She cites as examples artist's studios in certain sections of  New York from the 1910s to the 1990s.  No longer was a studio separate from everyday life but became a part of it.  These live/work spaces implied "a deep engagement with one's work, an identity between work and life." (5)  As she says, "the studio is most continually interesting for the way in which it embodies two things: the relation between the production of art and other kinds of production in a society at a given moment, and the relation between work and life." (6)

Today the "studio" can mean a number of different things, and is far less easy to categorize. Many artists also have "day jobs," many of which are flexible and can be done from home. Artists are melding work and life in more and more interconnected and creative ways. As Robert Storr writes in his essay, A Room of One's Own, a Mind of One's Own from The Studio Reader, On the Space of Artists:

"The bottom line is that artists work where they can and how they can. Accordingly the announcement "I am going to the studio" can mean the going to: the living room, a bedroom, the basement, the attic, an attached or freestanding garage, a coach house in the back of [sic] grand old house, a storefront downstairs or down the block from your apartment, the floor of a warehouse, the sublet corner of a floor of a warehouse, the sublet corner of a sublet corner of a floor of a warehouse" (7), etc.and he goes on to describe other leftover and even unsavory places that artists might call their "studio."

It is indeed a privilege to have a room that one can call one's own studio, but it is a necessity for a painter to have a studio, whatever form it takes, for it is more than just a physical space - it is a place where both contemplation and practice merge and creativity is nourished.



1. David Packwood, Art History Today,

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Katy Siegel, Live/Work, in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, Edited by Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010, p. 312.

5. Ibid, p. 313.

6. Ibid, p. 311.

7. Robert Storr, A Room of One's Own, a Mind of One's Own, in The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists, Edited by Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010, p. 49.