Robert Dewitt Smith believes “if you’ve never smelled an elephant then you shouldn’t paint one.” As a Tallahassee-native painter and art educator for the better part of seven decades, Smith is currently an instructor for the Tallahassee Senior Center. In his classes, he engages with students on a wide spectrum of ages and aptitudes, from seasoned artists as young as 90 to aspiring pupils as old as 13.
He emboldens many who are 55 or older to enter shows like the Senior Artist Showcase, which is on display through Sept. 27 at the Senior Center Art Gallery.
Smith’s core belief in a painting’s ability to engage with personal experience and surroundings is ever present in his own work — he jokes it’s why no one would ever find a mountain landscape in his pieces as it’s the one missing land feature in Florida landscapes. Sites like St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge invigorate Smith, and though his style is expansive in its array of eclectic subject matter and methods, it remains rooted in genuine and honest explorations of landscape and figures.
“I think somebody ought to have, somewhere in their psyche, an understanding of the things that they paint,” says Smith. “It’s not just copying images, but having some relationship to whatever it is that is your subject matter.”
Smith holds a BFA in art and advertising from Florida State University and a master’s from Syracuse University. Having dual interests in producing work for both utilitarian and fine arts purposes, Smith has held positions in graphics at multiple colleges including, the University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University, Syracuse University, and the State University of New York at Oswego.
Painting has also taken him as far as Nigeria with the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he served as an adviser to the country’s Minister of Education teaching local artists methods of using art for television and instruction. At the Tallahassee Senior Center, one of his main focuses in oil painting is imparting the importance of value versus color to his beginning art students.
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