It’s ironic that as I close in on my 100th post, I finally get around to the subject of art training. Maybe because there is no one way to do it given today’s hodge-podge higgledy-piggeldy art world. There’s so much hype that it’s hard to tell what’s good any more, or what’s real talent or innovation, or even who is or isn’t and artist. And with the advent of Photoshop, it’s a whole new ballgame! All you need is an idea and a computer.
I sifted through your replies, and as expected, they were all over the place. Some of you had conventional training (more or less as I did) others took a few courses along the way or had workshops with mentors. Despite what many in the ‘art business’ would have you believe, there’s not a hell of a lot anyone can teach you. A neighbor of mine who studied art in college recently remarked that she wanted to learn how to paint in oil and I told her to come on over, I would teach her everything she needed to know in an hour.
The principles are few and easy, but then, it’s Malcolm Gladwell’s “ten thousand hours”. I can show her how to tone her canvas, how to under-paint, go from dark to light, thin to thick, glaze, scumble; but then she’s on her own. If you want to do work that’s realistic, you need to draw, learn shading, anatomical observation, perspective. If you want to be an abstractionist, you still need to learn to draw because that’s what abstraction is, a distillation of reality. After the first few sessions of learning the basics, you don’t need an art teacher other than for encouragement, trust me; you just need to put in the time.
But in the long run, it’s not the “how” but the “why” that matters and here’s where things get tough. Do you have anything original to say or does your work look like thousands of others, or, worse yet, your teacher’s? Technique is easy; originality is hard. For originality you need to be a fully developed human being, not just a craftsperson. You need to be familiar with history, politics, science, philosophy, literature. You need ideas of your own and out of that will grow art that is distinctively yours with a voice of its own. Otherwise you’re just a craftsperson which is ok so long as all you want to be is a craftsperson. My favorite artists, people like Picasso, Rothko, Max Ernst, Calder, Beckmann, Schwitters were all extremely cultured. If you read their writings you’ll amazed at their intelligence and the depth of their general knowledge.
But here’s what I do think you must study: Art History. It sharpens your critical eye, teaches you what is good. Hours spent looking at masterpieces; although you might never remember artists’ names or titles of their work; just looking at 1,000s of great works develops your eye, teaches you composition. I would often get my art history classes to break down a painting into the relationship of shapes, movement of the eye around the canvas, balance, focal point, etc. No matter what kind of art you produce or technique you use, this is basic information. I would often project a slide of a well-known masterpiece on the blackboard and demonstrate how the piece expressed the principles of design.
If you come by my studio, you’ll see that I’ve become a neoclassical potter, turning cheap paper plates into red and black-figure Kylixes. I can’t begin to tell you what fun I am having and THOSE NEGATIVE SPACES! Nobody used them like the Ancient Greeks and I have a lot to learn!