Tonight as promised I am going to list some of the things I think a painter needs to know. I don't mean that he needs to be expert on any of these, just that he needs to know a little about them. I am not a scholar either, and really don't know a lot about anything other than painting. A painter needs to know the his way around his culture, and particularly the art of our own nation. There are people reading this blog in other countries, some very far away, I don't mean to say that you should know American culture, although you're being here indicates you probably have an interest in that, but that you should know your own.
Some off these things are:
- the outline of American history and of the western civilization that produced the sort of painting I have been extolling.
- a familiarity with some of the great literary works of our history. There are some that have had larger influence on painting, Shakespeare for one, and Emerson for landscape painters. A lot of books could be on this list and it is probably important that you know some literature as much as what literature. You need to know a tiny bit about poetry and the theatre.
- You need to know the Bible, art and literature are full of references drawn from it. Before our present time a knowledge of the Bible was an assumed part of any education. Read it as literature if you like, but when someone says you can't make bricks without straw, you need to know where that comes from. "Whats the deal with Ruth and Naomi anyway?" Know Greek and Roman mythology, for pretty much the same reasons as above. You also should know a little bit about Arthurian legends. Skip Ossian, its a fake!
- You should be able to identify the historic style of architecture and know the relationship between it and the time in which it was created, and what that time was. You should be able to know by its appearance roughly when any building would have been built.You should also know a little about classical architecture and how that has influenced our own. You should know Gothic, Norman, Renaissance, Baroque and other styles common in Europe before our own American architecture was created. Know Asher Benjamin and Frank Loyd Wright.
- You should know the orders of furniture, that is you should know the difference between Chippendale and Eastlake. You should also be able to identify the period of a piece of furniture by its design. I don't mean that you should be an expert, able to spot clever fakes but that you understand the ideas that craftsmen were using when they created them.
- You should know the history of design of household items That would include china, stoneware, silver, wallpaper, textiles and apparel.
- You should know the history of Western music, the names and styles of the most major composers and be able to tell roughly the era in which a piece was written upon hearing it. You should know the similarity of music to the architecture and design etc. of those eras.
- You should know our more recent popular culture,that's not to say you need to memorize lengthy soliloquies by that dreadful Snoop Dog fellow, but you should know something about popular music. That would begin at about Steven Foster and move forward through time to include John Phillips Sousa, the blues, jazz, big band , Cole Porter, show tunes Duke Ellington, Otis Spann, Sinatra, Woody Guthrie, the Beatles and the British invasion, Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and important modern composers like Copeland and Bernstein. I think it is OK to skip Shoenberg.
- I think you should know a little about industrial and mechanical design. Who is Raymond Lowe? What American portrait painter invented the telegraph?
- You should know the regional variations in taste that occur in all of the above, from Southern literature to New England transcendentalism to Western sculpture, to Chicago blues.