This will be a quick post tonight. I am in Faribault, Minnesota, at Shattuck, a private prep school. I am a visiting artist here for the week. This was once a boarding military school. I attended it back in the sixties. I haven't been on the campus in 40 years. It was old when I went here, having been established before the civil war. I will tell you more about my stay here as the week progresses. So far this year, I spent almost a month painting Charleston, South Carolina, a week in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, then I visited Bozeman, Montana and now I have just arrived in Minnesota. Next, Cape Cod and then Maine. Whew! I put a lot of miles on my car.
But after driving all day I do have enough strength left to write a short blog. The comments all seemed to ask, what about copying? Is it OK as a student to mimic your teachers and heroes and how DO I get to this original individual thing anyways! Bullets please!
- All students learn by imitation. Trying to paint like your teacher is how you learn to paint. Therefore it would be good to make sure that teacher is worth imitating.If you are studying with someone, by all means imitate them as closely as you can, but when you move on, its time to stop that and develop your own ways of doing things. A good teacher provides you with the tools to do whatever you want. A poor teacher only knows and teaches what he himself wants to do.
- Copying old master paintings and drawings is an excellent way to understand their thought process, copy great art. It is like having that artist hold your hand as you work. Ingres drawings are particularly good. In the archives somewhere are some posts on how to do that.
- The next stage after being a student under the tutelage of a master or whoever you can find, is to study the work of several historic artists. This is the in between stage. You should choose three or more great painters as your mentors, although they are dead. I think it best to avoid living artists when you do that. Most of the greats are dead anyway and there is something to be learned by sinking your roots into your artistic heritage. Most of the best contemporary painters have done just that. If you emulate them you miss the real sources that they have mined themselves. The three I chose were Aldro Hibbard, Edward Seago and Willard Metcalf. I'll bet you already knew that didn't you? Someone ( I think it was Tolstoy) said "if you imitate one artist, that's plagiarism, if you imitate a dozen, that's research". Try to learn to work in their individual styles and then meld them all together.
- The final stage should grow from that. You will find your own voice and way of thinking about the problems of painting. John Carlson said that you didn't have to work to have your own individual signature in handwriting, it was a natural result of signing your name a lot of times, so the same will hold true of your painting. Paint a LOT and the style will come, that is if you have IT.
- Your effort should be mostly to acquire skills so your "style" won't be based on the things you have left unlearned. But very importantly you should work to develop your taste. That is done by studying the works of the great artists of history. A lack of "taste" mars the work of more artists who I see in the magazines than a lack of skill in rendering. Taste is an overlooked quality these days, but that is what makes a work transcend the mundane, speak to the highest and best in the viewer and makes the art transcend its own time. Tasteless work bores quickly, dates rapidly and is quickly found to be depressing and disposable by your clients. Give them the best in every way. Even if you are over their heads or out in front of them aesthetically. That's your job, if they wanted someone on the same level as themselves they could make their own art. In the long run you will be appreciated for doing the true thing.