Saturday, October 24, 2009

The photos are again all places I have stood in the last week or so.

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:
  1. the outline of American history and of the western civilization that produced the sort of painting I have been extolling.
  2. 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.

  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. You should know the history of design of household items That would include china, stoneware, silver, wallpaper, textiles and apparel.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. I think you should know a little about industrial and mechanical design. Who is Raymond Lowe? What American portrait painter invented the telegraph?
  10. 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.
I am sure I could list more, but you get the idea. At least for me, learning about all of these things has been a delight and made my life more interesting. I don't think of culture as a boring and dry academic study. In fact I have the attention span of a gnat. If these things weren't fun to know , I wouldn't know them.


Jan Blencowe said...

OK I had to look up Ossian, and then found the whole controversy fascinating, so thanks for that bit of enlightenment.

In the not too distant past a great deal of what is on your list would have been the foundation of a typical education. Tragically that is not the case anymore.

On the bright side, all this
information (including Ossian!) is just a few clicks away on the internet.

An education far better than you could get in school is free and available for anyone with a library card, a bible and an internet connection. A few trips to the museum couldn't hurt either!

Bob Carter said...

I suppose we can skip Ossian, but without it Mendelssohn would not have written "Fingal's Cave." :-)

Philip Koch said...

Your last photo with the easel by the pond looks SO inviting. I want to be there.

One thing that fascinates me is how each of us gets attracted to different kinds of knowledge, facts, incidents, music, whatever... Stape's list of important things to know is very different than mine. That's partly why I appreciate all his efforts with his blog.
It's a glimpse into someone else's world of favorites.

willek said...

We got two pictures each done of the rock studded barrens yesterday and to;;day we painted in the pouring blowing rain. We started under a canopy but the rain was blowing almost sideways into our easels so we painted out of our cigar boxes from inside the van with the heater on, listening to symphonic variations and gorging ourselves on M&M Peanuts, The locals tell us the barrens are brighter right now than they have been so far this year... Just spectacular..

Samuel Findley Breeze Morse might be who you are talking about. I did not think he invented the telegraph, but I know he invented Morse Code. I used to shoot ducks with his Great Great Great Great Nephew, Walter Morse, now, sad to say, departed from our company.

Stapleton Kearns said...


The internet really is fabulous for looking things up isn't it. A few years ago it would have taken you a long time to find Ossian. It is hard for me to be obscure anymore.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Did Tom and Becky Thatcher get lost in that cave too?

Stapleton Kearns said...


I'll make the lists here thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...


He established the first working single line long distance telegraph from Baltimore to Washington . The first message sent was "What hath God wrought?" from the book of Numbers ch.23 v.23 illustrating again why an education includes knowing the Bible. Other wise you might in just overhearing it assume "What hath got rot?"

Morse was from Charleston Mass. and went to Phillips Academy.