Monday, April 19, 2010

More about orginality and copying.

A Dennis Miller Bunker of Medfield Mass.

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.


Dot Courson said...

Another good post! Can you suggest a good Willard Metcalf book?

Also wanted to say, I studied with an artist for a few years in the late 90s with (Billy Kirk- he died at age 55, relatively unknown, a year ago this month- but had previously won NOAPS "Best of America" in landscapes category, and was a winner in Artist's magazine once for a figure. I mention him here as a little memorial, I guess...If he hadn't been so introverted he'd have been better known!) But he taught the highest standards and principals also instilled importance of originality. He had a talent of seeing who his students painted like early on- and encouraged students to look at the work of historical artists that our work reminded him of. (Me: Wm Wendt- I stlll don't see it, or more than likely have evolved away from it!) Billy was also a lifelong art book collector and was wonderful bringing in loads of books to class all the time... But I left when I thought - & started being told - that I was painting like him (he was "tighter" than I was/wanted to be, too). I then started taking workshops from various other artists - all kinds of styles- selected because I liked the way they did certain things. Hoped that I could "come into my own" with this soupy mix of teachers... I feel I have done that, and it makes me feel good about my painting. I truly feel it's my own style. That's a good, very gratifying feeling! But the thing that has helped me has been painting, painting, painting!

Finally, a thought I had recently looking at some of the recent "popular competitions": more and more, it seems, the winners of these just seem to be almost prototypes of all the "same old stuff"...or is it just me? Maybe that is encouraging folks to be less original?
Thanks, Stape! said...

Hi Stapleton,
EVERYONE who walks into my studio call's them happy paintings! What's a girl to do? SO...I've embraced it and I admit to "happy paintings'. Maybe it's the first step to recovery. HA!

It's not you; I am smarter but NOT smartin'. I still laugh about THAT rant.(New readers..don't miss it!)

You are right on with describing the journey of a student. I used to mark my progress in terms of centuries and then decades:("my painting looks like the Italian Renaissance, looks like Rembrandt, like the Impressionist ,like Hopper, looks like Alex Katz). Now it looks to me, like me. For students out took about ten years to get to my own executed vision of constructing my images. And you can't just be "original" for the sake of "originality". It has to be informed, authentic and excellent and drawn well.

billspaintingmn said...

The first thing I thought when I saw that Dennis Miller Bunker painting was, I want to paint that!
(More copying../learning)
I've been 'chewing' on that last post, and now this one.
I will reread it many times.
Stape, you're a Pied Piper,helping and spuring us on to be our best.
I will attempt to become more original, or at least create my own compositions.(and I'll try not to sing out of tune..)

Welcome back to Minnesota! This is a great time to be here.(It's always a great time to be here!)

Connie said...

Thank you for such wonderful posts. Not sure what you mean by "taste" in art...could you elaberate?

Linda Popple said...

Just wanted to say a big THANK YOU for all you share on your blog!! I always learn something - sometimes small, most of the time big. I always leave with something to think about. Again - thank you!!!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Dot: The good Metcalf book (Sunlight and Shadow)is out of print. I keep a clipping file and have that book which is now expensive. I have seen other Metcalf books that were noit as complete. I can't recommend one. If you go ton Amazon last time I looked there were several available. Dartmouth's Hood museum published an inexpensive book some years ago, and the Florence Griswold museum in Old Lyme published one that was OK.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I had the same thing happen to me. I started out trying to paint like a 17th century Dutchman and gradually progressed into the 19th century. I froze in the 20th century with Seago and Hibbard. Metcalf, my other hero, lived until the 20's. I never dug Alex Katz.Nothing personal, you know I just never liked the way the pictures looked.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Those Bunker paintings have so much nature in them. I spent a long time studying his working methods, as did Ives Gammell who knew a lot about him.
Its nice here in Minnesota.

Stapleton Kearns said...

OK in tonight post I will elaborate.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you.When you say that I feel it is all worthwhile. The blog is a fair amount of work, as you may imagine. The real payoff is when people contact me and say that they got some benefit from it.