Art is a big tent as the saying goes. Under the idea of art there are an infinite number of ways for artistic expression. Everyone who decides to make art chooses their particular means of expression based on their personality. It’s easy when making art to get trapped into another us against them mode. Modernism against traditional art, art for sale against art for art’s sake, the list of reasons to denigrate another type of art is as endless as art itself.
The same applies to teaching art. When I teach, I focus on craft. I teach mechanics of picture making based on my own particular style of painting. I also try and instill a sense of curiosity into my students and give them the tools I think they need to explore art making for them and take it as far as they choose to take it. I don’t want my students to paint the way I do. I want them to be the best painters they can be irrespective of the style they choose for themselves.
I constantly hear from students that my teaching style is unique and they learn more from me than any other teacher. I think one of the reasons this is true is I teach how to problem solve. Yes, I teach the mechanics of craft and some ideas about how I solve problems along with demos to back up what I say but I am more concerned with how to approach problem solving than the answers themselves. My approach came about in response to my own experiences as a student.
I am primarily self-taught. When I did start taking workshops and classes I was already making my living as a professional artist. I found most teachers even when they were good painters to be bogged down in narrow dogmatic approaches to process. I call this approach the “my way or the highway” school of teaching. Since it was their class I would follow the directions I was given completely, after all I was there to learn something new. Working as a professional with my own career, I did not need to adopt everything I was taught. While I respect my teachers and their abilities as artists my style is my own. I kept what was important to improving my way of painting and discarded the rest. The outcome of that is I don’t paint like my teachers. I’m proud of the fact that no one has ever thought of my style as a copy of someone else’s work.
I despise authoritarianism and dogma in regards to teaching art. In my opinion it’s the laziest way to teach anything. Second, it doesn’t produce better results than a more nuanced, individual and thoughtful approach does.
Having made my living as a professional artist for many years now I know for a fact there are many paths to success. Teachers who demand a certain style from their students and ignore individual expression fail to realize this and do their students a great disservice.
If you’re interested in taking a class with me, I will be teaching a watercolor class next year at the Bascom in Highlands North Carolina August 2-4 2017
I was having an online discussion about artists trying to make a difference with their work. Some people believe that art should be used to create change. While I agree that is a noble endeavor I don’t think intent plays a role in the influence of art on a viewer.
In my experience a viewer responds to the abilities of the artist, not knowing anything about the artistic intent behind the image. As a matter of fact, most art that carries a message comes up short for most viewers unless of course that work is handled with expertise. The proper handling conveys the experience, not the artist’s beliefs.
Artists are notorious for their human failings. The fact that Caravaggio used his favorite prostitute for a commissioned painting of the Virgin Mary doesn’t keep religious followers from weeping at the powerful depiction. His religious beliefs or lack thereof did not affect the viewer’s enjoyment. This same scenario is played out over and over again throughout art history. The impressionists known for their paintings of bucolic scenes and idle bourgeois life did so at the height of the Franco-Prussian war. Paris was under siege and fell to opposing forces. The war took the life of Frederic Bazille one of the founders of the Impressionist movement.
Art is uncompromisingly democratic in this respect, the work once finished stands on its own merits and is judged by its artistic qualities, not its creator’s personality. While honesty and fidelity to craft are important for the creation of any work of art, the artist’s intent, beyond its successful execution, is not a real consideration.
The public’s response to the work carries the final decision of its success and that can change over the life of the piece as social changes in taste affect the thoughts of the viewers.An artist is better served by learning all about their craft in the creation of work that instills a lasting impression on the audience.
A high degree of expertise in technique has always had, and always will have, a predominate place in art. The subject, in itself, has value only according to the mode of the day. Tomorrow it will be superseded by a new fashion or fad. With the passing of time, the subject loses much of its meaning. But the fine execution of that subject retains its value. ~ Nicholai Fechin