Archive for July, 2010

During the Renaissance artists were trained in a master’s workshop to paint exactly like the master.  The commissions were often so huge that one artist, the master, could not work on it by himself.  So he trained one assistant to duplicate his way of rendering drapery, another for landscape, another for architectural detail, et al.  We don’t do that anymore.  Not quite.  We know that Damian Hirst, for example, has assistants paint paintings that he will sign. But at least the system that trained you in a master’s workshop is officially defunct.  Good riddance.

I don’t know of any artist or art teacher who claims the title of master in our time.  The predictable response to such a claim would be out right ridicule.

In my drawing class I frequently draw at a wall to make a point and to illustrate the approach I’m suggesting for that particular drawing exercise. Suggesting, mind you.  What I say may be just the thing for one student and another may take a different turn entirely and  store my demo wisdom  for possible future application.  This unpredictability is one of the reasons teaching is so stimulating—for the teacher.

During the last class I set up a still life with drapery, pottery and the odd apple here and there.  The introductory remarks and demo were concerned with negative space and the possibility of making it scintillate.  Half of the class had worked with me before and half were new.  The results were all over the place.  I love the surprises.

Drawings shown here are by Danielle G., Karen G., Sarah R., Laura F., and Vera C.  Please, click to see enlargement and forgive the poor lighting.  I’m working on it.

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I didn’t take a lot of pictures riding  the CTA to  the Art Institute two days ago, but my eye seems to have been sharp that day,  a lucky day I guess, because I deleted very few of them.  I know, our topic in this blog is supposed to be drawing, but drawing is about seeing and seeing can be practiced all the time, in fact, I recommend it highly.  There are two stages in seeing:  one, the live action scene in which you isolate something from all the hustle-bustle of every day life and two, the review at the end of the day, when you look at all the shots or drawings and you select the ones that are worth looking at.  Now, what does that mean, “worth looking at?”  We usually just say, “this is good, this is a good image.” So, when is an image good?  That’s the same, I think, as asking,  Does this image engage my attention?  Does it start a chain reaction in my brain? And does that chain reaction lead me to some depth? Not a momentary amusement, not some information or knowledge, but something…call it, something experiential that rings true. I’m volunteering this answer (in the form of more questions, notice) just to get the ball rolling on this topic.  What I would really like is everybody weighing in with your own opinions.  So, to make this comfortable, let’s get away from theorizing, let’s look at some of the pictures I took on Friday.  At the top, right, we have a picture taken on the El going down town.  Why is this a good photo?  Does it tell a story?  Or doesn’t it?  Do you need a story in a picture?   Next,  in the middle,  a picture snapped in that wonderful light well that holds American sculptures in the South wing of the Art Institute.  Same questions here: story or no, is this a good photo?  Last, one more photo from that sculpture atrium.  Story or no, and is this a good photo?  My vote is yes to all being a good photo, you guessed that already.   I should have saved the ones that were slightly off—for the sake of learning.  It’s valuable to look at bad stuff and try to get at what makes it bad.  (Next time.  I blog, therefore I learn.)

Your comments, please!

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Accuracy is easy. Put in your time and it will come.  Expression is another thing. A couple of days ago I had a conversation at an opening with a woman who said she can’t make art because she could never draw the figure accurately and she believes you have to draw accurately what’s there first before you can move on to make art.   This was at a student show (Evanston Art Center) and luckily one of my students was there with me.  She simply said, “It’s not a linear process.”  That’s a mantra in my classes.  If you work only on technique, you’ll become a technician. If you approach the work process from different angles, amazing things happen. Back in my studio that afternoon I opened Theories of Modern Art at random and there was Picasso.  Here’s the famous quote from Picasso: “I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in connection with modern painting.  In my opinion to search means nothing in painting.  To find, is the thing.  Nobody is interested in following a man who, with his eyes fixed on the ground, spends his life looking for the pocketbook that fortune should put in his path.  The one who finds something no matter what it might be, even if his intention were not to search for it, at least arouses our curiosity, if not our admiration.”  He’s often quoted as saying simply, “I don’t search, I find.”  That sounds facile and arrogant.  But he thought deeply about art.  What he meant, I think, by the search-find statement is that art making is not a linear process.  Amazing things happen and you have to be alert enough to recognize them as—amazing.  That recognition is what he calls finding.  You work in your studio day after day, you try this, you try that, something works, something doesn’t, you hit despair, you go back anyway and you keep trying things.  If you had a specific goal in mind you could set out to achieve that goal by devising the necessary techniques to get you to that goal.  But that’s not how the process works.  It’s not linear.  One day you’re in your studio and something happens that you couldn’t have anticipated or planned for.  If you’re locked into a searching mode, you will not recognize this newness that has happened.  But if you’re alert, it will look like something that just fell out of the sky in front of you—and here you are, you find it.

(Above,  Ingres’s drawing of Mme d’Haussonville,  Photo of Picasso by Arnold Newman, and Picasso’s Self-Portrait with Palette, 1906, age 25.)

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Art making is loaded with paradox.   Pops up in all these posts.  Here’s a biggie: fame.  You can’t draw, paint, write, compose or make anything in any medium unless you make it for yourself—to clarify your own feelings and thoughts.  What then?  What do you do with it once it’s done?  You send it out to the world.  Have to, can’t just stash it in the basement.  When you put it out there for others to react to, you hope it will be understood in some way.  Let’s just fast forward with this train of thought: you want fame.  But fame, as we all know in our celebrity crazy culture, is problematic.  It messes with your brain.  What you most love to do—draw, paint, compose, write, et al—is now affected, and infected, by this fame worm.

I’ve just recently discovered a writer, Javier Marias.  I must be the last person in the world to read this guy.  When I find an artist this original, I feel the urge to draw his/her face, as a sort of meditation.  I’m savoring Your Face Tomorrow, a novel that progresses by digressing, in which I came across this passage:

“…it isn’t what is said of us behind our backs which changes things—which transforms things inside ourselves—it is what someone with authority or armed with mere insistence tells us about ourselves to our face that reveals and explains and tempts us to believe.  It is the danger that stalks every artist or politician, or anyone whose work is subject to people’s opinions and interpretations.  If a film director, writer or musician begins to be described as a genius, a prodigy, a reinventor, a giant, they can all too easily and up thinking that it might be true.  They then become conscious of their own worth, and become afraid of disappointing or–which is even more ridiculous and nonsensical, but it can’t be put in any other way—of not living up to themselves, that is, to the people it turns out they were—or so others tell them, and as they now realize they are—in their previous exalted creations. “

And a little later, “There is nothing worse than looking for a meaning or believing there is one.  Or if there is one, even worse: believing that the meaning of something, even of the most trivial detail, could depend on us and on our actions, on our intention or our function, believing that there is such a thing as the will or fate, and even some complicated combination of the two.  Believing that we do not owe ourselves entirely to the most erratic and forgetful, rambling and crazy of chances, and that we should be expected to be consistent with what we said or did, yesterday or the day before.  Believing that we might contain in ourselves coherence and deliberation, as the artist believes is true of his work or the potentate of his decisions, but only once someone has persuaded them that this is so.”

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