In the End,
You’re the Best Teacher
and the Best Student
April 20, 2018 22 Comments
Ah, art school.
A place that a group of young painters dreamed would spark creativity and imagination.
An environment that would nurture self-expression without limits.
The last place anyone expected to find a bunch of dull, outmoded rules.
But there they were, waiting for us, with cobwebs on them.
Many of us chafed at the rigidity of our artistic training. Sure, some things work, some don't, but few things work for everyone all the time.
And when it was over, the impossible happened...
...the world's worst student fell in love with teaching.
Which, I discovered, isn’t burying students in facts, or knowledge, or "constructive" criticism. (When does criticism ever sound constructive)?
True teaching is the transmission of powerful ideas. It comes from the heart more than the intellect. Otherwise, nobody's listening.
The standout instructors, the ones with packed classes and endless waiting lists, didn't critique. They kept our curiosity up and our adrenaline pumping, even after we struck out on our own.
Get the hell outta here and start learning—
one of them liked to say.
So with all that in mind, one by one, I've given these "time-honored" artist rules the boot, urging anyone serious about learning painting to do the same.
You Have to Get it Right the First Time
A gallant approach that happens to be total nonsense.
Editing a work of art is an art in itself.
Every art form relies on editing to bring a piece toward finish and then to perfection. So why do painters have to get anything right the first time?
Once mastered, editing is a blast. Because it makes you feel invincible.
Editing a work of art
is an art in itself.
The downside: until you master it, reworking feels like you're losing ground.
You made a mistake.
You screwed up, again. You should have quit while you were ahead.
Maybe you shouldn't be doing this. You don't have much talent after all. Your sister has all the talent. Your parents always loved her more than you. That's because you're unlovable. You knew you'd never amount to anything and now it's confirmed...
OK, spinning way out of control here, but this is the kind of madness that can follow a minor setback in your art. I've actually heard such rants in my classes. They frighten me.
Always Paint From Dark to Light
An academy staple that puts technique ahead of both observation and feeling. And it's so damn formulaic. We're creating a work of art here, not baking a Bundt cake.
Start however you want, wherever you want. Don't over-analyze. Get out of your head and dive right in.
Learn how to handle buckets of paint. Keep your drawing skills up too. Drawing is the finesse; paint volume is the punch. Yin and yang.
Connect with your subject, hesitate a few seconds, then respond with whatever's appropriate. This will give your work more energy and truth than any procedure.
You Must View Art in the Flesh. You Can't View Art Online.
Oh, but you can.
Funny thing though about the words you can’t. Seems every great advance in human history was made by lunatics who ignored them...
You can't cross the Atlantic,
You can't build a flying machine,
You can't fit a computer in your pocket...
Yes, there are inherent distortions in the digital image or any photographic image.
And yes, first-hand contact with a painted masterpiece housed in an architectural masterpiece is an experience that every artist should have.
But so what? How are digital images harmful?
Why not enjoy the pleasure of viewing any masterpiece in the world, free from the crowds, noise, admission fees, aching feet, and grumpy guards that lessen the experience?
Take your iPad outside, pour a big glass of wine, and it’s a no-brainer.
You Have to Work Like Mad to Become a Great Painter
Must is the overbearing cousin of Can't.
Overwork creates stress. Stress causes anxiety.
Anxiety leads to fear, fear leads to caution, caution leads to paralysis. To the point where your main artistic goal becomes not messing up.
Does this sound like creativity to you?.
A steady, moderate work routine is way more effective than workaholism. Healthier, too. Those small, frequent breakthroughs add up and lead to more and more breakthroughs. Marathon sessions invite obsessiveness, fatigue, and depression.
Never Use Black
Why then, do they make it?
Black mixed with white and a touch of warmth is the ultimate neutralizer. If you know how and when to use it the effects can be gorgeous.
Think of those beautiful silvery neutral tones as a pause or a moment of silence.
Giving the eye that little break is more powerful than saturating it. Same goes for balancing details with empty space, another form of visual silence.
the granddaddy of them all...
Quit While You're Ahead
This one has made countless artists paint like they’re inching toward the edge of a cliff.
Remember, your art is a reflection of you. And that includes your skills and your feelings. It’s not like a meal that can be overdone, not if we're talking oils.
Quit while you’re ahead stems from the insane superstition that a great work of art is some fortunate accident that you can't repeat. Or that a few wrong moves will be the death of the piece.
Either way, it's a disempowering approach.
It's OK to overwork a piece, so long as you know how to reverse it. You can always freshen up a painting with—that's right—fresh paint. Or remove any weak elements from the composition, which opens everything up.
There's no perfect moment to quit, so don't agonize over it. Become a whiz instead at moving forward, backward, then forward again, and watch your confidence soar.
Muscle Memory Sucks
Rules aren't meant to be broken. They're meant to be challenged when a better solution arises.
Granted, a simple, easy-to-grasp method is a great starting point for beginners.
But don't get trapped in a box. With a little repetition, the process that serves you now can mutate into a stubborn, growth-killing habit.
Muscle memory is funny that way. On the one hand, it can be your best friend in the world. On the other, it can betray you and reject the introduction of anything new.
Learning a language, for example, is hard. Losing an accent is almost impossible. Unlearning is so much harder than learning so be careful what you learn. And don't get attached to any of it.
is an evil.
~ Raymond Charles Barker
Forget your failures—paint over them, trash them, use them as serving trays or frisbees.
Or give them to people you don't like, whatever. But get them out of your studio, out of your consciousness, and embrace new challenges.
In the end, you're the best teacher and the best student you have, even if you've had great ones. Have a little fun with both roles. Self-discovery is an amazing process that will expand you–long after you're done with school.