Whenever I hear someone describe an artist’s work as “traditional” I always want to ask “which one?” Which tradition do you mean? (There are so many.) The assumption in contemporary Western art is sometimes over-broad — so much that anything depicted in a manner that’s recognizable is “traditional.” Yet within the most comprehensive reaches of the European inspired art, there are innumerable avenues for visual thought to travel. Painting can be realistic, or “painterly,” or linear without being realistic. It can portray everyday life, or it can portray very extraordinary, fanciful and imaginary themes. It can be landscape, portrait, still life, mythological painting, and several genres besides, that don’t even have names. It can resemble other artists of earlier times, and yet be very much its own thing — as Edouard Manet looks very 19th century French to us now, yet was a great aficionado of Diego Velasquez and other artists of the Spanish 17th century.
Skill is super important, but skill alone doesn’t make art. An artist can be skillful and find himself or herself feeling needy. The skill has to be put into something. And the something is more than just subject matter — though that’s part of it — the something is an idea, an impulse, a meaning whose form needs to be seen. When words fail, visual art steps in. But it needs to have something to say.
When an artist is all dressed up with nowhere to go, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It just means you have a journey ahead of you.
[Top of the post: the author’s pen and ink drawing after an Ingres figure — made in a very un-Ingrist way.]