I am discussing ideas from Mona Brookes’s inestimable book “Drawing with Children.”  The first part of the discussion can be found HERE.

Her second confidence measuring statement is this one: “There is a right way and a wrong way to draw.”  Her use of this statement is so inspired that were Ms. Brookes not already gainfully employed teaching art, it’s obvious that her second calling would be psychotherapy.  The statement is both true and false in a most deliciously complex way.  And everyone who picks up the pencil could well use this Silenus question as their daily meditation.

But we’ll look at the Hollywood version, cutting quickly to the chase: if there is not a right way, then obviously there’s nothing to learn, nothing to learn from Mona Brookes, nothing to learn from Leonardo da Vinci either.

And/or …

If there is a right way, with emphasis on “a,” one and only right way (not even a left way), then drawing is a dead-end.  It’s all been done by now and what are we bothering about?  Go play golf instead — but be advised that skill in golf is hereditary ….

Lots of artists console themselves with the mantra that there’s no right or wrong in art, and that intoxicating thought can lead to great wisdom for sure, but for most drinkers it leads merely to a wreck.  You have to be willing to embrace the idea of art having a standard (even if no one quite knows what it is) if you intend to make high art.  And high art, while it’s a lousy job, is one that “somebody has to do.”

Where would we be today if Raphael had been a slouch?  What if your dentist said, “Oh, good enough.”  Why should your dentist have higher standards than you there holding the pencil?

The statement Mona Brookes raises should inspire the reluctant artist to get off his duff.  Things are tough all over.  Suck it in.  Get down and give me fifty.

Is there a right way and a wrong way?  You’re damned straight there is.  But no one is quite sure what it is.  We say “we know it when we see it.”  You there, go and find it.

8 thoughts on “Musings on Confidence, 2

  1. Craftsmanship requires theory and practice, pass on from generation to generation. And when passing on a technique it is hard to not show “the good way”. I had teachers so specific about how to hold the pencil or the brush!
    I am still looking for the wright way…it seems that it is different every day!

  2. It is different everyday, and that’s a good thing! These two posts on confidence should help all of us be more confident. We don’t want to move like Jagger (he does that) or draw in the ways it’s been done before. I am reading Gerhard Richter… he says that our art, now, has “to be different because we painted the Isenheim altar yesterday.” So, there is no “right” way… there is your own BEST way and I agree, it’s up to you to find it… thanks for these posts!!!!!

  3. Ben, I have encountered more than a few of those folks too. While I don’t mind anyone’s suggestions in regard to just about anything. Holding a brush?? Why do I not find the person who can tell me how to hold a fork! (I’m still working on that.)

    What I have trouble abiding are the Rule People. Gotta do this, gotta do that, ALWAYS do thus, NEVER do such and such.

    I will say this: never, NEVER use gasoline as a solvent in art while smoking a cigarette — or if you do, tell me so I can be sure to run for cover with a fire extinquisher in my hands and 911 pre-dialed on my phone.

    But — holding the brush — hey, do it anyway that rocks your boat!

  4. Ann,

    Experiment is indeed the path to learning. But I take exception to Richter’s idea that “we” painted the Isenheim altar yesterday. That’s not true at all and is even another rule in disguise — a very sneaky modern rule. Truth is, Richter, despite his very fine examples of realism, hasn’t a clue how to paint an Isenheim altar. And if he sought to learn, he would not really copy Matthias Grünewald, but could only do what he thinks Grünewald did — which is a radically different thing — and a very valuable thing. Through such explorations — and that’s a form of exploration — one assimilates aspects of past ideas and yet in the act of trying them out you invariably insert yourself and your own ideas into the process. It’s complicated.

    But, yes, there are people who try to redo something grand from the past and get stuck in one sort of rut or another.

    Trying to avoid redoing the past is one rut, and trying to recapture the past is another. I think they’re flip sides of the same coin.

    In contrast it’s not only easy to be oneself, it is inescapable. The problem is what do you do with yourself? And don’t ask me because I’m still learning to use a fork!


  5. I was just looking at your paintings, Ann. They are very strong and colorful. I think my favorites are the fauvist ones, as for instance the one that says “sur mer.” ak

  6. Aletha,

    That’s a really good point about re-doing vs. re-capturing… I think it’s true that we might come out with a rather complex and different “altar” if we “re-captured”!!! Thank you for taking a look at my paintings… glad you like these!

  7. Maybe infinite …? For the super-optimist. Definitely a lot of ways! Some right, some not? Oh well. You gotta play to win, right?

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