A Plea for Boldness

I left these words an art marketer’s blog. Did I go too far? Or not far enough?

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I can identify my motivation very easily: it’s what you’ve called artistic excellence. It forms all the reason I ever wanted to do art. Trips to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC during my childhood brought the old masters into my life, and when I decided that I wanted to paint just as surely I ached to learn how to paint at a level of skill like the great artists of the past. So the first challenge was learning to draw. Drawing is still a challenge, always will be a challenge. I had a natural affinity for color, yet I had to learn how to use colors through countless sessions of experiments mixing them. Later on, I realized that it is possible to be “all dressed up” without knowing “where to go,” and then I sought to figure out invention in art. How can art be simultaneously modern and traditional, answer the challenges of skill posed by great artists of the past and still address thoroughly modern ideas?

I have neglected the business aspects of art, and chasing after awards never appealed to me at all. My choices have created problems that didn’t need to be there — I mean that a better focus on business wouldn’t have harmed my efforts any — though it’s also clear that digital photography and the advent of the internet makes everything a gazillion times easier than in the past. Simply taking a decent photograph of a painting was a complicated endeavor when I was a youth and required a significant investment in time and money.

In short I can understand a more balanced approach — one that matches personal vision with PR and business savvy. But too many artists today are content to create a kind of art that fails to meet the minimal skill sets of even the second or third tier artists of the past whose works now live in museums. That is, I think, sort of tragic. It’s a failure of vision, of ambition — a failure of taste — it lacks guts. And if there’s anything that I could persuade a younger generation of artists to embrace it is skill and daring. Go shoulder to shoulder with Monet, or Hokusai, or Ingres, or Giulio Romano, or Domenico Tiepolo. There is no artist living today who has the pure chutzpah of Domenico Tiepolo. At least give it your best try.

I’m not lauding any particular style, but am making a plea for ability and boldness. Make a sort of art that could sometimes compare with a Hollywood movie. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

[Above: Punchinello’s Farewell to Venice, Domenico Tiepolo, National Gallery of Art in Washington]

Use this link to see a version of the image that you can enlarge: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.57482.html

Nature’s pace

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Part of becoming an artist is learning to live in rhythm with nature.  Though human society continually urges us to “hurry, hurry,” you learn — or periodically must relearn — the walking pace of twenty-four hours, the luxurious dawdling of childhood, the slowness and thoroughness of the body when it heals, the all deliberate speed of the body as it grows. Charitably let’s assume that flustered hurry serves its own purpose but often you find that it serves not your purpose

You can allow your attention to fall where it will, notice and enjoy the first attention grabbing item of your gaze.  You can follow the edges of objects with the lines of your pencil, steering those lines as carefully as you steer a bike along its route.

The path of attention pulls you toward this, necessarily pulling you also away from that, but you can accept these distinctions without needing to justify them.  Your interests are your own business and your mind’s attention as worthwhile as the clamor of society’s claims. Once you note that your mind, your eyes, your emotion has seized upon some prize, feel free to grasp it full and carry it off for greater perusal at your leisurely pleasure.  Like a squirrel with a nut, claim it for your own. Learn as much about the elements of the world as it pleases you to do, allowing your own natural curiosity to be a good measure of what store you need, of what to hoard and what to relish.