Reader comments help me greatly to clarify my ideas, and I thank everyone who leaves comments here. In my previous post about the education of a hypothetical “great artist,” I argue that the most authentic form of art comes from the self. Moreover, I argued that for this reason, the greatest artists — regardless how much education they had — were, in very important ways, “autodidacts.”
Perhaps I made it sound like an aspiring great artist should avoid schools, books, conversation and study. So, I want to clarify the idea by saying that, quite the contrary, I’m aware that great artists typically had very thorough and deep educations. Sometimes they had, like Rubens, a rich formal education. Rubens’s education in rhetoric, history, language as well as his “internship” with the Carracci brothers in Italy made him a thousand-fold more savvy than the typical, much touted “New York” artist of today. Monet, to cite a different kind of career, was certainly well acquainted the great paintings of the Louvre and with the main tenets of academic art of his era and had innumerable painter friends of all sorts.
Van Gogh who I had used as a role model of the perfect sort of autodidact did literally isolate himself and set to work learning to draw through sheer hard work and struggle. But even Van Gogh had a direct “teacher” in the form of a drawing manual, one that was popular in his day by Charles Bargue. But what distinquishes Van Gogh’s studies from the norm is the keen force of his personality.
Van Gogh was well acquainted with art prior to his decision to become an artist. He had worked as an art dealer, following in that a family tradition. He had been a passionate visitor of museums. He was deeply influenced by a wide number of artists and traditions. While it is most unlikely that Van Gogh could have known the particular drawing at the top of this post, by Cornelis Hendricksz Vroom of 17th century Haarlem, Van Gogh was nonetheless probably deeply influenced by the tradition of which Vroom was part. And for a modern viewer, well acquainted with the masterful graphic vocabulary that Van Gogh uses in his late drawings — all the dots and dashes and wonderfully expressive penlines of every sort — seeing this drawing by Vroom is a little like finding Van Gogh’s 17th century twin.
There are as many paths to art as there are travelers, but upon each path the person taking the journey has to find a spiritual compass within his or her own life. Yes, an artist should study assiduously! Certainly, a serious artist is very eager to learn and to see. But the finding is certified not by outside authorities, but by the quiet, sure judgement of the self.
The Vroom drawing above belongs to the Albertina Museum which is in the process of putting images of its entire collection on line. Its addition makes another wonderful resource of ideas for today’s artists.
[Top of the post: Trees behind a Wooden Fence, by Cornelis Hendricksz Vroom (1591/92 – 1661), pen and brown ink, brown wash, 28.7 x 30.2 cm, Albertina Museum]