Have you ever loved an artist's work because of its seemingly reckless abandon? To the casual viewer, this kind of art appears to be the result of a lucky impulse, and in some ways I suppose it is. But where does the impulse come from? It comes from a deep, almost second nature knowledge of art and technique. It's the kind of knowledge that can only come after a lifetime of study. That kind of knowledge liberates an artist to know what's essential and what isn't.
I sometimes hear people scorn the study of art. They encouraged us to "express ourselves" as unique individuals, unencumbered by the information accrued by previous generations.
Richard Schmidt, in "Alla Prima", says this attitude started in France when a group of artists revolted against the status quo, classicism. The result was the birth of a new movement. This revolt expanded the definition of art and has been used to justify a sort of political correctness. We are encouraged to overlook poor drawing, design, and perspective when we look at a painting and embrace it as if it were good, possibly great.
Like most people, I can find something nice to say about almost anything I see, and I would never want to discourage a painter. I know all too well my own tenderness when it comes to my work. But I believe we are doing ourselves and the artist a disservice if we encourage the belief that we can create lasting and meaningful work without study. I believe it was Bert Silverman who said, a painting has never been ruined by good drawing, but the reverse is certainly true.
When we were filming Kwan Jung (Chinese Brush Painting), I marveled aloud my amazement that he completed a painting in such short order. Kwan responded, "Yes, fifty years and five minutes."
The good news is that in this day and age, we have resources available to help us learn. Books, videos and internet let us see great art, learn about anatomy, and continue to challenge ourselves at the drawing board.
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