Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Education, Portraits, and Blab

For some time, I have wanted to elucidate (explain) the purpose of art education. Is it helping the student to arrive at a pretty picture? Is it more? I would hope so. Robert Henri explains the purpose thusly; Development of a strong perosnal art...through stimulating in students a more profound study of Construction, Proportion, Drawing---stimulating activity, mental and physical, moral, courage, invention in expression to fit the idea to be expressed;the study of specific technique, impressing the importance of the idea, that it must have weitht, value, be well worth (work). The development, therefore, of artists of mind, philosophy, sympathy, courage, invention. ...Individuality of thought and expression is encouraged. (p.224, Henri, 1923.) Wow, isn't that awesome? Now, what does it mean? The student should be devoted to the point where the teacher may "destroy her darling" , or in other words, wipe off the painting and start over. As painful as that may be, it needs to happen for a variety of reasons--it needs to be redone, the artist must gain ego freedom of her/his work--a sense of detachment for a better product. A painting may need to be redone 6, 7 or more times as the great James Singer Sargent (ala Don Hatfield personal notes) would do.
Portraiture, as in the example above, is a passion of mine, perhaps held back. I am not sure why. There are so many good portrait artists but I want to bring to mind what a more contemporary artist, Dan McCaw who says, to develop within the student her/his inner voice, whether is be realism, abstraction or impressionism. That will help the student to stop when they have created the statement they want to create. Without a vision, there is no stopping point and the student begins licking the painting--hitting the paint brush over and over reducing the power of the painting.
The blah in the title of today's blog is how I feel. It is okay, I am in a down zone. Quite normal from what I understand talking to my artist friends. But I wanted to get these ideas out to help other students become clear on reason for studying art. Yes, a pretty picture emerges but from a grasp of technique, ideas, invention, and expression. Develop the latter and the former may emerge.


  1. What resonates with me in that quote is "moral courage". To me, that means being ready to paint what may not sell, but rather focus on pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. I was at an art show last weekend where many friends were exhibiting. There was some joy in their art, but little in the way of surprise or exploration. I could identify most of the artists' work without seeing their signature. The paintings were sound, but few felt like they'd been pushed to the edge.

    I suppose we all need to be "gentleman painters" (like those in the days of Sargent), ie, those with financial means to paint without regard to selling. There are few buyers today, and even fewer willing to take a chance on an living artist on the edge of real creativity.

  2. I think your right and your observation correct. It could also mean the courage to express inner self, so difficult with pressures from culture, peers, finances, past family contrictions, etc. Where is joy? Interesting concept, one to consider more. Thanks for your thoughts Ed.