26 January 2008

The importance of continuing education

I'm amazed at how much I've learned in the past week. I've been reading about several art styles, including Luminism and Tonalism. In the process, I began to understand how I can create better art while continuing my plein air studies, and working with photographs for studio reference.

Above all, I'm realizing the importance of working with memories to create original art that captures the energy and romanticism of my favorite landscapes, rather than aspiring to a semi-photographic representations.
(Artgeeks see Google Books for "Leonardo's Nephew," page 138, describing the memory & art course by Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran; a few more references are on a page about Rodin's sculptures.)
While this helped me make sense of what I want to do with my realistic paintings, it also freed me to find an alternate voice in semi-representational work.

See, I've kept reading and re-reading Finding Your Visual Voice: A Painter's Guide to Developing an Artistic Style, but I'd get to a point where my brain seemed to shut down. I couldn't apply that information to my own art. I didn't make progress, and I kept staring at the five stalled paintings on my easel.

Finally, I was inspired by some art in popular art magazines, such as American Artist, and Art and Antiques. I read what some of the artists said about their own work, researched the artists they mentioned as inspiration, and kept landing back at Tonalism. From there, I began reading what early Tonalists said about their artistic processes.

I began to see what they were doing. They were accomplishing what I want to... but approaching it with a system that works. (Until this discovery, I was trying to analyze my own work, hoping to make sense of just what -- by pure serendipity -- had achieved the results that I wanted. That's the slow way to learn.)

Now, after identifying the elements in Tonalism that resonate with my artistic visions, I am able to move forward. I'm not entirely where I want to be with my approach to my paintings, but I'm light years ahead of where I was a week ago.

So, since most people who read this blog aren't painting landscapes, this post may seem like a "who cares?" entry. And, I am setting up my painting blog at another website. (Use my contact form to ask if you're interested in my fine art and don't know the name that I paint under.) Future entries here will focus on the art that people expect to see at Aisling.net.

But, no matter what media you work with and how much experience or training you've had as an artist, this point is important: Your art has to evolve. If your current art looks about the same as what you were doing a year ago, either you're happy working by-the-numbers, or you're stuck and haven't realized it yet.

Copying can be an important step in learning, and -- for some -- that can be enough. If it is, skip the rest of this post. I never want to trivialize others' art, especially if they're happy with it. Most people start out imitating the art of others, especially professional artists. (For centuries, that's how people learned to become artists. They learned from DaVinci, Michelangelo, etc., by watching the artists work, serving as apprentices, and copying their work line-for-line.)

Start with the 'masters' in your field. If you love assemblage and collage, have you ever thought of copying a Joseph Cornell assemblage as closely as you can? Give it a try! You'll learn about materials, techniques, balance and color. Those are important foundations for your art.

After copying a few of his pieces, you're ready to create more derivative works. That is, you'll start with his concepts and modify them to suit your creative ideas.

For personal statement and unique voice in your art -- and to find continued fulfillment in it -- it's necessary to move beyond the derivative. It's vital to try new things and see what works for you.

The catch is, endless trial-and-error experiments can wear anyone down. After awhile, they can be pretty expensive, as well.

Instead, study art history to see what others have already tried with success. You can let those ideas and creative visions rattle around your brain until, one day, you wake up and say, "Ooh, I want to do this with my art."

It's key not to limit yourself to "your" kind of art. If you're a collage artist, you might study photography theatrical set design and sculpture, as well as the works of Joseph Cornell. Painters might learn from fabric art, costume design and gardening experts. (Those are just suggestions. Go wild!) Look at work by the 'old masters' as well as their modern counterparts.

When you stop learning, you stagnate. And, in our busy-busy world, you'll probably need to make this a formal study or you'll sell yourself (and your art) short.

Borrow library books. Go to museums. Watch documentaries and foreign 'art' films. Attend free lectures at local colleges, and artists' demonstrations at local art associations. Take some adult ed courses.

At the start of this past week, I thought that I was just double-checking art styles that I already knew about. Within a few hours of reading (mostly online), I realized the importance of formal (or at least semi-formal) continuing education.

I highly recommend it if you're planning to take your art in new directions in 2008.

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