On the first day of art school in our first foundation class, our professor, a grey-bearded sage in brown corduroys, casually mentioned that Cézanne had already achieved everything in painting, so this was probably just a hopeless exercise. In terror, we squeezed out the assigned palette and studied a table of fruit in the middle of the room. In the library later, I checked what I was up against. “With an apple I will astonish Paris,” wrote Cézanne. For his innovation, his work was rejected seventeen times by the Paris Salon before a fellow artist intervened.
Yearly Archives: 2017
Painters sometimes run into problems when they attempt larger works. This goes for artists who transpose smalls into bigs, as well as those who make bigs for their own sake. For many, bigs and smalls can appear to be the work of separate artists. Spontaneity and simplicity in the small give way to complexity and labour in the large. In the larger painting we may be trying too hard or trying to “give too much.” Big paintings can fall into the “mish-mash” category — too much going on. Small paintings rarely have this problem.
In Homer’s Odyssey, when the hero Odysseus had to fight the Cyclops Polyphemus by putting out his eye, he first introduced himself by the pseudonym, “Nobody.” So, when Polyphemus cried out in pain to the other Cyclopses that “Nobody” was trying to kill him, they thought Polyphemus had been afflicted by a divine power and, instead of helping him, recommended prayer as the answer. Twenty-eight hundred years or so since the creation of The Odyssey, Homer scholars are debating whether Homer himself may have also been a Nobody.
On the value and importance of drawing, teachers often ask, “Why is it most people don’t sign up for drawing classes? Painting classes are always more popular.” Also asked, “Is it true that John Ruskin used to run drawing classes for factory workers?”
He did. Ruskin believed in drawing. He thought it was part of the informed life and good for everybody. One of the most eloquent art advocates and critics of all time, Ruskin himself made thousands of fine and sensitive drawings.
Victoria Prooday, a Toronto occupational therapist and blogger specializing in child brain development and neuroplasticity, recently cited some alarming statistics about skyrocketing childhood depression, ADHD and teen suicide rates. Calling it a silent tragedy, she attributed the problem to an epidemic of well-meaning but bad parenting. Her post has been read over 10 million times, proving to her that the dilemma is real and prevalent.
On Saturday I was looking for something to paint when I noticed a commotion near at hand in the bush. A bear, I thought. Then the hook of a walking-cane stuck out. “What are you doing in there?” I asked. A man’s voice and then a man emerged. “Lookin’ fer an’ pickin’ chokecherries,” he said. He was a rough character, like an old cowboy in a baseball cap — he was wearing an old-fashioned galvanized iron apple-bucket with a canvas bottom. The cane was for getting at the high branches. “Try ’em,” he said, handing me a handful
I recently returned from travelling to find a pile of mail gems, many from readers of these letters. One was a gift of a small paperback postmarked Crescent Pond, New Hampshire. I crawled into bed and into a list of timeless painting tips ordered by importance, the essentials highlighted and supported with first-hand insights from old and modern masters.
A subscriber wrote, “Success as an artist to me is when you go to sleep your last thoughts are about creating. When you wake up in the morning your first thoughts are about creating. It comes from the gut, from your insides.”
They say that if you wake up in the morning looking for a cigarette, you’re addicted. Quite a few creators — not all — fit the profile described. Further, it seems there’s often a relationship between our feelings of success and some sort of addictive behavior. But unlike other habits that may threaten health and happiness, this condition might just be good for you.
As a five-year-old who loved drawing and painting, Caroll Spinney discovered puppets after seeing a performance of The Three Little Kittens. When he was eight, he bought a monkey puppet at a rummage sale for 5 cents, collected some scrap wood and built a puppet theatre. He made 32 cents from his first show. “That’s when I knew I would be a puppeteer when I grew up.”
A subscriber wrote, “I used to evaluate paintings by looking at composition, technique, color, tone, texture, perspective, etc. Now I realize that even though these are important, they are really about craft and artisanship. I now think they come at a lower priority than the totality. I’ve rewritten my evaluation process: 30 points when the passing viewer comes to a stop. 30 points if viewer gets the point — message, feeling, mood. If too explicit, I deduct points. 35 points to artisanship as before. If, after a year, the viewer still enjoys looking at the painting, it’s worth another 5 points. Does this system make sense?