May 26, 2000
I don't know exactly how I got started doing
demos. A long time ago someone asked me to do
one, and though I didn't know what one was, I did
it anyway. Some excellent artists make it a point
to never do demos, and any amount of love or
money won't tempt them. Others seem to make their
living in demoland. I find I can handle about
five a year.
The church halls and the hills are alive with
painting clubs with social, economic and
educational reasons to foster demos. Many members
are late to the post and appreciate the artists
who take the time. Some demo-doers are wizards.
Horizons are widened, techniques are picked up,
insider information is oozed by osmosis, and it's
satisfying and perhaps empowering to see a long
putt well sunk.
I've never failed to learn something by attending somebody else's
demo. We are all specialists. At the same time the giving of demos
is a learning process. They take a different kind of thinking and
bring out the performance aspect of the creative act. As the lady
said "How do I know what I think until I hear what I say."
However, there's a tendency for many demo-givers to perform something
that can be readily set up and completed more or less in one sitting.
They are often facile at a few exercises with predictable outcomes,
and some, it seems, never paint unless they have an audience. This
smoke and mirrors somewhat neglects the element of contemplation
so necessary in the creative act. Also there's the need to entertain
and carry a conversation. I've never been able to do what I call
a "ten" at one--it's like a centipede trying to explain
which foot to move forward next. As for the audience, it's a spectator
sport which gives sparse joy to the hand or ego.
I'm not sure but I don't think anybody ever got
to be a great boxer by attending prizefights.
PS: "The People adore authority." (Baudelaire)
The following are selected correspondence
relating to the above letter. You are welcome to
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say I found these opinions and ideas interesting
and worthwhile. We are thinking of publishing
many of these letters under the heading
"Letters From a World of Artists."
Please let me know if you think this is a good
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How the masters do
Through the medium of the demonstration the
possibility is held out that we may stand on one
another's shoulders. It is the one method
where we may see and understand how masters do
what they do. We take from these exhibitions of
technique and methodology and add our own flavor
and style. The result is progress in the arts.
Since time began there have always been the 95
percent of the population who are on the outside
looking in. These people often do not have much
of an idea what's going on. They love
entertainments and are not self-starting or
self-motivated. People who attend demonstrations
are like congregations at the feet of
fundamentalist preachers. They want simple
answers to complex questions. Furthermore, they
want to feel good. This is what demos do. They
give a temporary feeling that there is hope.
Darcy Green, UK
I have learned more from demos than any other
form of instruction. Thank goodness for those
professionals who take their time to show how
they do their work. It is a window into the soul
of an artist in which we learn not only the
techniques but the spirit and concerns. To
artists who do demos, I say: "DON'T
"Show me; I learn.
Tell me, I forget."
There are many of us who will never be
professional artists. Art gives us something to
do and a new and kinder, gentler way of life. I
have several friends who have taken up painting
and share with me in really enjoying the monthly
visit of some local artist who demos for us.
There are always some tips or something we
didn't know about.
Betty T. Biggs,
Can you imagine anyone like Mark Rothko giving or
attending demos? Of course not. He mastered what
he wanted to say privately and it became timeless
and part of our cultural iconography.
John Singer Sargent (one of your favorites,
Robert) attended demos for eight years while he
was studying under Carolus Duran. When he started
to surpass his master, he moved on.
David Hill, UK
Demos destroy individuality and invite the
culture of cloning. If artist wannabees attend
these events they gradually poison and kill the
desire and capability for individual expression.
A bit here, a bit there. Artists must not be
shown the way. They must not be helped and
guided. They must work it out on their own.
Spot the demonstrator
Over the years that I've been giving
demonstrations I've noticed a tendency for
powerful and particularly successful
demonstrators to influence entire geographic
areas with trendy techniques. One example is
"flottage"--the use of textured
material such as lace and doilies to create
patterns. The whole watercolor phenomenon owes
its extraordinary growth to the demo culture.
Watercolor lends itself to demo technique, unlike
slow drying oil or tricky acrylic. I've
walked into group shows and I can tell
immediately which demonstrators the painters have
V S. Newsome
Here in Portugal we do not use the demo as you
call it. There are professional academies which
instruct in the classical methods of working:
paint, stone, charcoal, etc. We must all learn
the same way. Our individual mastery is
quintessential. Then we walk out of the school
hopefully with an endorsement and find our way in
Helder, PPOAP, Lisbon
How much would you pay to attend a demo by Frans
Hals or Velazquez, or by Mozart or Beethoven or
William Shakespeare for that matter?
Jonathan Beard, New York
If you would like to see
selected correspondence relating to the previous
"Small World." Please go to http://painterskeys.com/clickbacks/small.htm