Drawing mastery is understanding our world and understanding relationships. Contrary to popular belief, drawing doesn’t mean trailing a line around things — it means seeing and reporting the relative distances between things. Drawing is a non-literary way of looking — and the skill to put down what you see in a two-dimensional way. Drawing mastery takes time and patience.
Colour mastery involves knowing the properties of pigments, both in theory and as chemicals that have certain effects on one another when juxtaposed or mixed. Colour mixes that call for opposites on the colour wheel (complementary), as well as nearby on the colour wheel (analogous), or even so closely related as to appear to be one colour (monochromatic), make for lively and sophisticated effects. Colour mastery takes time and patience.
Abstract understanding doesn’t mean arbitrary sloshing and messing. Abstract art is controlled visual magic based on laws and methodology. Abstraction generally involves implication, suggestion and mystery rather that obvious description. Like a good poem, a good abstraction attacks your feelings before your understanding. Abstraction within realism adds zest and excitement to otherwise dull subject matter. Abstract understanding takes time and patience.
Compositional mastery is a variety of traditional rules that beg to be broken. That’s why composition is the queen of the skills. With composition you learn to control and play with the eye and move it within the picture plane. Composition includes the golden mean, the rule of thirds, big and small, dark and light, activation, circulation, focus, pattern, stoppage and a pile of other ploys, many of them developed by you and unique to yourself. Compositional mastery also means the avoidance of lineups, homeostasis, and a jungle road of potholes too tedious and disheartening to include in a 500-word letter. Learn to compose intelligently in your own vocabulary and you can get away with murder. Compositional mastery takes time and patience.
Emotional evolution means combining basic skills — such as the above — so that a unique voice and engagement occur. Finding your unique voice may not be everything, but it’s way ahead of whatever comes next. Emotional evolution takes time and patience.
PS: “Skills aren’t enough on their own. Emotion has to come through. But when you’ve got the various skills sewn up, that’s one thing you don’t have to worry about.” (Zoe Benbow)
Esoterica: You can choose to make unskilled art if you wish. Unskilled art has its allure. The mere act of moving paint around can produce joy. Knowing little or nothing in the “how to” department and failing to inquire about it can probably make some people happy and may even be good for the soul. But if you persist in this direction, your unskilled work will be like that of so many others — and you will begin to bore yourself. On the other hand, the skills I suggest are worth learning for their own sake — and they will stand you well no matter what you try to do. They are hard won. We value most what is hard won — and so do many others. Skills worth learning take time and patience.
This letter was originally published as “Five skills worth learning” on February 14, 2012.
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“In a picture, it should be possible to discover new things every time you see it. But you can look at a picture for a week together and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.” (Joan Miro)
My statement is pretty short. I love all kinds of paintings and I think Robert Genn is Canada’s finest painter. A great feature of his work are his designs — so beautifully conceived.