Every once in a while some experts will have a conference and announce that painting is now dead. They are usually referring to somewhat realistic paintings that depict something or other that a more or less average person can understand.
I’m painting in a place called Treguier in Brittany. About a hundred meters along the quay, another man is also painting. As it’s time for a Pernod, I take the opportunity to have a look. He’s working on a big, complex painting with several figures, boats, houses and fields beyond. He’s one of those painters who puts his whole body into his work. He’s grandiose, earnest, and extremely frustrated. I have never seen anyone actually tearing their hair out — but this big French guy is coming pretty close. I know he’s French because he’s swearing in it. As I go back to my 12″ x 16″ I notice another guy with an easel pressed close against a second-story window. He, too, appears to be labouring in the same field.
Rumours of the death of painting are greatly exaggerated, I’m thinking. It’s like these baguettes around here. The French are not suddenly going to stop baking them. Baguettes are not going to go out of style. Madame is not suddenly going to start carrying something else around on her bicycle.
This painting business will go on for a while yet as well. Because it’s good to do. And also because it’s bloody difficult to do — to be able to get the drawing more or less right. It’s good to develop a decent pattern and design — to have a composition. It’s good to find colours that work well and to get the relationship between light and shade. It’s a good feeling to work on something that talks to you, something to which you can give a new spin. It’s good to honour what you have come to know and still surprise yourself. It’s good to be able to add elements of personal choice — like elegance, refinement, paucity, or exaggeration. It’s good to make something that looks uniquely yours. It’s good to do work that is worth signing and then go and have a drink. It’s good to think about everything you have yet to learn and to think about the next one you may perhaps make. It’s good to be engaged in dignified labour like this.
The man down the quay just kicked over his easel.
PS: “Painting will prevail because its inevitable zones of discomfort, bleeding and pain are sometimes overcome by a high feeling of joy and accomplishment.” (Joe Blodgett)
Esoterica: It’s a balance between pushing the limits of your capability and doing those things that satisfy and keep you at it. Those of us who struggle daily find that some projects are more difficult than others. It’s good to remember that painting the figure defeated Cezanne — he did better when he stuck to his apples.
This letter was originally published as “Levels of achievement” on September 27, 2002.
The audio letters are now ready to give as a gift!
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“Give yourself room to fail and fight like hell to achieve.” (Irwin Greenberg)
Location: Fredericksburg Texas This workshop is designed for students who understand the basics of value, color and drawing and want to take their art to the next level. The emphasis will be on creating your own personal style, and continuing your development as an artist.
The class will be limited in size to allow each student more individualized attention. Each student will have a private question and answer time with Cheri to help them discover their own direction as an artist.
She will discuss choice of subject, path of light, composition and edges, needed to create your own artistic painting.
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Christine Hanlon, whose work has been compared to that of Edward Hopper, creates ‘urban landscapes which quietly exude atmosphere.’