The Matthew Effect

Dear Artist, “The Matthew Effect” in economics was named after the verse in Matthew in the New Testament of the Christian bible: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” (25:29) A popular way of saying this is, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” The Matthew Effect as applied to education was first described in 1990 by Canadian psychologist Keith Stanovich. You can get the idea with all the talk these days about the importance of third grade. Children who move into fourth grade without knowing how to read suffer significant disadvantages for the rest of their lives. Learning to read is the vital precursor to reading to learn. Poor readers drop out. Later on in life, good readers get the good stuff, and poor readers don’t. The Matthew Effect can be applied to art. Historically, would-be artists who didn’t learn the basics of drawing, composition, colour and form put themselves at a disadvantage. But with the widespread democratization of art, particularly in the Western hemisphere, folks these days often feel self-expression is up ahead of proficiency. It seems many artists are simply educated with a sense of entitlement and audacity. In many places, big, decorative art is popular. Artists with very little training or academic instincts can often make effective, even sensitive, wall-fillers that make people happy. One of my more conservative dealers calls it “the end of connoisseurship.” He tells me people are not looking so closely for exquisite rendering, good drawing or the skillful nailing of light and shadow. “Right now they want ’em mighty, moody, and splashy,” he says. “Because traditional skills aren’t so respected anymore,” my dealer says, “there’s an industry in teaching people to be amateurs.” As he said this I was remembering Picasso’s remark: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I’m curious about this. Is “painting like a child” just a trend? Are skill, technique, and connoisseurship truly on the endangered list? If so, what is this doing to people? Best regards, Robert PS: “Slow reading acquisition has cognitive, behavioral, and motivational consequences that slow the development of other cognitive skills and inhibit performance on many tasks.” (Keith E. Stanovich, Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto) Esoterica: Another friend regularly attends courses where everyone is encouraged to throw paint onto giant, inexpensive surfaces — often from a lineup of commonly-shared pots of colour. The idea of these events is to free up the creator within, express oneself, shake out demons, and have a good time. Colour mixing and other basics are not part of the curriculum. After a weekend of emoting and splashing, my friend asked if she could bring her results to me for a crit. In a diplomatic manner I pointed out what I thought were their strengths and weaknesses. After a while she hesitantly asked, “How much do you think I should charge for them?”   The painting science by Barry John Raybould, UK/USA/China/Italy  

original painting
by Barry John Raybould

I think part of the problem may lie in the economics of the art instruction publishing industry. In order to sell books, any art instruction book needs to be packed full with pictures, with accompanying step-by-step instructions that make painting look easy and accessible to everyone. That is where the market is. Difficult concepts and extensive instruction on how to build a student’s foundation in the fundamental skills needed to paint well are avoided because they do not sell books. The result is a plethora of art instruction that address only the simpler of the fundamental skills needed to paint well. It is an incomplete foundation. The majority of the really in-depth art instruction books by artists such as Carlson, Payne, and Alfred East for example, were written in the first half of the 20th century or before. They tend to be very heavy on text, with few pictures, somewhat difficult to read, but packed full of key concepts and principles that a painter who wants to do quality work needs to understand. These books would not be published today, at least not by the established art instruction publishers. As John Constable, the British painter said, “Painting is a science and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature.” You do not get very far in a career in science if you have not spent years mastering the basic building block principles that are the foundation of all science. So it is with painting. Before the advent of the 20th century “isms,” all artists used to understand that. There are 3 comments for The painting science by Barry John Raybould
From: Karen — Feb 01, 2013

I love this painting. It reminds me of each of us and our families living in a vast context of the earth and we being much more temporary than it is. Living in the city of New Westminster, within the greater Vancouver district, on roads and sidewalks, surrounded by buildings, I don’t always realize that I belong to and am a part of more.

From: Darrell Baschak — Feb 04, 2013
From: federico — Oct 30, 2013

Actually the matthew effect was first introduced by american sociologist Merton in 1968 for describing reward in scientific collaborations. “The matthew effect in science”, Science, 1968

  Value of the traditional by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

“Mother’s Tin Box”
oil painting, 8 x 16 inches
by Diane Overmyer

When I decided to study art at the college level, I had two great art programs to choose from. One taught traditional drawing and painting based on time tried methods of representational art. The other college program focused much more on conceptual art and abstract painting. I decided to go with the program that taught traditional painting methods. I have never regretted that decision, because even though I do love to do abstract work on occasion, I am not limited in the types of things that I can do. As a traditional painter, it is sometimes tempting to just jump to the other side and paint happy loose paintings with dancing poppies or randomly place shapes of color, but then I see someone who understands what I am doing. They stand in front of my work and get their noses right up next to the canvas, so they can really study my brushstrokes! That makes my heart sing and keeps me plodding on to sharpening my own style of painting.   Many languages by Decker Walker, Stanford, CA, USA  

original painting
16 x 12 inches
by Decker Walker

Formulating this issue as a struggle between traditional skills and free expression boxes us in unnecessarily. Traditional skills are fine, but limited. Artists of the last 150 years have shown that there are an unlimited number of visual languages and that the language family of traditional realism is just one big family, like the Indo-European languages are one big family. Traditional Asian visual languages require their own set of skills, some overlapping with Western ones, some distinctive. They and Traditional African visual languages, Amerindian, Pacific, and the invented languages of cubism, abstract expressionism, and more all show that artists can create visual worlds as exciting and worthwhile as Traditional Realism, if not more. Some contemporary artists will speak the language of Traditional Realism and good for them and for us viewers. Others will choose to speak in other languages. Some will invent languages and some of these languages will attract viewers and followers. To lump all these speakers of different languages together as ‘free expression’ is to repeat the parochialism of the Greeks who thought all languages other than theirs sounded ugly, like ‘bar-bar,’ and labeled their speakers barbarians. Just because some people throw paint at the wall and call it art shouldn’t lead us all to retreat to the supposed security of Traditional Realism. There are 4 comments for Many languages by Decker Walker
From: DM — Feb 01, 2013

Some of the schools I attend: Fashion and advert-art, from magazines to billboards Comix and fantasy art Pulp Fiction, pin-ups and pop art styles Cartoons and animations Neo-realism Women in their summer dresses.. and so much more. I don’t know what sort of final synthesis I will make of all of this variety, but I’m in love with the journey! Like Jennifer Beales in “flashdance”, It it gets my attention, it’s worthy of my study. I am a lifelong matriculate in the preschool of daily experience. And, I’m having a wonderful time! Know what else? I’m never without inspiration, And I will never have enough time on this planet To create all of the “art” I already want to make. And, I want more, more, more, — every day… more! I like to think that’s what Picasso meant.

From: Mishcka — Feb 01, 2013

I whole completely agree!

From: Sharon Knettell — Feb 01, 2013

Decker, There are a myriad of way to express ourselves pictorially- traditional realism is becoming a trap because many of its practitioners are rehashing 19th century paintings instead of using that skill set to go beyond that. Diane Arbus, one said “if you have seen it before- don’t take the picture”

From: Karen — Feb 01, 2013

I agree with Decker Walker. There is a difference between “just” throwing paint at a wall and composing an abstract work of art using skill, knowledge and intuition.

  Democratization by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“Profile study”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

I used to be a devotee of Picasso, but have come to the conclusion he, as well as many others of his time period, did a big disservice to technically trained artists. I find many who believe training is not necessary anymore. They want to “feel” it rather than do a technically produced work. Amateurism is the name of the game. This so-called “democratization” has made many believe you don’t need intense study and method anymore. They falsely believe they are producing artwork worthy of notice. But they are self-delusional and much of what is produced is decorative at best and will find the junk heap sooner or later. History will not remember any of this work. As with all products made with quality, skill and integrity, these works will stand the test of time.       Our natural joy by Solveig Larsen, NSW, Australia  

“Lez del abyss”
pastel painting
by Solveig Larsen

Academia can de-construct and impose ideas, technique etc. to the point where it kills the soul of a thing. I have heard world class composers, conductors and musicians agree universally that although a piece of music may technically be perfect, it does not surpass the supremacy of a work, not technically excellent, but played with soul, played with emotion. Too much of modern, and post modern art has been focused on deconstructing “life” …much of it caught up in the mental complexity of ideas. In de-constructing, the soul is killed off. The work lacks heart and life. The same can be of being overly academic in one’s approach to art. Hopefully the individual, because of the joy discovered in being creative, is naturally led to learn more, but not at the expense of one’s natural joy, one’s essence, the thing that drove him/her to create in the first place. I think it is far preferable to remain true to one’s uniqueness. Then learning is a joy, and one retains the soul in one’s work that is so enlivening and truly qualifies, sustains and deserves the title or the word “art.”   Unfair comparison with therapy pot-o-paint classes by Suzanne Edminster, Santa Rosa, CA, USA  

acrylic painting, 36 x 48 inches
by Suzanne Edminster

“Are skill, technique, and connoisseurship truly on the endangered list?” As a maker of big, moody paintings, I would suggest that it’s just a different skill set, a different technique set, and indeed different set of connoisseurs today. You included an unfair example when you cited your friend and the purely expressive pots-o-paint class. These classes totally avoid any thought of aesthetics or criticism — in fact, both are forbidden. (This is to “protect” the artists, and thus they are not really art classes at all, but therapy or expression classes. Normally they use substandard paints and materials and the end results are not meant to be shown to anyone, no matter how interesting they are.) Many non-traditional paintings are carefully crafted aesthetic expressions. Many abstract expressionists, like de Kooning, were fine draftsmen. There are 2 comments for Unfair comparison with therapy pot-o-paint classes by Suzanne Edminster
From: Mishcka — Feb 01, 2013

Of the eight realistic images on this letter two of them have errors in rendering. Most art is boring to me, whether realism or abstract. Occasionally I see a painting that leaves me breathless or moved, and it may be a still life, a portrait or an abstract – but it’s a rare experience and it’s a personal experience. Decker Walker (see the third comment from the top) states it well.

From: Anonymous — Feb 03, 2013

Well, I’m the only abstract or semi-abstract artist that showed up to comment! Brave me.

  The art of deconstruction by Angelika Ouellette, Saskatoon, SK, Canada  

original painting
by Angelika Ouellette

The comment has reminded me of some university art classes in the late ’90s: “I’m curious about this. Is ‘painting like a child’ just a trend? Are skill, technique, and connoisseurship truly on the endangered list? If so, what is this doing to people?” The-in-thing in the classes I attended was taking great pride in deconstructing anything that remotely smacked of beauty, health, vitality, joy or, gawd forbid, talent and skill. It did make for interesting interpretations of the projects we were given, and certainly gave me a glimpse ‘outside’ the box of what I thought was art. Unfortunately it also left me feeling inadequate and dissatisfied as an artist and without any hope of utilizing what I’d learned as a profession — let alone a passion.   The sad state of art criticism by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA  

“Dogwood Blossoms”
pastel painting
by Sharon Knettell

I do not think a subject makes me hotter under the collar than the so called ‘democratization of art. As Jean Cocteau said, “It is art if I say it is art.” It certainly was easy for him to gain fame placing a man’s pissoir on a pedestal than actually learning how to paint. He was a third rate artist at best, and if it weren’t for these art twits, who would know him? This cry has been taken up by many wannabe ‘artists’ in the latter part of the last century by kids with parents with deep enough pockets to pay the tuition of the useless 20th century art schools — including mine. Imagine my surprise as a young student in the 1960’s, at the vaunted Boston Museum School, that art school was a do-it-yourself project. Professors rarely attended classes. Stilllife and models were present but no one clued you in to how to manage them. Apparently that is still the case today. Sadly I trooped by, unknowing, one of the only extant ateliers in America teaching the classic studio style. It was the R. H. Ives Gammel studio on Newbury St. He was a student of Edmund Tarbell, Joseph DeCamp, classic Boston School artists. As there were no other ateliers or other places to learn how to draw classically that I was aware of, I basically taught myself — a long arduous process. Fortunately these art sanctuaries are flowering today. This democratization of art is aided and abetted today by leading critics — especially the New York Times’ Jerry Saltz, called in Art Review in 2009 as the 73rd most powerful person in the art world. This is his take on “deskilling” from Wikipedia: In an article in Artnet magazine, Saltz codified his outlook: “All great contemporary artists, schooled or not, are essentially self-taught and are de-skilling like crazy. I don’t look for skill in art… Skill has nothing to do with technical proficiency… I’m interested in people who rethink skill, who redefine or re-imagine it — an engineer, say, who builds rockets from rocks.” His wife is also a New York Times critic – riding on the same rails. Jacob Collins, one of the foremost figurative artists of the day, cannot even get reviewed in the New York Times. It seems a daunting task to persevere. Ballet dancers learn their skills through years of arduous training. Do you think a dancer says, “I dance therefore I should be allowed to express myself as a soloist in an American Ballet or Bolshoi production? Me-thinks there would be a man with a net in the wings. Yet this is allowed and even encouraged in contemporary art schools — and woe to the person who contradicts one of its students, as I have. This is a modern conundrum. Should those of us who live for aesthetics and beauty leave Rome for the Huns? There are 9 comments for The sad state of art criticism by Sharon Knettell
From: Kathy — Feb 01, 2013

My thoughts exactly.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 01, 2013

“Skill has nothing to do with proficiency?” I cannot fathom where this critic’s mindset is. Equally, his rocket analogy … the end result is failure. Those quotes are renewed assurance we should follow our own vision. No artist can play to such an audience with competence.

From: Anonymous — Feb 01, 2013

Sharon, your model’s face glows from within. It is a beautiful pastel. As to the subject at hand, I was greatly heartened yesterday when I attended a show of student art (Jr. High, High School) at the University of Connecticut Art School. Out of hundreds of entries the ones that won recognition were truly outstanding. The judges clearly did not have any wool pulled over their eyes and awarded the most skilled young artists.

From: Ping — Feb 01, 2013

I couldn’t agree more. If you are not prepared to put the time and effort into becoming a skilled, talented knowledgeable artist, become a “conceptual artist” if you fail at that become an Art critic. If you break it all down it starts to resemble a scam. Some people are paying some ridiculous prices for some terrible work, just because an art critic said …

From: Sharon Knettell — Feb 01, 2013

Thanks for the kind comment on my drawing/pastel. I was at a drawing show recently- which I was in, where one of the winners (pas moi) was a small drawing, a crude Degas copy, done with sticks on gessoed duct tape. Yeah for Uconn. I will have to remember to tell young aspiring artists to look into this school.

From: Susan Prentice — Feb 02, 2013

I meant to say that the show was at the University of Hartford Art School. The show was the Connecticut Scholastic Art Awards. Not sure who did the judging but a little research would turn up that info. When I went to art school I was not impressed with UHartford and went to Syracuse instead. But now I am much impressed with the caliber of work from this school

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 06, 2013

I wonder what is attained from spending time on a work that has no direction, no thought, no visable ability or insight from an artist? Why devote time to some hoge poge, slap together, spit and piss work? What is gained by the “so-called” artist?

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 06, 2013

There is also a great need by the untalented to demean or tarnish something they themselves have to ability or insight to achieve

From: Annette — Feb 27, 2013

This is a sad discussion. Painful to me. How sad that we can not appreciate each others work just because it is spoken in a different “language”. There are bad artists and talented artists of abstraction AND realism. Don’t critique what you don’t understand. Assume the best of intentions instead of elevating yourself at others’ expense please.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The Matthew Effect

From: Vicki ross — Jan 28, 2013

So true, Robert. Especially about the trend of teaching amateurs. I read and study every day, plus my 3-4 hours of easel time and get pissy when someone local brags about selling a splatter painting. I also teach a couple of intermediate students, but we do not paint…rather it is a lecture, discussion, example three hours. I’m pooped after, but won’t just do a social painting club. They paint at home!

From: Jonathan Gleed — Jan 28, 2013

My father-in-law was forced to leave school at grade 8 to help his father with the lobster fishing in his PEI community. He never set foot in a school again until it was time for his own kids the begin school. As an adult he became a very successful and respected business owner. He was forced the learn through trial and error; not to mention through tremendous effort. In my humble opinion, those motivated to work hard possess the potential to be good artists; with or without a formal education. I think humility, a willingness to work hard and being open to failure makes a potentially good artist, regardless of background. I have seen unfavorable work by those educated and self-taught. The challenge with those self-taught is that they have no legitimacy behind that bad piece. Where those with credentials do. Self-taught artist must work much harder to earn respect by the public and their peers.

From: Susan Holland — Jan 28, 2013

I’m relieved to find beautifully drawn figurative work again being appreciated, and relieved for quality control being taken more seriously; but I also am very grateful for the experience gained by looking at the colorwork, texture work, compositional experiments, and surprise factors that our experimental abstract impressionists have treated us to. I simply cannot hate room-sized color field paintings. Or the punch of a Motherwell, or the energy of Pollock’s wife’s (Lee Kraswell) stuff. I remember being astonished to see an exhibit at MoMA which put me close up to a Barnett Newman and saw how rough-shod it looked.. and as if it were deteriorating like a piece of junk! It definitely got my attention (I was a pre-teen) and even then instructed me on the possibilities, and also the cautions of the “new art.” I went back to painting my earnest pansies with a much larger piece of paper and a new freedom, and lurched forward from there. Freed by permission of the drip/splash art years from the strictures of tight rendering, I occasionally use random techniques in my work, for decorative texture or color effect, or to loosen up my attitude and give energy to a piece of art that is getting “precious.” (ask Robert). As for selling your experiments, I have heard of folks cutting out pieces of otherwise failed paintings, framing and selling them. Have you? I once framed a paint rag that was far better than most abstracts I had seen. I also collect art made of clumsy materials and inferior tools. It has its own charm. But I won’t be selling them. Art yells at us of our current times. Current life’s the input; our art is the output! Our times are what we have accumulated over time, including centuries before we ever occupied the earth. The rough and the smooth…a world history of marks, and some of it is brilliant. Most is not. Let’s get on with it!

From: Malcolm Dewey — Jan 28, 2013

Interesting ideas. I prefer to think that Matthew’s verse is about gratitude. He who has gratitude shall receive more abundance (I do not mean widgets either). Picasso is, I think, talking about freedom. What you do with it is up to you. Not everyone needs to paint like the masters, but everyone needs more freedom to create.

From: Jean Burman — Jan 28, 2013

I believe Picasso was referring to imagination. The imagination of a child. Art would be bleak indeed without imagination firing the process. IMHO training without imagination = boring. Imagination without training = potential. The ideal lies somewhere in the middle… but faced with a choice… I know what I’d rather have.

From: Jemila Modesti — Jan 29, 2013

As a self taught artist, who struggled for a few years to trust the quality of my paintings, I always find it quite surprising how carelessly some artist will sell or exhibit substandard quality pieces. I agree that not all our works are to be the “Guernica” but we should be honest with ourselves when we analyze our work. I learned how to paint from my mother who was classically trained artist, the basic philosophy I learned was : “when you have learned to paint reality “as is”, only then can you distort it”. I know this is may not be true for everyone. But I do believe a basic knowledge of anatomy, perspective, colour theory, composition, etc is absolutely necessary in order to create quality work, I do not see how knowledgeable hands or technique could or would take away our freedom as artists… we don’t let the basics “rule or dictate” our works, they are but guides, that is how I see it. I have many times felt that artist (trained or self taught) have far too high an opinion about their works… some introspection wouldn’t do them any harm.

From: Work The Audience — Jan 29, 2013

I spent most of my “productive” years in the construction industry. First, I did carpentry for other builders and subcontractors. Later, I set myself up as my own company, I worked in several cities and some rural areas, both residential and commercial projects. I taught myself everything from architectural design, though the finishing of fine cabinetry and woodcraft. Some of my high value work was done in the River Oaks area of Houston, Texas, and in Johnson County, Kansas, both considered affluent areas. And I have reminders of myself in hundreds of not so upscale neighborhoods in several states. In construction, you go where the work is. There have always been two kinds of consumer for all products. Yes, there are some who can afford the luxury of high quality materials and accomplished craftsmanship. They’re not always willing to pay a fair price for it, but they do appreciate it. There aren’t so many of those as the upscale magazines such as Architectural Digest and Luxury Living might lead one to believe. There are far more people in the conspicuous consumption crowd. These are the ones who want stuff that looks presentable, but has no permanent value. These people don’t care if the furniture lasts only a few years, because they’ll be replacing it with the next fad-elegance to be promoted by the checkout counter women’s magazines. (No, I’m not picking on the ladies. It happens to be a fact that most home decor decisions are made by them.) Their concept of “ART” can be found at the shopping mall, in the “middle class” stores, where over priced machine run prints are sold as “wall decor”, in the furniture departments, along with over priced particle board coffee tables and chests of drawers. The conspicuous consumption crowd do not often hire general contractors or carpenters for their backyard decks or remodeling projects. They prefer the lower price and will accept the poor quality of the work done by “hammer owners”. Actually, there is third type of consumer. Those are the people who only shop at the large discount chains, and “wherever it’s cheapest”. While they may actually be a mainstay of the economy, their contribution to a discussion like this is irrelevant. I guess my end point is, if you’ve chosen the trade-craft of the arts, you should decide if you want to serve the River Oaks style of community, or the “downtown connoisseur”. Whatever choice you make, work to your audience, and don’t worry about the rest.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jan 29, 2013
From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jan 29, 2013
From: Tom Semmes — Jan 29, 2013

Though training and skill are important they don’t make a work of art. It is the energy and spirit that a work of art expresses that makes it valuable to us. It is the artists job to know when their training and skills get in the way and to embrace the “happy” accident that says more than all their best intentions ever could.

From: Robert Sesco — Jan 29, 2013

First, I find it puzzling that the question Robert asks is, “What is this DOING to people?”, instead of perhaps, “What does this SAY about us?” or “Has this trend existed in a prior time?” The endangerment of skill in painting isn’t doing anything to people. The posts that have been made so far mention the premise, in a cursory fashion, that taste is subjective, but you don’t truly have to go further than that. Think of the complexity of it all: there are the wealthy patrons who can afford whatever level of quality they desire, and many times they purchase the lower common denominator; there are investors who rely on their instincts, on trends, or on the opinion of so-called experts, before purchasing art; there are those who admittedly know little of what the eternal student/artist has learned and yet can easily say what appeals to them when they see it, ad nauseum. The question of what is in trend matters only to those trying to sell art, and many fine artists apparently rail against what is. If skill happens to be extinct, will that spur you to hang up your brushes? I doubt it. What if skill is extinct only in specific locales? What if art is appreciated differently in different places? Do you see the complexity of it all? If ‘tastes in art are subjective’ is your premise, how does one proceed with any discussion of what the extinction of skill is doing to people? I can lament with anyone that the upper/middle/lower classes desire something specific that I don’t happen to be producing, but is the implication being made that not enough skill is being taught, or that skill is being ignored by painters who actually HAVE the skill in order to sell, or are the skillful whining because the buying public has no taste for skill? Would any of this cause you to hang up your brushes, or to paint unskillfully to appeal to market forces? I doubt it. In the previous letter Robert pointed out that quality usually creates a virtuous loop, and in this letter he’s wondering what the extinction of quality is DOING to us. Lets assume for a moment that quality IS becoming extinct. My question would be, “What does this say about us?” My second question would be, “Are the artists who read Robert’s letter going to stop their pursuit of excellence if and when they learn that quality is no longer in vogue?” Tastes are subjective. Quality is subjective (there are degrees of quality, and there is the difficulty in grading abstract works, for example, or comparing across genres). Art appears to be relative, just read its definition. Perhaps a solid case can be made that in our time, in these cultures, skill has taken a back seat to emotive art, or the conviction that all art has relative value. At the end of the day every artist has to lean back and take a look at the day’s production and be able to say, “I like that.” If passersby happen to look in her studio window and say, “How much for that?” And the artist is hungry with bills to pay, will she say, “Oh, this was just an exercise to help me toward quality. Not for sale!” Now we are talking about integrity, which again, is subjective. The entire world of art we have entered is subjective, trophies for everyone! How did we arrive at the elements of quality? Didn’t that happen as a result of what a subjective collective declared? The lines of the Parthenon are copied to this day, why? Why is Banksy popular? Why do we know the name of Michaelangelo better than Raphael? Did it have to do with his sales? You can look at all the images of paintings on Robert’s “Painter’s Keys” site and we could have a contest to have the artists grade the highest quality paintings from best to worst. You could ask the non-painting public do the same, and we could compare the results. What do you think would be the outcome? Would this test answer the question, “Is skill and technique and connoisseurship on the endangered list?” Would it also answer the question, “If so, what is this doing to people?”

From: DM — Jan 29, 2013
From: Kas — Jan 29, 2013

This weeks letter seems to continue the discussion of what makes quality art. The self taught, self-epressionists or the schooled artist. Maybe the answer can be found in a cumulative look at an artists history or CV. Here you can find where an artist was given a show and by what credible judges. You can see how much time and energy the artist has put toward workshops, classes and at what credible schools. These are just guides, things to help a collector decide to buy a painting, either way is up the purchaser- to either not care about an artists resume or to buy a painting done by an artist that has the backing of other professionals in the field.

From: Mariane H Tveter — Jan 29, 2013
From: Why So? — Jan 29, 2013

I’ve heard it said the very few artists become collectors of other’s works, and those that do usually accumulate a rather irrelevant, even mediocre collection. I wonder why that is — if it’s true. You would think that a group professing to be the arbiters of that which is quality and proper to their own field would be better equipped for judgement.

From: Kas — Jan 29, 2013

If I was going to a dentist for the first time, I might want to spend money on the good dentist, who knows what he/she is doing. On the other end of things, do I really want to put my money in a person who calls themselves a dentist and yes, they might have learned some things about dentistry, but not really enough to be a dentist. Then would I call that person a snob or elitist if they had studied hard, jumped through the hoops and yes, know how to be a competent dentist? I know there are eceptions to this, but generally, when you pay for a service or a product, most times you would like to know that the person has some real understanding of their field. Is this not true for every other product or even art form, say dance, writing. I know this analogy is not the romantic view of art, but art is also the livelihood of some people, the day in and day out of the real world and trying to make a living for ones family. I wonder how dentists would respond to all of the sudden there are workshops to become a dentist over the weekend and lots of people are hanging a sign up in an office, saying- I am now a dentist.

From: Linda Harbison — Jan 29, 2013

As an art major back in the 1980’s I wanted to learn “exquisite rendering”. I had an instructor who referred to it as “mindless rendering”. Needless to say, I did not have much success as an art major.

From: Jackie Knott — Jan 29, 2013

This letter ties in nicely with the previous one; an extention of thought and analysis of our work. We’re back to quality again, aren’t we? While we’re at it we might as well throw in integrity whether the product is carpentry (working our audience) or art. Western society has become satisfied with mediocrity because it’s cheaper and available to the masses. Sure, I’d love to own a Vermeer, but that’s not happening. Economics govern choices and that is simply a fact of life. However … whereas we buy what we can afford and its accompanying quality that has nothing to do with us producing as superior work as we are capable of. And if it is below par there is nothing wrong with going “back to school” again, whether we find competence in workshops, formal schooling, or grinding out those problems in the studio. Let’s not quote that scripture out of context – the point was to use what abilities God gave you and cultivate them to the greater good rather than squander talent. As to Kate’s portrait … technically, the painting is fine. My disappointment was the artist chose the most static pose there is, face straight foward as a police mugshot. How much more interesting the painting would have been had the Duchess’ shoulders been turned away with her face toward the artist. Next, the larger than life sized-image demands high detail, which is rarely attractive even in a beautiful woman. Personally, I feel any portrait especially a public figure, should include hands in a classic 3/4 pose. We want to know the persona of the sitter and overall physical characteristics and posture are far more important than painting each eyelash. But, I read where the Duchess liked it so our opinion really doesn’t matter.

From: Kas — Jan 29, 2013

What I would like to see and feel as a working artist, is to be proud of my profession. I want to walk in to galleries and see that galleries havent settled for schlock. I want to be moved, challenged, empowered, inspired! I agree with the previous post, unfortunately, it seems to me, the portrait of Kate Middleton has had the life and spirit of her painted right out of it.

From: Margaret Stermer-Cox — Jan 29, 2013
From: Robert Sesco — Jan 29, 2013
From: PeggySu — Jan 29, 2013

What is this … doing to us? I was very glad to see this letter because it gets to something that has been bothering me but has left me confused as to exactly why and what to do about it. As background, I’ve always been drawn to visual art. Even in college it seemed to me that the main reason for travel is to go to art museums! However, it wasn’t until after I had been lucky enough to take early retirement that I decided to take up some sort of painting myself. I took it quite seriously: read good books, took a great workshop, bought quality materials, etc. However, after a year or so I got very discouraged and depressed because of the large gap between what I think of as good art and what I was able to produce and I ended up choosing a different avocation unrelated to creating art. I did greatly enjoy this for a dozen years. Meanwhile however I’ve retained my interest in and appreciation of visual art and have noted an explosion (at least in the US) of amateurs producing art journals and endlessly blogging about them as well as publishing magazine articles, YouTube videos, and books. This has occurred in parallel with a huge increase in the variety of artsy-crafty materials with an emphasis on techniques, e.g. how to use stencils, how to combine materials, etc., etc. The basic message of this art journal movement seems to be that there is no such thing as mistakes. In my opinion the majority of the art journal examples are just bad art from whatever is your favorite criterion so I do worry about what Robert describes as feeling that “self-expression is up ahead of proficiency” may be doing to us. My worry is based partly on the many realistic examples from my non-art area of expertise of negative impacts caused by know-nothings and also by the specific negative impacts of unnecessarily poor quality products on consumers. But does this worry really apply to art? Right now I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. I’d like to be able to enjoy playing with the art materials I’ve already acquired without feeling wrong or stupid. I’m not interested in making money from this activity and there is zero chance of my being one of the persons so often described in these comments who over-estimates the quality of their work. And yet it seems to me that it is exactly those persons who are having fun with their art. Help!

From: Tom — Jan 29, 2013

Wow! Robert, this is a very interesting take on the state of art today. I few years back in April of 09, I wrote with similar concerns. Has art come FULL CIRCLE??? Or is it all relative?

From: Dick Quis — Jan 29, 2013

Talk about a generation gap, I’m 68 years old and taking art courses at Fullerton College in Southern California. There are three college age Asian students in my Perspective Drawing and Rendering art class that are masters at computer graphics and electronic illustration. When the teacher asked them why they were taking his class they each basically told him they had learned art electronically in Vietnam and China and now want to learn traditional art skills here in America. The world is changing rapidly.

From: Melissa Malone — Jan 29, 2013

Your article was pertinent to a conversation I was having with an artistic peer, who forwarded me your article, reminding me that I paint for myself, and to ignore the trends. While I admire the expressive nature of vivid color and loose line, I do not paint that way. Never will.

From: Micheline Likas — Jan 29, 2013
From: Laura — Jan 29, 2013

Oh how disappointed I was to get to the end of this weeks article and find that you were not going to announce the rebirth of “skill, technique, and connoisseurship.” It’s a self-serving response of course, as I have often felt I am an artist born in the wrong century. My personal need to create is so thoroughly steeped in traditional technique and skills that I have stayed the path despite popular trends. Consequently I have given some thought to why. Why stick with it? I think any artist can tell you about the thrill of creating, but a skilled artist does something I think of as magic. The ability to render an image that feels 3 dimensional on a flat surface is a neat little trick that requires a certain skill-set. Gee…that sounds so technical, and part of it is, but the drive to acquire the technique is born of the magic in creating a likeness that can transcend everyday reality. As for what is lost when this sort of imagery goes unappreciated, here is my list: The ability to see beyond the superficial and notice the subtleties in our surroundings. To be able to be discerning when choosing what is important to us. Above all else is the artists role as observer/translator. A really good artist can point out and enliven scenes that may pass unnoticed otherwise. This creates an appreciation not just for the art but more importantly for the people, places and things in our lives. Although the larger and long term trends may steer away from the quietly profound, people are still touched by it in a way that “mighty, moody, and splashy” cannot. So I will put my faith in that and continue on my quest for art that is so enthralling the skill behind it is invisible.

From: Donna C. Veeder — Jan 29, 2013

I got a kick out of this one, especially the last line! “How much should I charge for them?” I see so many starting artists who think they should charge huge prices for their work which is often lacking a lot of experience. Tell them to just paint for about ten years and then they will know what it is worth. I had a good teacher who told me that so I did not even think of selling for a long time. It took me about ten years to get into a National show near us. I was miffed every time they rejected me and some years, I did not enter. But when I got in! That was one of the greatest thrills of my life. Just work, Folks! Donna C. Veeder

From: Mary Aslin — Jan 29, 2013

Logic would say, based on your letter, that if splashing paint on a canvas is considered “art”, then pounding piano keys should be considered “music”. What I wouldn’t give to be able to play the piano like Chopin, but alas, acquiring skills would be a basic first step to becoming a musician. Similarly, acquiring basic in drawing and rendering are basic first steps to becoming a visual artist. All that being said, I don’t really have a problem with the joy people take in expressing emotion in paint (where skill is not a priority). I think the result should simply be labeled “Visual Emotive Expression” and NOT “Art”. (Similarly, pounding piano keys for the fun or emotion of it could be called “Audible Emotive Expression” and NOT “music”.) That lets everyone have fun in their own domains and makes a distinction, gently, between those who may be able to make a living with their “art” via sales and those who are likely not to have this option.

From: Alan Roe — Jan 29, 2013

I believe the world view of society and the art community is moving towards a tipping point in it’s development.Change is constant, right and wrong doesn’t really matter because we have no way of knowing what is, right or wrong. History will show us the events that have brought us to a particular point but still won’t provide that judgement. Our morality might. The role of artists will remain the same as it has. That of the observer and communicator. Art is today’s mirror. Great art however will always communicate a relevant contemporary message hundreds of years after it’s creation. Writers who’s strict grammar, spelling, sentence structure etc won’t typically capture the imagination of their readers, propelling them into literary annals. Nor will the illiterate even though they may tell the best stories because no one can understand them when they try to read their stories. We just need to keep creating and not stop. A paint drop may be the inspiration to guide us to our next level or a well structured, traditionally developed and executed piece may inspire how something or someone could better articulate what the artist sees. Let the audience be the judges, we’ve got so little time and too much work to do.

From: Dianne Fisher Kilcherman — Jan 29, 2013
From: Carol Rubsam — Jan 29, 2013
From: C. Page Highfill — Jan 29, 2013

Regarding the Matthew Effect, one of the Bible’s most highly regarded scholars, Eugene Peterson, interprets Matt 25:29 the following way, from his Bible paraphrase version, “The Message”: “‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

From: Sunny Birklund — Jan 29, 2013
From: Beverly Peden — Jan 29, 2013

Please don’t forget that Picasso DID learn to paint like Raphael….then he learned to draw like a child. And what did that mean? To my mind, it meant he was free to see things differently. Think of “The Little Prince”, and the child who showed the drawing to the adults and asked “what is it?”….the adults all answered, “It’s a hat.” However, what the child saw was a snake who swallowed an elephant. The difficulty that can come with formal training is that it can lock a person’s mind into seeing things only a traditional way. Successful marketing can close the trap thoroughly if one paints in a particular style because it sells, not because they have a passion for it. Once the training is had, then the artist can be free to see differently and create differently. Not all work will be successful, but the exploration of a different way of seeing is well worth the journey. Even masters who we admire were criticized in their day for stepping outside the accepted tradition, such as Michaelangelo. And don’t forget Goya…that guy had some very stretched vision. They both trained in the tradition of the masters workshop, but didn’t allow it to trap them. They used it to take a step beyond. Picasso was in good company.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jan 29, 2013

Are questions like “I’m curious about this. Is “painting like a child” just a trend? Are skill, technique, and connoisseurship truly on the endangered list? If so, what is this doing to people?” just begged me to say something. I am always amazed at the so-called art I see being sold as “quality” art. The “artists” didn’t want to be held back by the restraints of learning, practicing good drawing skills, thoughtful composition, of many good theories in art, and above all, what has been tried and done before. They want to experience their “inner child,” and say they want to do something no one has done before. What I see makes me think they want emotion and color, and instant gratification. They are not wanting the long term effect of having spent hours studying and practicing the basics, because it is not obvious to the untrained eye of these “artists” when they look at quality work. All they see is splatter or throwing paint if looking at some non-representational work, or gaudy or childish representational painting with no obvious plan…instead of the trained artist with planning, and technique, and practice in their back pocket no matter the genre. But, to answer your questions … I think it will always be this way. There will always be trends. There will still be skill, technique and connoisseurship seen in many pieces of artwork by artists that want to be perennial students. The endangered list? No, I don’t think so. The end question, “what is this doing to people?” hopefully becomes just one of short term affect. If people continue to look at artwork, most times they will start seeing artwork of better quality and realize they are learning to “see” what is quality work. And these works of substandard quality will always be around, as will people who really don’t care … but just want a wall-hanger!

From: Ortrud K. Tyler — Jan 29, 2013

it is not just art that suffers from this, look around and just about anything that comes at you these days lacks quality. Some things are innovative, “different”, “challenging” and a lot of other expressions, that someone , somewhere thinks up to justify a lot of this stuff. TV can’t be blamed for everything and certainly not solely but it is a great part of it. In previous centuries, paintings of places and arrangements brought images to people, who most likely would never be able to go to these places. Now we are bombarded with images everywhere we look, they are not meant to last or be memorable , but they are in our faces all the time nevertheless. With a general downsizing of educational standards, what do you expect?For a lot of people, this steady stream of visual and other information is overwelming anyhow. It is really more and more up to the individual to decide and then find ways to filter our what has quality and does it have enough. Again , it is the artist who must decide what is what for her/himself and hopefully, there will always be some people who see the difference. After all, we paint mostly for ourselves, don’t we?

From: Mary Moquin — Jan 29, 2013
From: Pippi Johnson — Jan 29, 2013

I was fortunate to be educated at the U of Manitoba in the early 60’s when students had to spend hours with value studies in charcole, composition,the figure and color study. This prepared me for my now 50yrs of personal study,mainly in colour. I went on to teach for 35yrs stressing this same tradition. I shake my head at new artists who proudly claim they are self taught. How can you teach your self if you know nothing?There is so much now available on the internet for personal study. Emerging artists…..please learn the basics. The art world with flooded with”expressive work”..full of sound and fury…signifying nothing.

From: Fleta Monaghan — Jan 29, 2013
From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — Jan 29, 2013

Remember Peter Max and how shocking Pop art was? I think we are in a cycle where the 60’s are back. This too, will pass, as the Christian bible also says. I think there is a place for splashy artists and people who love color over composition and form. Maybe they will get the kudos and the money. For me, form is function, and maybe I’m Bauhaus, but I also love “Art Deco” which was a protest against Bauhaus. Drawing is great, and there is a place for drawing, but I was taught in art school and University that to grow up as an artist was to leave behind the school-kid habit of drawing “things” and to compose, be linear, have different planes, etc. I never “got” it in University and art school, thus dropped out. Now I am happily drawing in restaurants and places and doing lots of lettering and flourishing in pen and ink, also am taking Chinese/Japanese calligraphy. I don’t know where all this is going, but I do enjoy black and white quite a bit with some color (we are not allowed to use color in Chinese Calligraphy other than a little red, yet), and I love the swells and shades of Ornamental Penmanship, which my sister’s mother in law says “looks oriental” (She was raised in China). Love the bird and cartouche flourishes also. As an aside, I also took zoology in College, which involved dissection of frogs and cats. I believe it was my love of animals which motivated me to take zoology. However, for a certain amount of time, I was not given to eating chicken while I dissected the cat, because of the similarity of appearance once the chicken was cooked. So much for loving art and then studying it, and loving animals and studying them. I wonder just how many people have had the same experience: dissecting the thing you love until you absolutely must have a break from that thing or subject.

From: Joseph Jahn — Jan 29, 2013

I’m curious about this. Is “painting like a child” just a trend? Are skill, technique, and connoisseurship truly on the endangered list? If so, what is this doing to people? Dumbing them down. Education used to be about learning, now it’s about getting a job. I experience lack of connoisseurship constantly and it’s disheartening. Just last night I was out to dinner at a friends house, she wished to show me a youtube video of a painter. The trick with this painter is that he took popular songs and painted the story of that song on canvas. Very well, not too crass a trick BUT the paintings were crap. I could see at a glance the painter could not draw, and had a sense of color that made my skin crawl. The sad part was that my friend and another person present thought the paintings were great. People can’t see anymore. Maybe there should be *tests* before you enter a gallery, and if you can’t see crap painting from good painting you’re not allowed to comment on any work of art EVER, until you pass the exam. Now I work in abstraction which makes it a bit harder for the viewing public, but I can tell an abstract work of art from any distance that lacks drawing skills and knowledge of materials,in other words, amateur art . It’s very sad when someone chooses that form of mess to admire and categorize as painting. We are all being trained to be consumers and the more you show and promote crap art the larger the public. I treasure real painting. It’s as tough as being a good surgeon and I have yet to meet a layman that has the ability to comment of a surgical operation, but I have met plenty of blind consumers who think they are qualified to comment on paintings. They have even dropped the qualifying *I don’t know anything about painting but* Bad painting hurts my eyes, my soul, and my pocketbook. STOP already!

From: Amanda Jones — Jan 29, 2013

I have noticed with the younger generation that less formality seems to be desirable. Neither of my adult daughters are interested in fine china and silverware or formal meals in the dining room or even dining rooms for that matter. They prefer things comfortable and casual and maybe that is part of what is happening with the movement away from the traditional in art. Maybe it is viewed simply as stuffy and sentimental or plain old fashioned. Art that pushes the boundaries in visually stimulating ways is desirable, it makes a statement. However I think there will always be an appreciation for that which is beautifully crafted, no matter what form it takes.

From: Elisa Choi — Jan 29, 2013

I had no idea this is happening. But for me learning the basics has always been important. But I think that a lot of people are skipping the building of foundation because they are eager to perform experiments and play with their paints. Sometimes it’s good though often it leads to frustration especially if one wants to achieve that realistic effect etc. Some give up but some would continue such and even pursue a bit of learning on some short courses. As for painting like a child–for me that’s a wonderful way to paint. Painting like a child does not mean painting with child-like strokes and random scribbles of paints. But rather it’s painting fearless. It’s approaching painting with a new light and courage. It’s learning endlessly without ceasing. It’s painting boldly. It’s not giving up on that one ugly piece but moving on to the next painting adventure. That’s painting like a child.

From: Bill Hibbard — Jan 29, 2013

People make art for many reasons. Some just want to have some fun and enjoy the experience of creativity no matter how sophisticated or naive. Others want to make money. Others will strive their whole lives to build a body of work that increases in quality. Some want to preach and others want to shock. If my goal is to build on established principles of painting and to continually press ahead to become the best I can be then that process has to be enough. In these times of diminishing public appreciation for restraint, control and design, quality work may likely be bypassed for the clever and ostentatious. None of these things are necessarily mutually exclusive but it is prudent to understand what brings the joy and take steps to stoke that fire.

From: Adrienne Moore — Jan 29, 2013
From: Kelly Borsheim — Jan 29, 2013

Bravo! but scary… ick

From: Barbara Checkryn-Rivers — Jan 29, 2013

I am not saying my four years at ACAD in Calgary makes me any better than self-taught, however, the past two three years the trent towards the contemporary decorative “no-thing” has manifested itself into some very bad ‘art’, I truly feel that the public is being bamboozled. Abstract contemporary art still requires the basic principles of composition, drawing and color. Too often with all the classes and workshops that are being offered there is this ‘instant’ art approach which to me is like going to a self-help weekend, what happens when you are alone in the studio and you have to call upon your own skills to produce another ‘creation’. One of the best instructor that I had outside of the Art College summed it up in one sentence…”you have to know the real, before you do the un-real”

From: Jane Forth — Jan 29, 2013
From: Capertee — Jan 29, 2013

Are skill, technique, and connoisseurship truly on the endangered list? If so, what is this doing to people? Kodak never contemplated that a simple affordable digital camera could give an ordinary person an extraordinary result without a great deal of skill or technique. Many people are now enjoying the creative process that was once only accessible to a few. Skilled artists are definitely facing a similar threat. You would hope that skill and quality would reign supreme but there is a lot of clamour out there and we don’t control the minds or wills of many. If we lived long enough, we might know which of us will stay relevant and stand the test of time. Since that is impossible, I just try to enjoy what I am doing, share only my best work and respect the person who chose to buy it ….they may have seen something I didn’t, so I let them take that piece of me with them to enjoy, even if they eventually replace it with something more relevant for them at that time. I was in a workshop once with a well known artist who screamed at me that I was using the “wrong” black. He made me go to the store and get the “right” tube, but they had run out. I was terrified to tell him, so I used the “wrong” black to resolve the problem with my darks. The next time he went past my work he said……..that’s much better!. Inadvertanly, he taught me to see, not to imitate. Children imitate, and artists must use everything they have at hand.

From: Russ Hogger — Jan 29, 2013

An artist doesn’t have to ask permission of what to create.

From: maya — Jan 29, 2013

Another interesting article! wow….what to say. Well, it’s all the fault of the camera and DaDA! Realism was mostly at the pinnacle of visual art…until the camera. But after the camera there was a choice to paint that perfect realistic vision or take a photograph. thus, i think, opening up interior vision, imagination and “what if” in a way it had never existed before. So people like Paul Klee and Picasso were free to move in other directions. BUT, as some others have pointed out both were excellent realistic artists who mastered their craft. My love is abstraction…even non-objective work (i don’t think the term is in use today!) but always felt it important to learn to draw and paint realistically, THEN do whatever. Most if not all the American abstract expressionists were classically trained….then chose to express their world as they did in their canvasses. But I think where art became something that requires only emotion and action, a kind of communal venting, was after DADA. when the general public didn’t know what is art anymore! Dada which I love in a whimsical and non-sensical way was great art when done by some of the great DADA artists but in general just confused all the non-artists, which made the DADA artists happy. Expression and abstraction are my passion but realism and understanding of the craft of art, for me, should be at the root. I love the realism of others, but don’t want to work that way myself. Maybe that’s why I’m not so upset about people seemingly equalizing the worth of computer programs for painting, elephants holding a brush in their trunk, or communal group works of emotion and colour….all put in the same category with artists….the traditional kind! In the end we have to do what is our passion. If art is a reflection of society…..then perhaps that is our this mishmash.

From: SiWon — Jan 29, 2013

Mr Emsley said Kate had expressed a desire to be portrayed as her natural self, rather than her official self. How many of us know what her natural self looks like? Well, now we do.

From: Kas — Jan 30, 2013

I am really enjoying reading all the comments, but maybe there is still some confusion as to what each of us is describing… so just for the record and to clarify my previous posts… When I say skills, I mean learning the basic skills of color, composition, line, etc… When I say non-trained art, I mean art in any style- Realism, Abstraction, Pop, Encaustic, Splatter, sculptor, performance, photography, pop cycle art, Assemblage, Collage, Drawing, etc…. Any of the different art styles can fail miserably when an artist has not taken the time to learn the basic art rules/skills and has no understanding of art history. Both, skills/rules and art history are very important to developing credible art! When I say a trained artist, I mean either a 4 year art degree from an accredited school, or the equivalent of this through other respected, accredited art institutions. So many painters today profess to be self-taught, but the reality is only a very, very, very (did I say very) small percentage of painters could ever teach themselves and produce work that will last the test of history. Its not what we want to hear, but it is the truth. To those who dont bother to learn, and who want to be taken seriously, I just have to wonder why they think there are degrees in art in colleges and universities ??????? Or maybe they think we should just do away with those degrees ? Some think art should not be judged and that thinking would seem to lend to closing down all the museums in the world, because if art shouldnt be judged, then paintings hanging in museums around the world are no different or better, more credible, important as any art done everyday in any place in the world. Jackson Pollock was a genius, why ? The short of it is- because he knew what the hell he was doing! To all the hobbist, week-end dabblers, art lovers- I say go for it !! Have a blast ! Art is a wonderful thing to enjoy, love, treasure and create and even heal. But if you call yourself a working artist, professional and want to be taken seriously — Learn the skills/rules of art first ! Then you can break them and rearrange them, flip them upside down, but if you dont have an understanding of them, or you havent studied art history, then it is very, very obvious to those who have… In other words, someone might say – the Emperor Has No Clothes.

From: Rena Williams — Jan 30, 2013

My wish: every weekend, two million more people take up sketching and painting. That’s at least 8 million a month, 96 million a year. Beautiful vision, bring it on !

From: Robert Sesco — Jan 30, 2013

Kas, thanks for the clarification. This is a very fascinating subject in that it forces artists to consider why they paint and what to paint. From your last post you have made clear that you place a high premium on works that ‘last the test of history’. This is your benchmark for creating and evaluating. This is consistent with your inclusion of knowledge of art history as a prerequisite for being a professional. Without knowing what works of art have lasted the test of history, how could we know what to paint, and how to paint, that might give us the best probability of lasting this test. Perhaps this is the view, and goal, of all or most academically trained painters; moreover, it is a worthy goal and framework from which to proceed. Surprisingly, as I communicate with successful artists, read their online biographies and artistic statements, I find so few with this objective or framework. Again, perhaps we have different definitions of ‘professional’. To me a professional is one who shows up regularly, who paints through all obstacles, who makes their living selling what they produce. If the market is no longer attracted to museum quality work, then professionals, as defined by you, will shortly be out of work. Perhaps I don’t understand the art market. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised by that. I surely understand that one greases the wheel by having a command of the tools and techniques of the trade. But you and I differ in that, if I understand your feelings correctly, you take an artist seriously only when they come from a background of training. Produce any crap you like -and by crap I mean the paintings of the Impressionists and the Cubism of Picasso, for that is how these paintings were considered when they were presented to the public- as long as I know that YOU know the fundamentals and some art history. Whereas, I start with the painting itself, and have my reaction to it, and only then look into the background of the painter. I will, at times, use the test of time before I go gaga over some art; for example, in music I typically wait for an artist to have three or four albums before I jump on the bandwagon. I like classic music, classic rock, classic bluegrass, classic Motown, etc.; therefore, I wait for time to prove that new artists have staying power and a reserve of creativity before I begin my appreciating, UNLESS they are able to wrangle my appreciation from me with one outstanding song. Visual arts, for some reason, is different for me. I appreciate almost out of the box if I see a painting, or style, I enjoy. I will look for more to enjoy. The artist becomes a favorite of mine, and I seek as much as the artist has produced. Not sure why this difference exists in me. The goals of artists are many. I think we all want to improve. I’m sure, as you have stated, there are artists who want their paintings to be in museums and art history books. If it happens in their lifetime what an accomplishment! In the meantime, I scour the galleries for the paintings that cause me to resonate. I appreciate what I see because I am also a painter. Because of my discussions of what makes a good painting with my girlfriend, she now views the paintings in galleries with a more discriminating eye. She appreciates paintings a great deal more now that she understands what it is that makes her resonate with a particular painting. She looks for thresholds, and contrast, and inspects edges; she views from across the room and at the brushstrokes; we marvel at open color schemes; although we are initially drawn to realism, we find that what truly excites us is an artist’s interpretation of a landscape or still life. Perhaps none of these paintings happen without training, but I would not know. We are allowing our eyes to draw us in, and then our meager education to allow us to appreciate the techniques and sense of style of the artist. Afterwards, I hear her say, “Those colors would look great in our dining room.”

From: Kas — Jan 30, 2013

Robert Sesco, your point is taken about how the works of early Impressionists and Cubists were first denied as great art. Yes, you are correct, they were not accepted as great works of art at first, due to the fact that they were new styles and no one had seen anything like them before. Sometimes it does take art critics a bit to catch up with the artists. What separates them from other artists at that time, who might have also been trying to create new styles, was the fact that they maintained the essence of the knowledge and rules/skills or in other words the fundamentals, foundation of great art. They also were skilled in realism and understand the importance of the evolution of being able to draw realism and then to deconstruct it in a new way, changing volume, mass, etc… but in a way that still maintained the integrity, composition, line value, etc…again the fundamentals of great art, that most important works have. Again, those being…composition, line, plane, color, etc…. Those works, some Impressionists and Cubists did stand the test of time and were later recognized as great works of art. Hey, I appreciate your comment, and you dont have to take my word for what I have written…there is a lot written about this elsewhere.

From: No! — Jan 30, 2013

@Kas, and others… I simply could not more disagree with your postings and belief system than I do, totally, within the deepest bases of my esthetic capacity. I do not need to learn how to “do it like everyone else”, just to prove I am equal to your assessments, and those who are also in the “establishment oriented” communities. The beautiful thing about art is that so many variations appeal to so many different types of tastes. How do you feel about “non European” cultures, aboriginal cultures — some with some very profound and delicate examples of their own cultural heritages. They don’t qualify, because they don’t fit the Euro-American ethnocentric bias? Should we rely upon the eradication methods of the Conquistadors and the Taliban sorts of “artistic approval”? Give it a rest. As one old mentor of mine, from another tradition of understanding completely taught me, long ago: “There is sky enough for every vision.”

From: Vincent — Jan 30, 2013
From: Just A Few — Jan 30, 2013
From: Ellen — Jan 30, 2013

Renoir did go to school, in 1861, Renoir had begun attending the studio of Marc-Gabriel-Charles Gleyer, a Swiss teacher who offered practical instruction to a number of artists. At the same time Renoir enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and he was there from 1 April 1862 until a couple of years later.

From: Susan Brown — Jan 30, 2013

The esoterica story is appalling, to say the least, but so sad!!!! Expertise takes time and dedication and a lifetime or many.

From: Elinor Marcek — Jan 30, 2013

I see much of the splash and dash kind of painting here in Tucson. But, I also see much carefully conceived art done by people who have obviously studied drawing, composition, color theory, etc. Let us hope the self-expression craze without training passes quickly.

From: Sherrie Miranda — Jan 30, 2013

The fact that you call the idea that people are willing to buy lower quality a “trend” tells you right there that it won’t last forever. Although I dropped out of art school, I remember the agony of being the “dumb” one in class who knew nothing about composition. It was truly embarrassing, but now days, many students learn these techniques in high school and can be pretty good artists, even carve out some kind of living for themselves. Does that mean they know how to mix paints to get richer colors or unusual colors that match the real world? No. Does that mean they learned how to draw the human form and therefor other forms in nature? No. At some point, the pendulum will swing the other way, and people will want Art from a trained and careered professional. Hopefully, you and your compadres will still be around by then.

From: Jo Bain — Jan 30, 2013

I am so disappointed in myself as an artist. I have to admit that I love “Mighty – Moody – and Splashy” I sell a few but have a good family that encourages me and have paintings in professional offices and several lovely homes in Mexico.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jan 30, 2013

The more I think about this, the more I get a feeling of something rooted in the religious heritage. Being believers or not, it’s ingrained in the older generations that heaven is the reward for hard work and sacrifices. Fear and contempt are associated with circumvention. The latest generation seems prevailingly liberated from this – there is heaven to be found on earth, and quite easily. There is no concept of punishment. It’s unavoidable that the social values will change. Practice will go ahead of theory, intellect will be a servant to daring experience. Upcoming leaders will be adventurers. I have spoken.

From: Peter Brown — Jan 30, 2013

Vermeer was a Sunday painter, an amateur. By day, he ground lenses. He made or helped make the best camera obscura of his day. With this tool he went on to create some of the most beloved paintings in the history of art. It is not known if a single example of his painting sold during his lifetime. Van Gogh, bartered several paintings in his lifetime, for food and drink, and lodging. I think you make way too much about the art market, and an artist’s need for acceptance in the market place. I also think you are vastly misinterpreting the New Testament. Matthew 25:29, which is not a reference to worldly goods, nor monetary wealth. Jesus was talking about love. (His thoughts about money are quite negative in many other Biblical references.) The point being is that in this time, an artist has a choice. One can decide to chase after the art market and perhaps make some dough, or one can decide to study the art that has come before, and to keep exploring the possibilities which are endless. Is the goal of our toil to make a picture that looks good over a couch? Are we trying to make attractive wall coverings? Is that it? I think not. Our goal should not be some image of a bucolic barn, nor some lonely light house, nor an idealized stream in the woods. Such paintings are doomed by the nature of a cliche. I freely admit that I do not know what I am doing when I am painting. I do not want to know! The goal should be to go into places where no one has ever gone. Take your sweet light houses and paint giant bugs crawling all over them! Be proud if your work is rejected. Rejection is high praise. Most all of the artists we love today, were failures in their own time. Even Rembrandt went broke. Take a hint from the cave painters. Leave your paintings to future generations.

From: Richard Gagnon — Jan 30, 2013
From: Maxx Maxted — Jan 30, 2013

I couldn’t agree more, basic skills are ‘basic’. I learned in the late 50’s. An ex-student of mine complained 20 years ago that they could not get any training in the basics in their University Art B.A. degree. She told me of one lecturer walking into another lecturer’s office and asking if she could draw a cat for him because ‘I can’t draw cats’. It looks generational. So sad.

From: Karen Watland — Jan 30, 2013
From: Tinker Bachant — Jan 30, 2013

Sounds a lot like “kindergarten” to me. “Look Mommy ! See what I did today? “

From: Mike Pemberton — Jan 30, 2013

I’m in a hotel room in London, England, and I’m loving these letters.

From: Had It Up To Here! — Jan 30, 2013

Let me tell you where my MFA is. It occupies about 35 linear feet in my home library. And, what I don’t keep permanently there, I can check out of several nearby libraries, or make use of the inter-library loan system. (Do I even need to mention the internet?) How dare some of you be so presumptuous as to assume my reading and comprehension skills are beneath your own! How dare you assume that I will only learn “proper color mixing” or lines of expression, by sitting next to you for years, in a boring, stuffy environment. How dare you assume you are somehow qualified to emote on the probability of my lack of qualifying skills, when you have never and probably will never see any of my output, because I am not painting for you or for now. I paint for myself, and toward the future. I have goals for some of my works that you probably haven’t even considered. How and where they will be displayed, at a time and in a venue of my choosing, not yours! I enjoy the luxury of not having to sell or otherwise part with so much as a single piece of my production. In five or forty years from now, whatever my remaining time, I intend to have the complete set of my lifetime output as a single, unified statement. My “art” is the total sum of all the pieces I will decide are of the value and the quality I have set for myself. I do not need your authority, to justify my existence. And for you to assume that I am not “class-roomed”, that I am somehow unable to see the nuances and “esoteric” beauty that you so proudly pretend belongs only to your “educated” selves. I see on a daily basis, the cookie cutter sameness of the arts and the artists produced by the “tech schools” of artistic authority. Where’s the passion in learning how to paint like everyone else? So you can “properly” deviate from the formula? Give me a break! Give yourselves some peace! How dare you presume your superiority, by any form of the imagination, or assumption ! For the most of you, I wouldn’t share a cocktail over a can of worms for your time. Why would I want to spend years sharing a classroom, just to gain some “self promoting affectation”? Stick with your formulas. I’m not interested.

From: Kathryn — Jan 30, 2013

Spot on Susan Holland. What I enjoy is good art whether it is realism, abstraction, expressionism, surface design, pottery, graphic design, and more. I am thankful for abstraction of the twentieth century because what they expressed and taught has improved my design and understanding of the workings of my art and design. There are artists in the world that bring such joy and vision to their work that you can see it and feel it. There is another side to your view Robert. It sounds like this. Oh those realist artists. They are a bunch of meaningless pretty picture painters. They say nothing original or meaningful worth listening too. Plus most of them really aren’t very good at depicting realism – just look at the lousy perspective an awful color. Even if it is skilled , why not just take a photograph? They are just a bunch of hobbyists that dabble on the weekends or even retirees taking classes at their local art center – just to find a way to be social. They take a few workshops, hang an shingle and then think that they can teach classes. Their work looks like high school art, but they are too arrogant to see it. Realist artists are a dime a dozen because most aren’t really good at all. There are only a few traditional artists that are decent. Their names are X, Y and Z and that’s about it. There is some truth to what you said Robert and there is also some truth to the opposite view mentioned above. So now what? Everyone points the finger at the “other” artist in order to try to justify what they do. Maybe we should just focus on doing what we want and like to do and try to do it well without being a hack. If we are a hack then we need to fess up to ourselves and try harder. The internet provides the opportunity to find a community that enjoys what you create whether it is realism, decorative, abstraction, or abstract expressionistic egg painting. There is plenty of room for everyone these days. Just don’t clog it up with garbage realism, abstraction, or macrame. Leave that for your family and friends to “appreciate.” Patsy, when I first saw the portrait, my first thought was “I wish John Singer Sargent were alive.” I felt photographs do her more justice. Four artists may have been given as an option for Kate to chose. But why offer up an artist who obviously like to paint wrinkles and folds of animals? It seems to be a bit of a mismatch for such a beautiful woman with smooth, even skin.

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Jan 30, 2013

To the person who can’t draw cats: M O Q MOQ = cat! Used to love to entertain the kiddos with that one!!!

From: Mad — Jan 30, 2013

Let me tell you where my MFA got me: Upset, mad, vindictive, hostile, disappointed, jealous.

From: Back To My Own Easel — Jan 31, 2013

OK. So which side up do you want the toast to land, when it hits the floor? Out of one side of your mouths, you denigrate the self styled discoverer. With the next breath, you bad mouth the concept of spare time learning, taught, as I am led to believe, by persons who have the qualifications you so pretentiously espouse. And, those arrogant do-it-yourselfers, who think they can learn what they need from internet lessons, or by purchasing a book, written by whom? Those same “qualified” experts of your pre-schooled imaginations. Wassamatta, bunkies? Those Chinese “starving artist factories” cutting into your expectations with their $39.95 hand painted “masterpiece” productions? Let me tell you what you have convinced me, regarding those workshops so many of you offer, as a source of secondary income for yourselves. By your own admissions, they are apparently a waste of my time and money… You get a “paid vacation”, and what do I get?

From: Laura Bennett — Jan 31, 2013

I wonder if all these rude entries under anonymous and made up names are written by the same person…

From: June Perry — Jan 31, 2013

As an older art teacher still teaching in this modern time, I have changed some of my thoughts on art production. Where as before I had rigid ideas of technical skills and the requirement of great observational skills to create a painting, I now acknowledge and embrace the digital world and all it offers as a help mate in the creative process. No matter what kind of art is created, what I value most is creative problem solving, which leaves out some historically revered art work. I still believe in teaching the basics so that students have all possible skills to apply to that problem solving..

From: What’s the difference between a Jeff Koons sc — Jan 31, 2013


From: Gigi — Jan 31, 2013
From: Russ Hogger — Feb 01, 2013

There are a lot of clever painters, but very few artists.

From: Karen Fox — Feb 02, 2013

I’m a retired commercial illustrator. I worked in newspapers all my life. I spent eleven years at the Whig Standard in Kingston under the ownership of the Davies family. It was the best of times. Then I moved back to Toronto to work for the Toronto Sun, under the driving force of Doug Creighton. I spend my time now oil painting landscapes, house portraits, etc. I’m a trained commercial artist, I work on demand and deliver on time. You never loose that ability to meet expectations. If I didn’t while I was working, then I would have been out of a job. Get it done and get it done close enough for Jazz. There wasn’t time to admire brush strokes. No computers either. We put that baby to bed by hand.

From: Malcolm Tuffnell — Feb 05, 2013
From: valerie norberry vanorden — Apr 02, 2013

To the person who said Christ was against money: The quote is: “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil”, and that was St. Paul under influence of the holy spirit. It’s not what it is, it’s what you do with it. I really like this session of experience, hope, and power we are sharing here also. Thank you Robert.

     Featured Workshop: Harold Allanson
020113_robert-genn Harold Allanson workshops Held in Andalucia, Spain   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Autumn Dazzle

watercolour painting, 10.5 x 10.5 inches by Rose Beattie, Christina Lake, BC, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Kimberly Price of Dallas, TX, USA, who wrote, “I am DYING to know what you said to her!!!!!!!” (RG note) Thanks, Kimberly. I suggested to her that she was putting in a nickel and trying to get a dollar tune. I told her to go to her room. And also Linnette Johnson of Austell, GA, USA, who wrote, “I get as much art instruction as I can from experienced artists and some of what I get is not taught by colleges! I try to have individuality and paint from my heart but at the same time applying the basic principles… however, following the dotted lines is most boring to me. That’s why realism leaves me cold. As for computer art — apostasy!!! And also Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki of Port Moody, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Although it is the traditional artist’s job to dedicate the time and attention to the traditional philosophy, modern artists need to be on top of the current culture and make their art relevant to it. Making art based on a mix of both worlds has endless possibilities.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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