Coming to the end of a five day course it’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve achieved.
Was it five days well spent helping people to realise their dream to become better painters, or five days I’ll never get back?
Ask the same question in most art tutors and you’ll get a quixotic answer, ‘Art cannot be taught’ . Leaving aside the obvious point that the whole aim of any college is to teach, does that mean I’m wasting my time?
What one can’t impart is that spark of original genius which animated the brushes of painters like Velasquez or the imagination of Picasso, but it’s all to easy to throw one’s hands in the air and say that these things cannot be taught, and therefore the whole thing shouldn’t be taught.
But where did artists of that calibre start? With the basics of course, for while ephemeral genius might come unbidden, its visualisation and realisation must be built on the concrete skills of Painting (note the capital P), and it’s precisely these skills which art colleges need to turn their hands and energies to, rather than shooting straight for some kind of conceptual end game.
True, one can hardly expect every competent painter to turn those craft skills into a means of expressing some personal creative genius, but that equation doesn’t reverse. Even geniuses need the craft to express their ideas in a way we can all benefit from.
I wonder – I really do – if that’s not the central omission in our state Art education.
It’s commonplace to bemoan the fact that Art isn’t being taught because those who teach it were not themselves taught to paint, and certainly the growth of practical teaching studios such as mine do nothing if not bear witness to that sad fact.
Worse still, those who are taught to paint, often lack the plurality to embrace contemporary practice. Ateliers always teach great skills, but I wonder if the world really needs more classically trained painters? It’s not useful to impose a style upon creative minds by insisting this Art is valid and that type as not.
So I’m for a middle ground, although I understand compromise is so very unfashionable these days. Enough craft to enable creativity, but not a diktat on how those skills should be used; that attitude should have ended after 1874 and Impressionism.
How wonderful it would be if we could prepare young – would be – artists with the practical and technical skills they need to express themselves before they took on the very necessary and useful conceptual training on offer at university.
All that’s necessary are the basics:
- The use and creation of grounds, boles and gesso
- Ditto that of mediums
- The central role of Value in creating the illusion of Form
- The key processes of painting (direct, ebauche, indirect)
- Understanding how to read and use a triadic colour wheel
- How to use brushes, rags and knives
Once one has the things inspiration if it comes can be expressed, and it can be done in just a week with a few willing minds. Over five years of high school and two of college it doesn’t seem much to ask, yet every week I work with people whose creative spark has been inhibited by their inability to put thoughts on canvas.
So not a week wasted, but a week seeding the ground in case originality and genius arrives to enable it to root and flower.