The Shape of Content
"An artist at work upon a painting must be two people, not one. He must function and act as two people all the time and in several ways. On the one hand, the artist is the imaginer and the producer. But also the critic..."
"The artist may not use lines or colors or forms unless he is able to feel their rightness."
YES. This is so true. We use the palette we like, the subject we are interested in and the style that is natural to us.
"But it seems to be less obvious somehow that to create anything at all in any field, and especially anything of outstanding worth requires nonconformity, or a want of satisfaction with things as they are. The creative person - the nonconformist - may be in profound disagreement with the present way of things, or he may simply wish to add his views, to render a personal account of matters."
"It is because of these parallel habits of detachment and of emotional involvement that artists so often become partisans in its burning causes. And also it is why they are so likely to be nonconformists in their personal lives."
"The conservative, with its vested interest in things as they are, holds onto the present, gives stability, and preserves established values (and keeps banks open). The visionary, always able to see the configuration of the future in present things, presses for change, experiment, the venture into new ways. A truly creative artist is inevitably of this part of the society."
This chapter reminded me that to make great work, artists really have to push and not conform to society's standards. I have gotten away from focusing on my Etsy shop because it felt like I was making work for a certain group of people. I have rejected the idea of making 'art that matches the couch'. I recognize that I am in a bit of an in between stage and I am okay with that as I explore work that really does something.
"How often do we read the critical comment that this work or that work appears 'labored.' And on the other hand, the calligraphic, the easily brushed style is highly admired; it has a free look about it. Extreme care is 'tight' and not good; extreme freedom is 'loose' and considered desirable. Art becomes increasingly free; it has freed itself from meaning in many cases, and freed itself of responsibility."
I find this so true in art I like. Basically, great art looks effortless. I love work that has a wonky or wobbly style, blended color or bold and unique line work. Art that is too forced or formulaic isn't interesting to me. It takes artist's years to develop their work so it looks effortless. That effortless generally is their style and what makes their work stand out.
The Education of an Artist
"Begin to draw as early in life as possible. If you begin quite early, use any convenient tool and draw upon any smooth uncluttered surfaces."
"...never be afraid to learn to draw or paint better than you already do..."
"Draw and draw, and paint, and learn to work in many media."
"In college or out of college, read, and form opinions."
Ugh, reminding myself yet again that I need to work on developing my skill. And draw and draw and draw.
Ultimately, he says this on The Education of an Artist:
Attend a university if you possibly can. There is no content of knowledge that is not pertinent to the work you will want to do. But before you attend a university work at something for a while. Do anything. Get a job in a potato field; or work as a grease-monkey in an auto repair shop. But if you do work in a field do not fail to observe the look and the feel of earth and of all things that you handle — yes, even potatoes! Or, in the auto shop, the smell of oil and grease and burning rubber. Paint of course, but if you have to lay aside painting for a time, continue to draw. Listen well to all conversations and be instructed by them and take all seriousness seriously. Never look down upon anything or anyone as not worthy of notice. In college or out of college, read. And form opinions! Read Sophocles and Euripides and Dante and Proust. Read everything that you can find about art except the reviews. Read the Bible; read Hume; read Pogo. Read all kinds of poetry and know many poets and many artists. Go to and art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular — mathematics and physics and economics, logic and particularly history. Know at least two languages besides your own, but anyway, know French. Look at pictures and more pictures. Look at every kind of visual symbol, every kind of emblem; do not spurn signboards of furniture drawings of this style of art or that style of art. Do not be afraid to like paintings honestly or to dislike them honestly, but if you do dislike them retain an open mind. Do not dismiss any school of art, not the Pre-Raphaelites nor the Hudson River School nor the German Genre painters. Talk and talk and sit at cafés, and listen to everything, to Brahms, to Brubeck, to the Italian hour on the radio. Listen to preachers in small town churches and in big city churches. Listen to politicians in New England town meetings and to rabble-rousers in Alabama. Even draw them. And remember that you are trying to learn to think what you want to think, that you are trying to co-ordinate mind and hand and eye. Go to all sorts of museums and galleries and to the studios of artists. Go to Paris and Madrid and Rome and Ravenna and Padua. Stand alone in Sainte Chapelle, in the Sistine Chapel, in the Church of the Carmine in Florence. Draw and draw and paint and learn to work in many media; try lithography and aquatint and silk-screen. Know all that you can about art, and by all means have opinions. Never be afraid to become embroiled in art of life or politics; never be afraid to learn to draw or paint better than you already do; and never be afraid to undertake any kind of art at all, however exalted or however common, but do it with distinction.
This book made me realize the holes in my art that I have been feeling lately, but I was not quite sure how to fill them. Some things I want to do:
- I want to dig deeper with my personal experience and views in my work. I felt this before reading the book, since the start of the New Year, but reading it helped solidify my need to do so.
- Nonconformism. Taking risks in your work or making work that is challenging or bold. Experiment. Make ugly stuff. Try new things. Learn from others.
- Keep improving my craft by taking classes and exploring new mediums.
I hope some of this was helpful for you too.