Thursday, June 28, 2012

Art Influences, Lineages, and their importance?

The issue of artistic lineages in terms of ones teachers, or background and ones education came up recently. I was asked to give my art lineage, schools, etc. I thought about it and realized that for the most part, I could consider myself a self taught painter. Obviously, one doesn’t just pick up a brush and just start painting proficiently. I do have many teachers, and they are probably the same teachers most contemporary representational artists have. They are the old masters who came before us. To be more specific, those just before and around the turn of the century…. the naturalist movement, some of the impressionists….and particularly the bravura painters; Sargent, Sorolla, Zorn, Fechin to name a few. As an artist, these are my main influences and some of the artists whose work I look to for inspiration and knowledge….as it relates to an attempt to create good, honest paintings.
After receiving a BA degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, I spent nearly thirty years learning my craft as an illustrator. The great illustrators of the past from Howard Pyle, all the way to the great Bernie Fuchs and Mark English from the more modern era were our influences in the early years. It was only later that I discovered, through museums and books, the artists that would eventually consume me, and the direction that I wanted to pursue with my own work… a fine artist. Below are some examples of these artists' work.
Howard Pyle, the recognized father of illustration. He was a great draftsman and narrative story teller. His illustrations were very dramatic depictions of things and places that often did not exist. He was able to make things look believable and render them with unsurpassed skill. He is one of the main reasons for all that followed in the history of illustration…and also, the reason many young artist became illustrators.

Bernie Fuchs was I believe, a visual genius. In his career, I believe he possibly created more styles and techniques that any other illustrator of our time. Unfortunately we lost him in 2009. His passing is a personal loss, as well as an industry loss. These two examples of his work are the type of paintings he was known for at the end. The genius in these is what is left out for the mind’s eye to complete. No one did it better….in my opinion.

Sargent, Zorn, and Mancini. Sargent and Zorn are the go to guys for value lessons. If one studies these two artists’ paintings, the value control is unequaled. The bravura brushwork is also supreme, and lessons abound in that area. Mancini was undoubtedly one of the great painters of that period. He is not as widely recognized and there are few books on Mancini…..I have one small recent book , and it is a gem. He spent some of his time in institutions….didn’t seem to effect the quality of his work when he painted.
Fechin and Sorolla….two of my absolute favorites. Sorolla for me is the temperature guy. His paintings are swollen with lessons in how to handle the temperature of light. The lower example is about as good as it gets. Many of our contemporary painters are extremely influenced by Sorolla….and, that is a good thing. Fechin, the Russian painter was a great paint applicator….very creative in how he varied his textures from super smooth to rough….marvelous stuff. He was a great draftsman as well as all of these great artists of the past were. Great draftsmanship seems to be the constant in all of these great artists.

I think most artist are a product of all they have seen, heard, read, and experienced visually. I probably would have opted for an Art Students League type school had I been aware of it early on. I am totally comfortable with this, and do not have any regrets about the fact that I have never taken a workshop, or studied directly with any one teacher. I’m not suggesting that anyone else choose this path.…in fact, I would encourage most to seek help or guidance where ever they can get it….be it workshops or individual tutoring. There are many wonderful teachers out there. These teachers have the ability to articulate there knowledge and are willing to unconditionally share it with students. If that opportunity is afforded someone, they should definitely do it. I might have progressed at a quicker pace had I had that opportunity, or chosen that path, but then, maybe not! Who knows, I might have gotten stuck trying to paint like someone else. I teach figure painting, and give painting workshops, but I do not teach a method or style of painting, and would recommend running from anyone who claims that their way is the only way. I think if one learns the concept of good principals in art, then it is a matter of practicing these principals until one becomes proficient … never masters this thing called painting. It is a never ending, life long learning process…..and to some degree one has to be able to continue to teach one’s self. The instant that he or she says “I have got it…I’ve mastered this”, then that is the end of the journey, the growth….and the fun. We are all unique and what is good for one, may not be good for someone else.

In my opinion, lineage is more for the interest of collectors than anything else. If an artist can paint, who cares where he or she learned their craft, or where he or she is from. I have yet to hear anyone who walks up to a beautiful painting ask,” Who taught this artist”? Some people are pre-occupied with these types of things….things that in the larger picture mean very little. This is only my personal opinion of course. There are probably many who have studied with teachers with pedigrees, who feel that they owe everything they are to that teacher….and they just might. I personally believe that the hard work is a bigger, and more important part of that equation. Work ethic trumps nearly everything as I see it…..especially if one enjoys the work process. For me, the process is as important as the end product…just love to paint! I’m sure my view of this is not the romantic, or popular view, but I think it is a realistic one. If an artist has a list of names he or she can put into a lineage tree, then by all means, they should go for it. For those who might not….not to worry….I’m not sure how much water that bucket ultimately holds anyway. Without the instructional assistance, your journey might take a bit longer, but you can get there from here. As always, these are my own personal observations and do not reflect any universal opinion on this subject. Until next time, thank you for listening to my ramblings.