Monday, October 21, 2013

Drawing Classes in Amsterdam, the danger of dogmatic approaches to art

During my Amsterdam drawing classes I try to convey the classical approach to learning art as a near surefire method of learning the principles of the visual language.  This is not to be confused with saying it is "the best way to make art" or even a guarantee that the art you produce when learning to draw with the old master's approach will be beautiful or compelling.

My point to this blog entry is to express my reluctance to believe in, and point out the pitfalls of certain assumptions or dogmatic views that certain teachers hold, or that the public has about making art.

When teaching a method of drawing, no matter how good, a proper teacher will tell you the downsides of this method, and must stress the fact that this is not the only way to do things. 

Dogma 1:  There is one best method of drawing

If we take the academic drawing method, it is very slow, focused on accuracy and precision and follows certain learning and execution steps which are well known.  When drawing fast poses and quick gesture sketches, this approach is not practical, but in other circumstances it can create amazing results.

Take on the other hand the quick sketch illustrative approach.  This creates beautiful flowing lines and plenty of expression, but the detail may be missing and accuracy is often sacrificed for the sake of a more organic and spontaneous result.

It is nonsense to say either approach to drawing is "better" than the other one. Each approach has it's place in art and you can choose to use them depending on the situation, the result you are looking for and the one you find more enjoyable.

Dogma 2:  Painting and drawing must be kept separate

This one is a very damaging dogma that some art teachers spread and which make some practitioners struggle unnecessarily with their art.  The dogma says that when painting, lines and drawing are not to be used.  Painting must be done on a tone and mass kind of way and problems with proportions, alignment and form must be sorted out in the thick of things.

The problem with this, is that if the artist's drawing skills are weak, those problems can never be sorted out. It becomes an endless, frustrating struggle that produces nothing but weak results.

The basis for painting is drawing.  No question about it.  You can then use these drawing skills to make markers or drawings with your brush, or even with charcoal before starting to paint. 

Some academic artists take this one step further by creating a full drawing study and then transfering it to the canvas so that they separate the drawing from the painting.  Having tried this, it does feel a bit like painting by numbers, but with experience, the result can be made to look as natural and beautiful as any painting made in a  tonal manner.

Dogma 3:  Fresh art must be made in a careless way

This is one poorly conceived idea that I try to discredit as soon as possible in my Amsterdam drawing classes.  The thinking is that to obtain results that appear loose and fresh, the piece must be created with a careless approach.

The reality is that to create a beautiful work of art, the artist must become a kind of criminal mastermind, plotting and scheming about composition, light color harmony and also brushwork and edges.  These last two being largely responsible for the feeling of spontaneity in a finished piece.

Remember that loose results can only be good if they are deliberate. If you try to create art by acting carelessly and hoping it will come out right, you are stacking the odds badly against yourself.

Dogma 3:  Good original art cannot look like any other before it

This is the kind of idea that has aspiring artists creating the most weird and peculiar things and more often than not, failing to strike a successful formula for aesthetic results.  The reason is simple, it is easier to stand on the shoulders of giants and learn about principles that worked well for artists in the past. 

No aspiring novelists sets out to write their work by first re-inventing language or trying to completely rework the structure of what a novel is.  The possibilities are so endless within the given framework that we can benefit from exploring those before veering off in some awkward tangent.

This is not to say that pushing for originality is a bad thing, but we humans are original even when we're not trying.  When you learn to draw and practice by making master copies, the impulse to make changes is almost unavoidable.  In the end the fear of being like a parrot that only replicates the work of others gets in the way of learning the principles of art in order to make more educated choices on your own work.

Dogma 4:  Art that is well executed is boring

This one is probably the worse art calumny that has been spread after the impressionists.  These guys departed from the strict salon style looking to find true effects of light, which could only be captured in very short periods of time and outdoors.  This meant drawing had to be sacrificed in favor of speed and color accuracy.

Unfortunately, the lesson taken from this was that something drawn and executed with exquisite finish was boring and not progressive enough, and ever since then, artists have tried to get away with ever diminishing levels of craftsmanship.

It's interesting, but painting seems to be the only art where something poorly made can still be called good.  Fair to say that some cubist and postmodern works are good.  They have interesting compositions, strong use of color and line, but a lot of them are total crap and we should be able to say that a specific Picasso or Mondrian is total crap.

When we hear a song in the radio that is poorly plaid or just bad, we call it bad no matter who it's from.

Hope this gives you some ideas of what to look out for.  Don't be afraid to learn properly, and don't think that one single approach is the best one no matter how famous the teacher that conveys it!

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