Friday, October 8, 2010

Keeping it New

This week I am working on a large 30 x 40 in landscape from one of my favorite places in Arizona - Catalina State Park. As luck would have it, it seems that something is blooming there almost all the time, and some of the most extraordinary yellows can be found among the flowers lining trails like the Sutherland Trail.

Recently I finished reading the book "The Genius in all of us" by David Shenk, and in that book the author makes the very compelling argument that talent - or what some may call 'genius', is something that is much more the product of work, conditioning, and overall concerted effort - and that the old adages about a person being born with a certain ability are over exaggerated and often just plain wrong. He details sports figures, and countless others that had surprisingly humble beginnings, and who honed their crafts to such an extent that they become the best in their respective abilities.

With the information in this book, it seems to me that one could say that ability is something that is developed and made. Art is no different. I might concede that as a young man, I was moved by art on a level of instinct, before I had any other conceptions or ideas about it. But my own experience in becoming an artist, and becoming an exhibiting artist with some good credits to his name - that has been a product of nothing but work, work, work. I think sometimes people get the idea that the artist is a listless person who just daubs a few things on canvas and tries to swindle the world into thinking it's the work of genius. Nothing could be further from the truth. My mentor, the artist Jean-Claude Quilici, said in an interview that "painting is a manual craft, and you learn it by doing it." Well said. Sure there are prodigies in art, like anything else (I was not one of them :) however the book also details how prodigies are the result of people being in certain situations that allowed them to be taught well, and for their skills to grow at a very early age. Mozart's father was a music teacher...surprise surprise. Picasso's father exposed him to thorough lessons in art and draftsmanship. Even my mom taught me about drawing and shading and such - and I was not without some roots. Growing up as I did, looking at her drawings and paintings from the 1970s.

As I was thinking about this book, my conception of my own painting style lead me to conclude that it was horribly rigid. That is, what I do, I do the same way almost every single time. By no means is the image the same - but the execution, and my own learning about my craft had solidified into something like iron - inflexible. Always there but without the air of experimentation. So when I read in this book about how one of the characteristics of successful people is that they are never satisfied with their current skill level - I decided to devote at least a portion of my time to artistic experimentation. I bought pastels and have begun experimenting with them, and am looking to do both watercolors and a few figure paintings - mostly portraits. I've completed 3 portraits and 4 pastel paintings, and subsequently found myself enjoying what I was doing - because it was new and fresh, and for the fact that I was having to challenge myself to learn how to get adequate effects from the new mediums.

The other day as I was in the studio staring at the three portraits I had completed, our 18 month old son walked in and pointed straight at my self-portrait and said "Da da!" with a big smile on his face. And even though a tough assessment has led me to conclude that my portraits are a bit amateurish and need work - I find myself thinking that if my self portrait was immediately recognizable to an 18 month old boy, then there must be at least enough content there to keep working on it and refine it. Few people know that one of my first art sales ever was a portrait of the painter Renoir. Funny how we circle back to our roots, isn't it?

To me, the best artists adapt themselves to multiple mediums, and that is something that I want to continue to work on and explore. It goes without saying that my oil on canvas landscapes have built my art career - and I would not presume to know if galleries I show with would have the desire to show watercolors and pastels by me. But all I can know for now is that the experimental urge is good to for me, good for my sanity - and I believe that it will ultimately be good for my art.

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