Is Something Missing in Your Art?
In art school I was trained to paint realistically by using art rules and principles. Though I had twelve years of art classes and art painting classes eventually I felt like something was missing in my art. I started searching for more. More what? Over time I found “more” of a lot of things. I found a magic glaze medium (thank you Rubens!), an amazing Portrait palette, and various color schemes. But in spite of a fruitful career painting realistically, I QUIT painting. Never mind studying in Italy and the national awards. Never mind that several of my private commission clients were among the wealthiest in the country, hanging my work among their Rembrandt’s, Sargent’s, and Degas’. I didn’t paint. Instead I spent the next twenty-five years teaching others how to paint at my own art school, all the while lamenting, searching, examining other work, and coming up blank. I had questions and no answers. I wanted to know more.
I found the answer at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and spent another ten years unpacking it. It started the first time I saw John S. Sargent’s “Portrait of Mrs. Boit,” (1887). I was blown away by Sargent’s command of what I understood to be the classical art rules. As my eye followed his powerful brush strokes and bold contrast, I saw how he found specific edges and how he weaved his lost and found edges into his figure ground relationships. I saw that his beautiful and intentional placement of the color’s intensity, and how he used that intensity to move my eye, was done deliberately – and I saw how it evoked a specific mood. I saw his understanding of Monet’s color. I stood for an hour and a half…seeing.
Before that day of seeing, I had viewed some of Sargent’s work at different places, but those paintings were beyond my understanding at that time and some where solid black silhouettes that lacked dimension and so I did not find Sargent to be very impressive.
How could he be perceived as Great? If the work is not realistic, I had thought, then it can’t be art.
But on that day in Boston, for the first time, Sargent gained my respect. He had to show me that he was better than I was for me to be able to listen to him. So I started seeing Sargent and listening to him. I saw his paint go down on the canvas as a voice, speaking something to the viewer.
Sargent wasn’t done with me yet. A few days later at the Sterling Francine Clark Art Institute, I saw “A Street in Venice 1878 ” and “A Venetian Interior 1880-1882.” Sargent painted these around the same time as the Mrs. Boit portrait 1880-1882.
Yet in this painting he left out the beautiful use of color.
He left out the figure ground relationship. And he left out most of the intentionally lost edges. Standing there I thought, why would Sargent, who was clearly better than any artist I had ever seen, leave out some of the art rules he knew and had so clearly demonstrated in another work during the same period of time?
Really? Sargent was messing with my brain. (And my way of life! I like things the way they are. I’m like a dog, I do things the same way. I want my bowl of food on the floor in the same place every day! This was uncomfortable for me).
As the years have gone by, I finally see Sargent. I see that all the classical art rules, taught by the traditional art academies (including the French Academy where Sargent studied and which are no longer a part of our modern art schools) are optional. I see that they must be mastered and understood so they can be used with purpose and intent, just as Sargent has done. Sargent saw, and showed me, that the “rules” of classical art are really art TOOLS!
Inside my heart, soul, and spirit I connected with his way of painting, taking each stroke captive in a thought. The way he painted was purposeful and I wanted that. I recognized Sargent was equipped to master a painting through precise steps and used the Tools like no other artist. He knew how to deliver a message to the viewer, fostering an exchange between the sitter, the viewer, and himself. Sargent’s knowledge of the classical tools, and his thoughtful application of those tools to convey his specific message, was pure genius.
The discovery of John S. Sargent’s genius back in Boston, and my later examination of his other work — and the work of others — fueled the flame inside of me in a more directed and purposeful search for “more.” The Greats discovered things that we can employ today:
Different ways to change the intensity of a color.
Different reasons you bring attention to an area.
HOW to bring attention to an area.
The different ways to make a brush stroke, and why you should use one over another.
The list goes on.
By understanding all that was already discovered and invented, we have a wealth of understanding to pull from — and we do just that at the art school I opened in Atlanta in the early nineties. The success of my art program comes from my ability to see these connections and communicate them to others. Artists are introduced to methods of drawing and painting that can help them take control over their art and achieve beautiful outcomes on purpose!
Do you want more?
Yes, I’m painting again, and this time WITH A PURPOSE ! by using Art Toolz Today! P.S. I just found out about a lovely series of brushes while attending The Portrait Society of America this May (ah, Rosemary Co.!)