This week, I would like to entertain you with some art myths I heard during my career as an artist and instructor. Maybe, some of you are considering taking a painting course this fall and are wondering whether they would have enough talent or would just embarrass themselves? While most of these art myths are written from the perspective of a painter, they can be easily translated into other arts.
|Malta, acrylic, about 2004|
1. You Need Talent to be an Artist
During my time as an art instructor I have seen that everyone can paint. However, not everyone can paint like Monet or even the person beside them. If you look at art, you will see that there are so many different styles. You just have to find out your own style and the subjects that inspire you. It is great to look at other work and to admire and learn from it, but you are not the person who is sitting next to you. In every painting is a little bit of you ingrained. Your temperament will shine through your brushwork and the looseness of your paint application. Your mood will influence your choice of colours. If you have a group of students who paint the same scene you will not even get two paintings which look the same.
While it is true that some people have more inherent talent for art than others, everyone can learn the fundamental techniques of painting, for example the rules of an interesting composition, and colour mixing.
One of my early teachers once told me that the most important character tread to become a successful artist is not talent but perseverance. There are many talented artist who will never succeed because they are lacking persistence while others with less talent can succeed with hard work. Plus you need a certain amount of luck and to be a professional artist a good marketing strategy. It is not only about creating your art, you also have to sell it.
If you've worked at developing artistic skills, actively pursuing ideas rather than expecting creative thoughts to come to you, you're not at the whim of your so-called talent. You've already in the habit of exploring possibilities, of investigating, of pushing things one step further. You're set for the long term.
So instead of asking yourself if you have talent or not, grab a paintbrush if you feel like it. The most important part of painting is not the final painting but having fun creating and learning something new along the way.
During one of my introductory painting classes, a student who was struggling noted that it must be nice that painting just came so easily to me. For a moment I was stunned. While successful painters might make it look easy to create a painting when you watch them during a demonstration, it has taken them their whole artistic life to get where they are, including many failed attempts and frustrating moments. Like any skill, it takes practice, practice and more practice to improve your techniques. With your increase in experience it will be easier to master some of your skills. For example, when I paint a lot, mixing certain colours comes easily. On the other hand when I have had a long break from painting, I feel really stiff trying to put my image on the canvas, just like after not having exercised for a while.
II you believe that painting should be easy, you will soon end up frustrated and disappointed. Painting will always be a challenge, because you are constantly striving to improve. If you get complacent with your painting skills, it becomes like painting by numbers. it loses its excitement. Painting is a lifelong learning experience, so the more skilful you become, the more you demand from yourself.
If you expect every single one of your paintings to turn out perfectly, you will set yourself up for disappointment. You will tense up in the attempt to reach perfection instead of enjoying the process of creating. Looking at famous artists’ works, you will realize that not all of their paintings have been executed in the same successful way. Instead consider each painting as a new challenge, try some new techniques or materials, or change the subject.
As I do a lot of plein air paintings, I see them as a way of journaling. Some days, things just flow easily, and the scenery might just capture me, while on others the weather might not be favourable or I am not at my best.
In any case, Salvador Dali summed it up perfectly when he said "Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it".
While it can certainly is a plus to have good drawing skills, each medium requires its own set of skills. While some artists like to do detailed drawings of their subject before the paint the image on their canvas (or other surface), others just start out with a very rough sketch directly on the canvas. Some just build their composition on the go.
So if you think you cannot paint because you cannot even draw a straight line do not worry. Just pick up a brush and some paints and get started. You might surprise yourself. Almost all of my students are usually pleasantly surprised what they have achieved.
I draw a very rough sketch with a small brush on the painting ground when I paint outside. In the studio, I start with a rough pastel sketch blocking in the basic colours. Then, I go over the surface with a acrylic glazing medium to keep the pastels from lifting off my surface and blending the edges slightly. After this step, I start putting on my acrylic paints.
Studying the work of great artists by copying their paintings will help you to improve your own skills. You will also increase your appreciation of the artist’s skills because what often looks really easy proves to require a very solid knowledge of colour interactions and composition aside from the painting skills.
However, there is a difference between copying a masterpiece to study another artist’s process of creating and his techniques, and imitating other artists’ ideas and even passing them off as your own. You should always give credit to the original artist on your painting.
I hope this has encouraged you to accept the challenge to learn a new skill. If you have always postponed signing up for an art course, take the next step. Next or week, I have five more art myths that came to my mind. What art myths have you heard? What is your opinion on the points I have raised?