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Archives for April, 2006

On being an artist, secret #2: be an artist

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

The title may seem to say the obvious, but in fact, it is not so simple. The problem comes because of the way we think about art and education today.

In the Renaissance, an artist received training from a master by working on the master’s projects. The master had a strong incentive to teach, because good assistants were essential for making a major artwork. Teaching was thus not separate from the master’s work. Instead, it was critical to the productive success of the studio.

A similar method is used for teaching at the highest levels of education today. For example, a graduate student in biology will do research in a specific laboratory, under guidance of a recognized scientist. Only a small part of the student’s education comes through “classroom teaching”. The scientist has a strong incentive to teach his or her students how to do real research, because a group effort is necessary for major research projects.

But art education today is a completely different story. Artists get paid to do “classroom” teaching. But teaching in this mode does not contribute directly to the artist’s own work. Instead, it becomes an impediment.

Why should the wonderful (and profitable) job of teaching be an impediment for artists? I think it comes from the way we think of art as a solitary endeavor. An artist can teach others, but is expected to work alone. This prevents the artist and his or her students from working together. It separates art from art education. A functional connection between art and education would benefit both.


On being an artist, secret #1: keep the studio organized

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

If there is one thing that gets in the way of productivity, it is a studio that is too cluttered to even walk into easily. How can a painter get into such a situation?

Easy. Take up sculpture.

Studio organization is always a challenge, even if I’m only working on painting. I think the reason is that when I’m feeling creative, I do not feel like organizing things.

But ignoring the need to organize can bring creativity to a halt. Paintings take up space, and so do the materials. But sculpture — in my case, clay figures and small portrait busts — causes a much bigger problem because the three-dimensional pieces take up a lot of room. Plus, they are fragile.

I’ve just about gotten the studio back into shape today. I realize now (once again) that keeping it that way is the difference between working and not working.

Related: On being an artist, secret #2

Michelangelo drawings, real or fake?

This drawing is “one of Michelangelo’s most celebrated works in the British Museum,” in the words of curator Hugo Chapman. But did Michelangelo draw it?

To answer this question it helps to consider, is the drawing:

  • similar to other works by Michelangelo?
  • something that plausibly could have been made by someone else?

This figure drawing is different from other surviving drawings by Michelangelo, although it is clearly related to one of his lost masterpieces. But because of the unique history of that lost work, many copies were made by artists in the 16th century. The British Museum drawing is likely one of those copies.

Full-length version of this essay