Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Monkey See, Monkey Do

These paintings are in the gallery right now. The center one is 24"30" if that helps form a sense of general bigness / smallness.

When people go to art school they must come away from it with a different set of monkeys on their back than the people who don't go to art school.  I don't think there are many artists walking around who don't have a monkey on their back about something or other. 

 You don't have to go to an art college to learn perspective, but a self taught artist might forget to bother learning it---until they need it. Then it informs their work from then on.  You don't have to be self taught to have enthusiasm for wanting to paint, say a sunflower, but someone who went to art school would definitately have to overcome the whole "Sunflowers have been done to death, Van Gogh did it better than anyone," schtick that people are so fond of saying, which is hardly encouraging. 

 At a time when I was getting really bothered by my landscapes, I thought I should take a giant step backwards, re-evaluate my process, and hopefully find out where it was that I had hit a wall. So I focused on painting still life, which I hadn't done much of. Flowers were handy (and free) so they became my choice of  props. It helped me. It clarified my work processes in a more condensed way than the landscapes had done, helping me to see what worked well for me and what didn't. For a few weeks I became throughly absorbed in flowers. 

Flowers were interesting to experiment with. I absolutely loved working on floral paintings, but I never was very thrilled with how the finished paintings turned out even though I felt myself learning a lot. 

 The gallery said, "But where are the landscapes?" The people I knew said, "Why are you wasting your time with flowers?" It became fascinating to me that my friends who did NOT go to art school, usually summed up these efforts with comments such as: "I like flowers / I hate flowers" and let the matter drop. My  friends who DID go to art school tended to say, "Yah, we did flowers in art school," as if it were a rite of childhood, firmly in some distant past not to be revisited. Both groups of friends poo-pooed flowers as a subject matter---because it had all been done before. I put this example here because its one of the few things that were similar about my friends  from art school and friends who were (more or less) self-taught. I thought that was interesting, and kind of funny. Because it wasn't about the flowers, to me---it was about the simplification of my work process, to get myself on track so that I understood more about what I was doing when paintings went right or wrong. Anyway, to me it was an interesting experience. I was glad I had an open mind about flowers, especially since I got so much out of them!!  Back to the monkeys on an artist's back: 

A self taught person might say, "I'm going to try to get my work into that gallery." The art graduate might say, "That's the smallest gallery in town. I've got to hold out for a better one." I think there is a retroactive pressure on those with an art education to do great things with that privilige, and end up in hanging in a museum----pressure that can be greater than the urge to explore different work processes, and spend lots of time practicing on things no one will ever see.  

One priceless advantage art students would likely have is a variety of blood-and-guts professional artists in front of them,  day in day out. Lots of real live role models. A self taught person can suffer from a shortage of people showing them the reality of such a life. A good thing a self taught person might hopefully have is an open mind about the processes of personal growth, because they haven't been told that creative learning happens in such-and-such a way, or in a certain order, or from a particular person; they might have an easier time accepting that no matter how much you know, you're always a beginner basically. 

I think the best thing is to have the freedom to go off into one's own creative world with a feeling of  confidence about it, not thinking too much about what anyone else thinks, or what anyone's judgement will be later, saving the self editing and critique for after the fact. Sometimes people who are more self taught or who come from the world of academia have a special feeling that their way is the only way. I think something good happens from all the methods of learning, and being receptive to it all is the healthiest thing, since the learning doesn't stop anyway. 

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