Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Chapter Review

Review of  "Painting: Understanding the Craft," Realism In Revolution: The Art of the Boston School.

  In his chapter in Realism In Revolution: The Art of the Boston School, Richard Lack writes about the current revival of representational art.  He explains that the rediscovered craft of picture making is not fully understood by today's average art viewer.  The Modernism movement has left current art viewers ill-informed of the craft which the salons of Europe once promoted with their hugely attended events.  These huge art shows drew up to 50,000 visitors on a Sunday at the Paris Salon, offering opportunities for viewers to participate in the side by side comparisons, appreciations, and critiques of all the art--good and bad-- being produced. He contrasts this kind of public art education with today's small one man shows, small group shows by similar flavor artists, and museum shows, in which the displayed art follows a theme or shares aesthetic sensibilities.  He explains these small shows limit and short change art appreciation because they offer a biased, slanted, limited art experience.

   "The best route to connoisseurship is an aroused and genuine interest in art (Lack, 78)."  Once this interest is aroused, a viewer must gain "visual fluency" by persistent self education (museum visits, study of reproductions, researching the lives of the artists, reading and attending lectures on art, comparing various art styles and artists, and finally and most important according to Lack, is the understanding of the craft of making pictures.  Lack then contrasts the foundational difference between modern and traditional picture making.  According to Lack, modern art tends to depend on self-expression, passion, sincerity and "creative frenzy," where as traditional painting must, in addition to conception, style, and taste, be judged by skill of execution. 

  This is where the chapter gets interesting for me.  He outlines in the following pages the difficult, laborious and painstakingly careful approach a traditional artist takes in each stage of a traditional painting process. From arranging the interior, rugs, furniture, models, color scheme, lighting, each element is scrutinized carefully and planned in minutia. His process in creating his beautiful painting, "The Concert," is detailed step by step and he explains the complexities of the craft that an artist endures for the sake of creating a traditional realistic image whose beauty and quality will engage the viewer for hundreds of years.   

Richard Lack (American, 1928–2009)
The Concert, 1961.
Oil on board, 26” x 24” .
Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington.

  Planning and executing a studio painting such as Lack did in his The Concert, is one way a realist artist works. He adds that there are other traditional approaches, such as becoming adept at what he calls a "...bold path of painting his motif directly on the spot (Lack 83). "  Sargent often painted his patrons in their environment and Monet of course who painted so many of his great works; both artists known for their "...quick eye and great dexterity." Lack says this type of approach produces works that are more like sketches and states that most landscape painters use this method. "Pictures painted in this fashion, while successfully capturing the immediacy of the subject, have a tendency to be less accomplished in design, a fault in many of the works of the French Impressionists (Lack 84)."  He finishes his chapter describing the process involved in a traditional imaginative painting, one for example that could be a large painting or wall mural which depicts a great moment in history, myth, story, or literature. This type of imaginative  painting requires preparations and design considerations to pull together its complex number of image parts into a convincing realist image of imagination. Take time to read this informative chapter and you will increase your appreciation of the traditional realist craft of painting, and increase your visual fluency. 
---Sandra Galda

Richard Lack,"Painting: Understanding the Craft," Realism In Revolution: The Art of the Boston School (Dallas, Taylor Publishing Company,1985) 77-89.

After graduation from high school, Lack enrolled in the Minneapolis School of Art, where he studied for two and one-half years on a partial scholarship. But his heart was set on learning to paint in the tradition of the Old Masters, a knowledge that none of his teachers could provide. He then traveled to New York looking for an appropriate school, but could not find what he yearned for. He started copying paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where one day a young man stopped to talk to him. He was from Boston and was studying with a man named R. H. Ives Gammell. Gammell, he said, was running a small studio based on the European atelier system of training painters and was accepting students as apprentices. Excited by the prospect of at last finding a teacher "who could lead him out of the wilderness," Lack left New York for Boston and met Gammell. This initial meeting led to a teacher-pupil relationship that was to last more than five years. Gammell had authored numerous books and articles including Twilight of Painting, perhaps the most important book to date on the loss of our Western painting tradition. In Gammell, Lack found what he was so ardently seeking: an artist who could not only teach the basic skills of picture making, but who could also provide a living link to the great traditions of the past (Gandy Gallery "Richard F. Lack  (1928-2009)"<>).

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