Friday, July 29, 2011

Chapter review: “Instilling the Painter’s Craft”

Chapter review: “Instilling the Painter’s Craft”
Adolphe William Bouguereau,
 A Nude Study for Venus, c. 1865.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (1578).  (;;doc.view=print)

            In the sixth chapter of “Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School,” Kirk Richards writes about current critical problems in art school training a student must face if he desires to create representational pictures of merit.  Richard echoes the sentiments of a Boston School Style artist R. H. Ives Gammell on the same subject, quoting from Gammell’s “The Twilight of Painting,” when he describes the insufficiencies found in art schools today.  In this chapter these insufficiencies are discussed - even listed numerically - which confound the training an artist needs if they wish to study traditional methods of painting.
For example, the apprentice or atelier methods of training traditional painters are not offered in elementary or high schools therefore its students cannot pursue serious traditional representational art training until college. Once in college they cannot be trained in an apprentice or atelier method either, due to the semester classroom and teacher changes –with teachers who usually own vastly differing approaches to art.  If a traditional representational painting teacher is found there, the student most likely will be shifted away from him or her to another teacher at the end of that semester with only a taste of tradition.   
A smattering of traditional training is not enough to produce a good representational painter. Richard’s metaphoric description of the arduous training a music student must take to become proficient in his calling helps put into perspective the task a visual artist must also take to develop into an equally proficient producer of representational painting.  Why do we accept that the artist of music must endure years of study and practice to please the sense of hearing yet assume a visual artist can merely “spit” and make art?  Richards writes, 
An artist is more than a creative, talented person.  An artist is one who takes whatever talent the Lord bestows upon him, develops and polishes this talent into serviceable skills, and then adds his creative perspective to produce works of art with sincerity and integrity. Desire alone will not produce an artist if the intensity of that desire is not matched by the quality and intensity of training.[1]
            The near complete loss of the historic and traditional methods of training artists in the apprentice/atelier environment left us with the current state of art training found in colleges. This loss was incurred by the adoption of modern art ideologies, styles, and the inability of college semesters to give a steady, consistent training to students once found in the previous centuries’ ateliers and apprentice methods.  Despite the near loss, the language of painting transferred from master to student since the Renaissance is being revived.  The desire to develop the skills to carry on the tradition of representational painting is on the upswing and with it growing numbers of ateliers.  Richard believes there will be adequate training available to produce the painters of the future.  He offers his own experience as a testimony, writing,

I discovered what was eventually to become the foundation of my artistic life.  As a full-time student for four years under Richard Lack at his atelier in Minneapolis, I became part of the Boston School, the longest continuing tradition of painting in American art.  Its roots, going back to R. H. Ives Gammell, Edmund Tarbell, William McGregor Paxton, Jean-Leon Gerome, Paul Delaroche, and eventually, Jacques Louis David, were profound. It was here that I found my place and my profession.[2]

            Richards explains that an atelier program develops several skills.  First is drawing from life --not quick, three minute college-program gesture drawings; but nine to twelve hour pencil drawings and hundred hour charcoal drawings.  Life drawing is the backbone of this system of training with three or more hours of drawing five days a week. Rendering form, anatomy, and modeling light and shadow, is emphasized, teaching the student to see with accuracy.  In this rigorous training, creativity plays no more important part than it does when a music student is learning to read music.  To overcome amateurism, dues must be paid.  In addition, plaster cast drawings of ancient statues and busts are part of the students first year of drawing, until he is competent in seeing and drawing light, shadow, and shapes.  Many ateliers then begin painting a cast in black and white oil paint—a transition from drawing to painting.  Next is oil painting in color and still life, then head studies in oil.  After this, the full figure in its environment is painted in full oil color and finally, the execution of interior paintings.
A minimum of four years in an atelier teaches serious students the craft of picture making, including how to draw and paint what they see. The author states that this traditional method of training representational painting will keep alive our great Western traditions in art and pass them on to the next generation.  “The importance of the atelier system of training is that the master of each successive atelier teaches his students all that he knows in order to produce competent painters who will then, in turn, teach a succeeding generation of students.”[3]
--review by Sandra Galda July 28, 2011

[1] Kirk Richards, “The Art Student’s Dilemma,” Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School, ed. Richard Lack (Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1985) 55.
[2] Richards 60.
[3] Richards 60.