Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Should You Look at the Work of Other Artists?
Though I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an artist, art school- or any college for that matter- was not in the cards for me. Books became my art teachers. This before YouTube and the world of everything at your fingertips. At one time, I had an art book library 200+ strong, and I'd read every one of them.The large coffee table books with full page illustrations were the most useful. Later, for some reason, publishers started printing just the inside area of the paintings for their full page illustrations. They should have asked an artist first since any artist could have told them that cropping a painting in any way completely changes the composition and the painter's intent.
I poured over these art book treasures, trying to fathom the mystery of how an internal sensation or vision becomes a concrete reality with the capacity to lift a viewer out of their ordinary experience of day to day. How did these artists with just a few tubes of paint and a flat surface manage to make so clear a picture of the channel they experienced the world through?
The large pictures in the art books made it possible to see the actual brushstrokes and the layering of paint. After wandering through that tapestry, I usually turned the pictures upside down or sideways to better study the design without my mind telling me what it thought I was seeing.
For several years, each of my days started in front of a sunny window with an art book, a cup of coffee in hand, and my cat Gillian curled up beside me. I worked my way from Rubens, Hals and Velasquez to the French Impressionists, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Sargent, World Impressionism, Russian painters, American painters, California Impressionism, and even ink painting of the Chinese and Japanese artists. I studied the works of individual artists. I studied about pigments and about using archival materials. Sometimes I read books for inspiration, following an artist's struggles and explorations. All the while, I kept painting. Eventually I had more paintings that were OK instead of awful.
I'm not sure when the tipping point occurred, that looking at other artists work became limiting rather than helpful. Maybe it was when I started looking more at contemporary artists. The inevitable comparing that's bound to result from too much looking, began to sap my confidence and eat away at the excitement that art making had always brought me. It was time to pull back and spend a bit more time looking inward.
These days I limit the time I spend looking at other artists work. I've been spending a lot of time painting solo outdoors or in my studio. The resurgent sense of focus is liberating!