Thursday, 31 March 2011

Techniques and Skills for Artists?

What do you think it takes to be an artist? More precisely. do you think of an artist as someone who has mastered a set of artistic techniques and skills?

At one time I would have answered ‘yes’ to that second question and, since I was very aware that there was a whole bunch of skills that I hadn’t learnt, I didn’t count myself as an artist. To me a true artist was someone who knew all the ‘how-to’s, the techniques , the right and the wrong ways of doing things. I didn’t have a formal art education so I was very aware that, in my ignorance of techniques, I just fumbled my way along, hoping for the best. If one of my paintings seemed to have succeeded, it was probably just a ‘happy accident’.

More recently I’ve come to think of specific techniques and artistic skills in a very different, less central light. I now see the acquisition of technical skills as sometimes helpful, sometimes desirable, but certainly not always essential to creating worthwhile art.

I think the internet has had a lot to do with my change of mind. You don’t have to look far to see wonderful work by artists who have never had a formal art lesson in their lives. On the other hand, possessing the skills and technical knowledge are no guarantee of 'success', however you may define it. There’s a whole lot more to painting than following the rules.

In fact, I question whether ‘rules’ can be applied to art at all. Is there actually a right and wrong way to create something – I doubt it! If your art ‘connects’ with others, then it has succeeded, even if it’s just one single person who makes the connection.

But nevertheless I do think that possessing the skills and knowing the techniques can be helpful and sometimes desirable. That’s because I look at them as useful tools that sometimes enable us to communicate, through our art, what’s in our hearts and minds in a more effective way.

And the internet again plays a part. There have always been plenty of art books around to tell us how to do this, that and the other in our paintings. ‘How to paint children’, ‘How to paint in watercolours’ and so on. But the internet has taken this one step further with an abundances of video demonstrations, especially on YouTube!  Some of these may provide us with an answer to something ‘technical’ that was holding us back. Others may give us the impetus to try a new medium. All of these things help us to expand and develop as artists.

But for me they are like the stabilisers on a child’s bicycle; essential in the beginning while we’re ‘getting the knack’ but not something we should come to depend on or follow slavishly. Their role is to help us to spread our wings and fly, not to keep us earthbound, however much we may want to cling to that ‘safety’!

I haven’t yet reached the stage of dripping household paint onto a canvas and then riding a bicycle over it, as it is claimed that Jackson Pollock* did -  but who knows, I’m keeping an open mind!

How about you? Do your 'skills and techniques' - or lack of! - play a positive or negative role in creating your artwork?

*Apparently that's a myth.


Kerra Lindsey said...

Ah--interesting topic covered here. The internet seems to have changed everything. I have a shelf-full of books of 'how to's'--which I haven't looked at since the internet took over my 'art world'. Why bother when what I'm looking for is now in video form, more easily accessible and more task-specific than scoring through countless books? I love technically proficient art, (since this is an angle I've been challenged with my whole life), and yet I do find 'boredom' in in simple replicated real-life landscapes. The more I learn, the more I lean towards more creative pieces and interesting juxopositions of colors and shapes. I'm not impressed with slops of colors thrown across a canvas, (considering my 1 year old can do the same. Sorry Pollock, I appreciate your creativity, but your art is terrible). I like there to be some 'rhyme to go with the rhythm' so to speak. I'm all about new techniques and angles, but not works with no pre-thought or point. For me, my brain simple isn't engaged and I my eyes look away. I guess for me, there has to be some kind of 'skill' behind it, or I'm moving on.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Kerra - thank you for your thoughtful comments.

I think you've 'hit the nail on the head' when you say that there has to be some kind of skill behind it; I would put the emphasis on 'behind' it, 'in the background'. If someone admired my paintings for their skill alone, I'd be disappointed.

There's a kind of parallel here with the way I teach reading and spelling. First I teach the 'skills' and, at that stage, it's more like training than teaching and it can seem boring.

But once those skills become automatic, the pupil can go on to read and write for enjoyment. They will have become 'fluent' readers, just as an artist whose skills have become automatic, can then feel free to get into 'flow'.

art2cee2 said...

I have no learned skills. I was accepted in one of the hardest universities for art and dropped out when I felt they tried to change the way I always created. I have learned that art is judged by the people who view it, not the critics. If someone loves your art then you are an artist. Even if everyone hates your art you are an artist as long as you love it. :-) I have always felt that god gave me an gift. I think everyone has gifts and they have to learn to use them. My mother's gift was that she was the best mother.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Crystal - and thank you for joining in the discussion!

Your lovely work certainly looks as if you have those 'skills'!!!

(I hope anyone reading this will look at Crystal's art work on her blog to see what I mean!)

But maybe some people don't need to learn them, just as some children pick up reading without being explicitly taught (eg my granddaughter, it seems!. Apparently about 30% of children read without formal instruction.)

I, too, have left art classes where I felt I was being steered in a direction that wouldn't produce my best work.

Michele said...

Interesting post. I to am an (evening A level Class) drop out. I couldn't stand the course, they tried to make me paint 'what the examiners are looking for'. I thought stuff it and found an artist to teach me. I have since been on many art courses and classes, mostly run by artists, not teachers.

Now I teach classes myself and people with art degrees come to me to learn watercolours. Watercolour (and many other media) are simply not taught as part of an art degree.

Learning is good, but you must find the right teacher, or you just obtain a fancy bit of paper I think.

Michele said...

I meant too not to of course ha ha. Dropped out of Art school, not grammar...

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Michele - and we all make typos, even spelling teachers like myself!

It's good to know that there are teachers like yourself (and Kerra!) who will teach techniques to those who feel the need of 'instruction', without imposing their kind of art on their pupils.

Mary Anne Cary said...

Great post! Thought provoking. I get depressed if I start thinking too much about a lot of that, probably because I am still not very confident. My style is not very visible because I want to try so many different ways of painting, I tend to frustrate myself. So, in lieu of thinking about it, I say, "just paint" and see where you go!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Mary Anne - thank you!

I think it's extraordinary that you say you're not very confident. I think of your paintings as very bold and very beautiful!!!

But I, too, tend to get on best by telling myself, 'Just do it!'

Boriana said...

For me, too, formal education is not a prerequisite to create great art. I think art is everything that makes you feel, no matter how it is made. Education is useful, though, because it makes the life of the artist easier - when you've mastered some techniques, you no longer think about the technical side of expressing yourself and your enjoyment is greater, just as you, Judy, said in one of the comments.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi boriana - thank you for your comments. I agree that it's easier to focus on the art itself when the techniques (or lack of!) aren't getting in the way