Drawing on History

As most of you know, much of modern, western painting has been shaped by the Paris art world from the last half of the 19th century to the period just prior to WWII.  A decades-long standard for that era was the official art exhibitions, commonly called “the salons”, that began under the reign of Louis XIV.

The French Académie de peinture et sculpture both organized and fed the system.  These salons were anticipated, respected and frequented by much of the population.  Being selected to exhibit meant not only prestige and prizes, but also opened the possibility for government support and a steady income.  All young artists aspired to be accepted into the heavily juried exhibitions.

Those whose names we know and love as favored artists were regularly rejected! Those who achieved the honor are largely forgotten.

List your most admired artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries—Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Redon, Lautrec, Matisse, etc.—I could go on and on. They were all rejected, many more than once. (In 1884 a group of artists who were refused submission to this august institution started their own exhibitions— but that’s another story.)

I bring up this tidbit of art history to remind us that resonant art-making is not about reproduction.  Art that lives on and impacts humanity and our own daily lives is about exploration, innovation, reflection of self and culture, emotion and, above all, authenticity and connection—to which the “afterlife” of the list of rejected painters can attest. But how do we find our way to attempt those elusive qualities?

Two essential paths are composition and drawing skills.  We do a lot of composition exercises but we don’t do a lot of drawing lessons in class because, one, there are so many different skill levels, and two; the only way to really learn how to draw is to draw. That may be best done as a personal practice. Traditional drawing can be humbling—no question—and the nature of our group tends to be the opposite so if drawing frustrates you, draw.

But as the year rolls on we loop through and around various aspects of creativity and art-making from tapping the unconscious to color theory. Next— drawing. Exercises will be designed to facilitate “seeing”, connecting and being present.  If that is what’s happening the results will resonate and you can’t help but make your own personal statement. This is what has the most value. As you might have read in the Hoffman piece linked in last week’s blog—“…drawing should be free from the burden of imitation.” Drawing is not about reproduction.  ONE CRITERION ONLY to judge your work —how connected are you?  That should be the focus. (Blind Contours–here we come.)

If you have several pieces of paper that are suitable for drawing, but can also hold paint, please bring!  Otherwise, I will provide. Canvas and board can work, although can be more frustrating. You will need tape. If you want to use just graphite and charcoal and ink, (if you have it,) and a limited palette, including a white and a dark paint , that’s fine. Consider collage. Or bring everything and see where it leads.   We will be building surface through drawing. There will be time to begin more than one.

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