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Thursday, March 10, 2011

“Is painting simply an imitative art? continued...

(Figure of woman: by Everett Raymond Kinstler)

(Figure of child: by Dawn E. Whitelaw)

My post yesterday was a portion of an article I wrote about a" tradition of painting" and some of it's qualities/principles. I shortened it considerably, but here it is in it's entirety. Thanks for all the comments and interest!

While in college taking my first painting class with my teacher, Dawn Whitelaw, an accomplished and gifted artist, she suggested that I go to the library and pick up a book on Everett Raymond Kinstler. She explained that I would be attracted to his work with my natural inclination toward a “brushy” style. Little did I know that my interest and study of Mr. Kinstler’s paintings would spark a long journey of discovery, finding many great artists along the way.

There are many styles and techniques in the world of painting. As John Singer Sargent once said, “There are many roads to Rome. One may get there by a method or no method at all.” John Johansen (a student of Frank Duveneck), one of Mr. Kinstler’s teachers always made a point to tell his students that he was teaching “a way of painting, not the way.” The style of painting that has interested me the most has been called, for lack of better terms, bravura painting, direct painting, painting with impasto, even the very intimidating ala prima painting. These are all adequately descriptive titles, but I like the title “brushy realism.”

There are many artists associated with this style, such as 18th century artists Diego Velasquez and Frans Hals. Their work has made an impact that has lasted for generations. Other artists directly associated with this painterly lineage are 19th and 20th century painters such as Henry Raeburn (1756-1823), Carolus Duran (1837-1917), Édouard Manet (1832-1883), John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), Anders Zorn (1860-1920), Robert Henri (1865-1929), Gordon Stevenson (1892-1982), and the more contemporary Everett Raymond Kinstler (1926-), Cedric Egeli (1936-), Scott Burdick (1967-), Dan Gerhartz (1965-) or Bettina Steinke (1913-1999), to name only a very few.

These painters are or were always given to painting with a broad brush, squinting to see the simple effect, editing wherever possible and creating a luminous color from a limited palette. They created not only masterful works of art, but also the illusion of space and light. Selecting visual information and not simply recording information is the object of every artist in this school of painting. The goal is to create the illusion of reality and to give the viewer a rich and almost intoxicating enjoyment of the painting style itself.

As a lover of history I have long had a great desire to understand the past as a way of exploring the future. I am fascinated by the continuity of information through the centuries that has affected the style of painting that is my passion. This information has been passed down from teacher to student with great clarity for generations.

Recently, I discovered a Harper’s Weekly article on the teaching of Carolus Duran written in the 1880’s. A student was enrolled in Duran’s classes in Paris and carefully recorded the critique sessions held in the studio each week. As I read the article, I was reading the words of Duran as he spoke to his students. But as I read, I could hear the same words coming from my own teacher, Everett Raymond Kinstler. I was amazed at how many of these same ideas and principles had survived intact for over 100 years. I would not hesitate to suggest that these recede in time beyond Duran to the days of Diego Velazquez.

In speaking to his students in review of their work, Duran took time to expound upon painting and working as an artist. In one such lesson, Mr. Duran speaks on the value of individuality with respect to tradition, warning his students to not merely copy the great artists of the past.

Duran states, “But what are we all but the result of tradition? –only we ought to be free to choose in the direction that agrees with our aspirations, and not have imposed upon us those of another man, however great he my be.” He continues, “Art lives only by individual expression. Where would we be if the great masters of all times had only looked to the past—they who not only prepared, but made the future?”

There is no doubt we stand firmly on the shoulders of the great artists of the past, as Duran states, but we should not feel compelled to merely imitate their style. While I want to learn as much as I can from them, I also want to experiment in my own work and paint what "I" see the way "I" see it.

Duran continued:

“Is painting simply an imitative art? No; it is, above all, an art of expression. There is not one of the great masters of whom this is not true. Even the masters who were most absorbed by outward beauty, being influenced by it according to the sensitiveness of their natures, understood that they neither could nor ought to reproduce anything but the spirit of nature either in form or color. Thus it happens that these masters have interpreted nature, and not given a literal translation. This interpretation is precisely what makes the personality of each of them. Without this individual point of view there can be no really original work.”

When I study many of the great, bold brush painters from centuries past to those alive today I consistently am interested in one ever present quality; their ability to edit or interpret nature, not simply copy it and their ability to capture the essential character of their subjects is often extraordinary. All painted from life.

This is a characteristic I hope to express in my own work. An “art of expression” free from distractions that sometimes come today from the overdependence on technology. In today’s world with the advancements of digital photography, computer screens and their ever-present seductive qualities of convenience, I must beware of the tendency to rely on my reactions to a photograph instead of my reaction to reality. Technology has the powerful force of eliminating the discovery process that should occur in the creation of a painting. As I have heard from my teachers before, with photos you almost see an end before you begin! We should continue to interact with and react to with our subjects, always interpreting what we see from our own unique perspectives.


Abigail Gutting said...

A thought provoking article. Your remark on technology and how it eliminates the discovery process caught my attention. I agree. While it has enabled and empowered in many positive ways, the price to be paid is found in the dulling of our sensitivity to the beauty of Creation and an artist's ability to be uniquely inspired.
The words of Carolus Duran were encouraging as well - thanks for sharing.

Leigh said...

Some might laugh, but I do believe that I was lead to read this post today. You would understand why if you read my post on my blog yesterday.

I, like you, love the broad brushstrokes, etc, etc, but I forever try to achieve that style, only to fail in getting there. Yesterday I awoke with a new peace to follow my heart's own lead, quit trying to paint like others I admire and paint like me. (whatever that may mean I guess will be answered as I keep painting from this day forward???)

Painting is certainly an adventure to be loved. We are blessed to take part in it.

You, Shane, have an amazing talent. I have admired you for years. Thank you for sharing bits of your life and thoughts with us on your blog.

: )