Saturday, October 9, 2010

Home Schooled by Norman

I have had a pure flash of inspiration.  I know of many artists who are on the internet.  But how many write about their art?  You know, share their thoughts and concerns, stories or painting ideas?  This is where I come in.  After many long moments of research on the internet, and not finding any one else doing this, I've decided to write-- what should I call it?  A blog!  Yeah, no one does that!  So you, gentle reader, are in on the very first Artist Blog.  You're welcome.

But what to write about in this, my maiden voyage?  How about how I learned to paint?  First off, I've been painting for about thirty years or more.  If I recall correctly it was in November of 1977 when I bought my first oil painting starter set.  Cost me $8.00 at K-Mart.  Do they still have those?  I opened the box and out spilled six small tubes of color, two brushes, a small bottle of linseed oil and a small bottle of turpentine.  That was it.  No instructions!  How the hell was I supposed to learn how to paint?  (Swear Alert!  I may say things like Hell, or Damn, maybe even a Shit now and then, so if your eyes are sensitive to expletives you are fore-warned).  OK, on the outside of the package in small print detailing all the wonders of painting, it was mentioned that Burnt Sienna and Titanium White make a lovely "flesh" color.  So I tried painting portraits.  No one told me that painting portraits was for far more advanced artists.  And at long last comes the point of this blog:  I had to teach myself.

You see, when I was growing up, art was for the well educated.  You had to be taught how to appreciate "Art".  Why?  Because it was unintelligible.  Abstract.  Splatters.  It was a secret code to be learned.  Art schools taught students the "Think Method" of painting, you know: If you think hard enough you can do it, by God, you can!  You didn't paint what you saw, but what you felt when you saw it.  Or something like that.  At any rate, realism was dead.  Unimaginative.  If you painted a realistic painting, you might as well walk around with a "Kick Me" sign on your forehead.  But that is what I wanted to paint.  I'll be the first to admit:  I have blessed little creativity.  I wanted then--as now-- to paint what I thought was pretty.  But unless your last name was Wyeth, no one wanted to see stuff like that.  I knew I wasn't going to learn how to paint the way I wanted to by going to art school.  The current resurgence of Ateliers was unheard of.  So beyond mixing up alot of "flesh" color, I had to hit the books.   

My favorite artist then, and probably now was Norman Rockwell.  Norman is a God to me.  Say what you want about illustration as opposed to fine art, but Norman Rockwell put paint on canvas as well as any painter who ever lived.  He had classical training at the Art Students League in New York.  I could not care in the least where his paintings were seen: museum or magazine page, he was good.  Back in 1948 he wrote a book called Rockwell On Rockwell: How I Paint A Picture.  I bought a copy on sale for ten bucks and it became my bible.  I learned his methods, his choice of paints, his techniques.  I bought Mars Violet because he used it.   Same with his medium.  If Grumbacher #2 was good enough for Norman, it was good enough for me!   And while I used his technique, I obviously did not paint Norman Rockwell paintings.  And that is important.  Admire an artist all you want.  If they are among the living, by all means study under them (if you have the money) but don't paint their pictures!  

Along with that book, I took biographies of artists out of the library, thinking maybe something about the life they lived would help me in my pursuit of painting.  I went to the Portland Museum of Art frequently.  They actually have a very good collection of realists-- when they decide to show them.  Guys like Robert Henri, Sargent, Gerome, and Winslow Homer.  Unfortunately, they didn't do that often back then.

But all that was thirty or more years ago.  And you know what?  I haven't stopped learning, yearning, and studying.  Funny thing about education:  Those who are taught tend to think that if they needed to know something, they would have been told about it.  And that is the big difference between the schooled and the self-taught.  I don't know what I don't know.  So I try to learn everything.  Maybe it will be helpful, maybe not.  But I have to learn it to find that out.  After all, even Norman can't teach me everything!

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