Monday, March 28, 2011

He Never took a Lesson in his Life

He never took a lesson in his life. We are told this over and over by his (or her) proud relatives, co-worker or parents. This person who simply can draw anything with no effort at all (no effort they have seen anyways). At every show or opening or even when I simply mention I am an artist, out comes the relative who “never took a lesson in his life”. Now, there is a real artist! And that should show you!

Why are we so in love with the self-taught artist? And so suspicious of the art student/ art graduate? As if somehow the very fact that they studied art nullifies their talent? Some how, the person who studied art is a the dilettante? And not a serious artist? We do not expect even the most precious or precocious musical prodigy to be able to play the piano without lessons or some kind of guidance and lots and lots of practice, but for some reason, visual artists are not according the same respect and allowances.

We should just be able to draw, paint, sculpt, with nary a misstep. Each work should be the perfect culmination of artistic genius, and if it is not, well, we must be fakes.

And this is often they way it is taught. Middle school students are taught that they all ready know what they need to know to be artists by “instinct”. Heaven forbid that any art teacher should “inhibit” them with drawing lessons! Or instruct them in craftsmanship. More and more students come out of college with their fine art degrees, expressing themselves all over the place, but the quality of work is poor. The ideas are undeveloped and raw, and they are clueless. Most of their instruction is in the peer critique. So their ideas and beliefs far from being challenges are simply reinforced by people as inexperienced as they are. They come out of school shouting at the top of their lungs before they have anything to say.

Well, it ain’t so babe. Art is hard work! It takes years of painting, sculpting and drawing etc. to master any medium. Yes, art is about self-expression, but there is a place for manners too. So stop, and listen. Learn to develop those ideas before regurgitating all over that canvas.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Self Portrait


I need an illustration for my next blog post. Since I am talking about how art can make you happy, I need a happy face. Or at least a pleasant one. Only trouble is, I don’t have one. Oh I could use clip art, but hey, this is a blog about art. Somehow seems a bit cheesy to use clip art for an art blog, especially when I teach drawing.

But I don’t have a happy little drawing. Hubby is out of town, so I cannot bludgeon him into posing for me. I am all alone. Feeling blue. What am I going to do?

The only face available is…horrors, Mine!

Trying to take my picture
I say horrors, because there is a reason I am always on the other side of the camera. I hate the way I photograph. Some people are beloved of the camera, I am not one of them. Pictures always come out looking like me. But I need that shot, that expression. So I give in.

Trudging off to the bathroom with my small point and shoot, I accept the necessity of taking a picture of myself, worse yet, smiling. (Shutter!) So I am going to take a picture of me in the mirror.

Taking a picture of yourself is not as easy as you might think. When you put the camera to your eye, well, that is what you get! So I have to hold the camera near my face, try to get the face and not all camera. Hold it up, hold it down, turn to the right, Take and take and take. Seven shots should give me something.

After I uploaded all the takes to the computer I remembered why I have so many photos of daffodils and so few of me. I hate my face. I hate the red-roundness of it. I hate the small mouth, the wispy brows, eyes that don’t match the long nose and the flyaway hair.

But I need that illustration and I will just have to work with what I have. I looked closely at the shape of my face. Kind of weird, actually, kind of squishy and bottom heavy, like the rest of me. I have a dent in my chin. And gravity has been no kinder to my face than to the rest of my body. My face is spreading too.

Eyebrows are disappearing. Now you can barely see them without my glasses. Actually, I look better with my glasses, they define my eyes, let you know they are actually there. My glasses are crooked. They are getting old too. I had not noticed that before. Located the top of my head, Boy is that a long way up there! When I started adding my hair, I stopped to take another look. That space looks a little slight, oh. The only thing getting thinner on me is my hair!

Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Say Thank You

Might sound like a strange title for an art blog. But bear with me. As many of you know, I am host for an on-line painting site,

One thing that I hear over and over again is how can I value my own work? One of the most recent messages posted to me on was this lament:

"Starr, what's the cure for hating everything I paint? :-) I wish I could stop...sigh..j


Boy, this is more common than you think. So often I hear this, and to be honest, have felt this myself. What is it about our artwork that makes us feel to guilty to liking it? While it is good to be able to look at our work and honestly see what is wrong, what needs improvement, where we went wrong, for a lot of us, it is total. Everything we do is junk! Why do we waste our time with it?

Wasting Time

This might be a clue, right there, Art work is a time waster. Something for children and something serious adults outgrow. Real men and responsible woman do not waste their time painting little pictures. It is  or should be a hobby at best, and unless we can see "profit" from it, a drain on ourselves and our families. We could be spending our time more profitably.  Like cooking and cleaning for them!

Roots in childhood

Art is for children. Over and over we are taught this. We have art in school, more as play time than serious learning. Something to occupy time and keep kids out of adult hair, in other words, a big time waster.

And what art kids get in school today only reinforces this view. For most it is simply make-work. Do a craft to give mom or dad a home-made gift, that under other circumstances no one would want. There is no training, no building appreciation for craftsmanship, quality or creativity. And so often art is shoehorned into an already bursting schedule. “We have 15 minutes, you can take out your pencils and draw,” For those few students that still have art in school, it is often reduced to 45 minutes once a week for 6 weeks. Not to criticize those beleaguered art teachers, but how can they do anything but baby-sit with that schedule? With schools and communities giving only lip-service to the importance of the arts if that, is it any wonder we ourselves tend to undervalue what we do?

Well, then, how do we learn to give up the guilt and learn to love our work?

My advice? Walk away from the canvas, have a cup of tea (good stuff, not cheap) then come back and pretend you did not paint it. Pretend that you are encountering it for the first time. It is not your work, but the work of someone you admire.

Look At It Through Different Eyes.

Notice what is good about the painting. Does it draw the eye? Are the colors vivid and inviting? Does it tell a story? Look at it as if you were in a gallery or museum. See, its not so bad, is it? Still having trouble? Just can’t choke the words out?

A lot of us have this problem because we are conditioned from childhood not to blow our own horn, to not praise ourselves. We must be modest. “Ah Shucks, Mama am, It t’wernt nuthin” We hang our heads down and don’t know where to look. I, like most of you simply do not know how to take praise. When I do get a compliment, I tend to look for some “error” or “mistake” to point out. Another comment that hit a resounding chord with me was this:

      "When I look at my work, I can only see the flaws. I have to bite my tongue to keep from pointing them out to everyone. I'm learning to just say, thank you, when someone compliments my artwork. But it's hard.


Sound familiar?

And when it comes to art, most of us have been conditioned to be to be super critical of ourselves. This is not something we are supposed to take pride in, because it is not important.

It is really; really hard to say "I am good."

Someplace along the line we all learned that we are garbage, what we create cannot possibly have value. That we cannot simply say we did a good job. Something about making art makes us crazy!

You don't hear carpenters telling people they hate the houses they build do you? Or plumbers saying, "boy I am a dunce when it comes to putting pipes together" They are proud of what they do, and rightly so, but we cannot be proud of what we do.

I am not saying we should not be aware of our faults as artists; just give yourself permission to say:

" I am good".

And when you are complimented, say “Thank You