The Craft of Art

It’s interesting and a little mind blowing when you consider all the definitions and opinions of what constitutes good art. It’s also no exaggeration to say you won’t find one official standard or majority opinion. Elvis on black velvet is art to one person while “Water Lillies” by Claude Monet another. Ok, bad example, maybe there is a majority opinion on that one, but hopefully you get my point. Good art means different things to different people. An artist will likewise grapple with the concept of what makes their own work more artistic. What should an artist strive for to become a more creatively artistic artist?

WARNING: what I’m about to express now is opinion. Furthermore its MY opinion and will not be shared by all. GASP! I know right. But you think about it and decide for yourself.

In my opinion, there is an over emphasis in many artistic circles on expression alone or being your true artistic self with little care for technical skills, methods or disciplines at all. In other words, the less creative aspects or what I call the “craft” of art. There, I said it. No, I’m not against artistic expression, quite the contrary. I want to see an artist’s expressive work honed, maximized, and optimized if you will. Art IS by definition, self expression. It’s a visual manifestation of what comes out of you, your desires, experiences and passions. Here’s my point. Disciplined forms of art such as realism and representational art can be executed in a very immature and uninformed way. Take music for example. I may wish I could play a lovely Chopin piece all day long and may even imagine how that piece could be played with emotionally moving crescendos and delicate pianissimos, but all the imagined expression in the world will not help me execute that piece any better.

The Abstract Question

Visual art expression tends to validate and free itself in ways that other forms of artistic expression like music can’t get away with, abstract, non-representational art for example. It’s so subjective that the mere presentation of anything considered abstract defies anyone to prove its not high art. I get it. I’m not really here to talk about what is considered good art. That said, I’m far more likely to respect an abstract, expressionistic or impressionistic form of art from an artist I know has mastered their “craft” than I am someone who has simply played around with color a little and flung some paint on a canvas but has little experiential knowledge of skills like drawing from life, color theory, materials, techniques, methods, composition, rhythm, value, contrast, form, proportion, etc., etc. To borrow from my music analogy again, these are the scales and arpeggios of visual art (in other words, rudimentary building blocks). The Craft.

Craft Before Creativity

I define “craft” as a set of repeatable, definable skills that can be learned and mastered. A guitar luthier learns a craft, for example. When he/she has mastered that craft, they will be able to produce a quality, hand-built guitar from scratch. There are no such things as abstract guitars, so I know that art can be different. Understandable, but still consider, Picasso was an excellent realistic, and representational artist before he was a cubist. Likewise, contemporary watercolorist Jean Haines does impressionistic, expressionistic pieces that are often reductions of highly realistic pre-studies. Do you think those representational or traditional rendering skills inform and improve their abstract work at all? You bet your sweet art critic they do!

Final, FINAL Point. I promise.

Most leisure-time, amateur artists will not exhibit in galleries or shows. But even if they do, they will mostly paint and draw for enjoyment. BINGO! Honing the craft of art, those definable skills I hinted at before, will improve that enjoyment immensely, not to mention come to bear in positive ways on any form of expression you want to pursue. It’s a proven formula. Expression is enhanced by creativity, which is enhanced by experiences and skills. Put another way, you can be more creatively expressive, realistic, abstract or other wise and enjoy that expression more when you broaden your skillset and experiential repertoire (See what I did there? Yet another music reference.) I probably spend 80% of my art time honing my craft, only about 20% in exploring creative ideas of expression. This may be a higher percentage for me since I predominately teach those skills, but I see many artists that reverse this percentage and in my opinion try to run before they can walk. I can honestly say that my ability to think and execute expressively and creatively, not to mention the enjoyment of my art, increases with every increased level of skill I attain in the craft that makes up my art. I think it will for you too.

Check out my Amazon affiliate page of recommended art supplies

I’m Teaching a Class! YAY!

I’ve some exciting news to share! For those of you local to me, I’ll be teaching a 6-week watercolor landscape class in Greenville, SC at the Greenville Center for Creative Arts. Enrollment will kick off this Friday night, May 3rd, from 6-9pm at an OPEN HOUSE where you can come and meet me, watch a demo, sign up for the class and get a 10% discount. My classes will start June 6th and be every Thursday evening from 6-9pm. If you’re interested you might want to jump on this one. Class enrollment is limited to just 12. So come see me at the Open House this Friday night or go to starting this weekend to sign up for the class. 

The Blog is Back

Well… hopefully anyway! This blog has admittedly been lowest on my list of priorities. Bringing you informative, instructive and entertaining video content on YouTube is what its all about for me, but I think its about time I rebooted this puppy and tried to reintegrate everything. This blog gives me the opportunity to opine on other subjects, answer questions in a quick, easily shared format or just make you aware of other happenings of interest in the art world. So that’s the goal.

NOTE: If its been over a year since you signed up to follow this blog you might want to look in the sidebar to the right to make sure you’re subscribed. If you are it will say so. If you’re not, there will be a form to submit your email again. I’ve change platforms due to site technical issues and the original list of subscribers was lost. If you received notice of this blog post in an email you’ll also know that you’re subscribed.

Lets do this!

Loose vs. Tight, Aren’t We Missing the Point?

The Devil is in the Intangibles

There is a larger issue artists of all stripes should spend more time contemplating. Loose and impressionistic, like tight and controlled handling of any art subject, involves numerous choices in the process, at the beginning and all along the way. In and of themselves, loose painting or tightly rendered detail are not artistic, regardless of what art snobs might say. Its how deftly you wield those styles that matter, right? Right! Sound a little obvious to you? Well it should, but its odd how little I see that aspect discussed. Loose painting is not more artistic simply because its loose. Its artistic because the loose passages were employed skillfully, maximizing the medium’s strengths and showcasing the beauty of color combinations, flow, center of interest, composition and a host of other elements that came together in a dynamic and pleasing way, albeit loose way. The same goes for tightly controlled, realistic rendering and detail. A piece is not strong because it is accurately rendered to the minutest detail. All the detail in the world, all the realism in the world can’t make a piece of art more artistic. Its the intangibles that matter: design, composition, light, value, leading eye elements or any of the other elements that also make a loose painting great.

Read More »

Strathmore Artist Workshops

If you follow my YouTube channel, you may have noticed that I’ve been uploading Strathmore Workshop videos over the last couple weeks. These were 4 videos done for their web site last spring (2016) and aired during each week of May. This year, as per agreement with Strathmore, the video rights revert back to me. So I thought I would also post all 4 workshop videos right here (as soon as each is uploaded) along with the downloadable photo reference I mentioned in the videos. Thanks for looking and post any questions you might have here or on in the YouTube comments section of each video.

Read More »

Art Critiques and Getting the Most from Input.

We all want to improve as artists don’t we? Growing as an artist is the key to more enjoyment and satisfaction as we tread this adventurous but sometimes frustrating path. Practice is a given, but what happens when we get stuck and don’t know how to improve. The brave artist seeks appropriate, constructive input and critique. Its a tougher challenge, though, than we sometimes realize. Asking someone to tell us what is wrong with our art, which is so often a personal expression of ourselves, is also risky, baring our soul to the cold frigid winds of potential rejection. So if its done, it ought to be done right. There is good input and bad input. How do you tell the difference? Here are some pointers from my experience.

Read More »

Veteran’s Day – Honoring the Decision

Veterans have served for a variety of reasons. For Americans, the reasons usually include the protection or our great nation, propagation of freedom and the dismantling of tyranny. While not all wars have been popular, the men and women who have served should all be revered for one simple reason – the decision to lay down their life, should they be called upon, for something greater than themselves. They did not serve a politician or a government but We the People, and an idea that this great Republic and what it stands for should continue for the good of all peoples.

Read More »