“Oh it must
be so wonderful to have such a talent!”
How often have you heard that? D’you really believe it? If I don’t know the person well I just
smile modestly and say nowt…but if I know them I tell them it’s not talent but rather persistence,
stubbornness and a desire to master something very difficult. Or, at least, tame it a little. Winston Churchill (reportedly) said:
"The way to be happy is to find
something that requires the kind of perfection that's impossible to achieve
and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it."
– and built brick walls when he was really frustrated!
good art requires the development a lot of different skills, together with
the determination to stick at it for a long time plus, if possible, (but,
alas, hard to find), an encouraging and insightful teacher.
Robert Genn, a renowned Canadian painter of landscapes, described four basic skills
that he thought imperative for the serious artist. Like most of the books I’ve read on the
subject he rated drawing as
one of the most fundamental and most important skills. Traditionally, for hundreds, if not
thousands of years, art schools have also emphasized drawing. There are lots of good books on the subject
– I particularly like those by Carrie Parks who was a police sketch artist
trained by the FBI! She focuses on the
ability to actually see what you are looking at, and NOT to glance, label,
then bring up a cartoon like symbol in the mind rather to focus on the
reality of the shapes and wiggly lines that make up a landscape. It’s important to tell the left brain with
its stylized “trees” or “flowers” to shut up! Don’t work with names like
“tree”, “boat”, “head” instead find the basic shapes.
The next step is to develop a basic measure
(e.g for the human face this might be the width of the eye), then “measure”
everything else using that as a “yardstick”. Most people have the width of
one eye between the two eyes…etc.
Drawing is based on developing such “measures” like the point of a
pencil held at arms length, then looking at the relative sizes of the objects
AND the spaces between the objects in terms of “eyes” or “pencil
lengths”. As you can see, being able
to do this is a technical skill, that can be learned in the same way that
children learn to recognize letters of the alphabet.
second skill was color. For anyone working in a medium using color
like fiber artists, it’s very important to know about hue, value, intensity
and temperature in color. It’s crucial
to be able to recognize – and manipulate – the effect that colors have upon
one another and how to choose and group colors within a composition.
skill he mentioned was abstraction
which really struck me as I’m currently very interested in abstract art. What exactly is it? I realized it wasn’t just arbitrary splashes
of paint on a canvas or pieces of fabric thrown at a wall (though that
certainly can be fun it’s just as likely to lead to good art as those poor
monkeys still slaving away on their typewriters (or probably computers these
days) trying to come up with a Shakespeare play).
art has been defined as a “controlled visual magic” – wouldn’t it be
wonderful to say “oh I’m a fiber magician” when people ask what you do?
control consists of a) a defined structure, b) using compositional guidelines thoughtfully and c)
working with implication, suggestion and mystery rather than literal
representation. Good abstract art yields an emotional reaction, before the
frontal lobes take over and start to analyze. A mix of abstraction and realism adds tension
and mystery. I love art like this –
where you think you can almost see where the artist started.
talking of Composition,
that’s the fourth skill that Genn lists.
He feels that “composition is the queen of the skills”. Having the
ability to compose those basic elements well is what makes the magic hold up!
Good Composition is a Bach cantata, you know there is a basic structure,
there are rules of harmony and so on but within that Bach manages amazing
feats of rhythm and melody and contrast.
able to capture, hold and intrigue the eye entrancing it with the variety of
different moods and shapes, edges, and lost edges, all kinds of magical
things going on and yet coming together to form a complete whole is a
wonderful thing. Hopefully, not an impossible one!
person who has been able to develop all these skills will have a unique
voice, the ability to express feeling within their art. And thus that unique voice will be seen as
an amazing talent. But we know…the
magician didn’t just happen to find the rabbit in the hat….!
delineated these skills, the building blocks of “talent”, Genn pointed out that
there was nothing wrong with simply making art for the fun of it without
trying to build one’s knowledge and skill.
“But if you persist in this
direction, your unskilled work will be like that of so many others--and you
will begin to bore yourself. On the other hand, the skills I suggest are
worth learning for their own sake--and they will stand you well no matter
what you try to do. They are hard won. We value most what is hard won--and so
do many others. Skills worth learning take time and patience.”
way to be happy is to find something that requires the kind of perfection
that's impossible to achieve and spend the rest of your life trying to
that great!! As well as art I’m also going to learn square dancing and with
my co-ordination that going to be impossible too!
I’m off for a cuppa tea!
if you have been, thanks for reading!
I have two online courses starting within the next few weeks: Dyeing to
Design on January 18th and Inspired to Design on Feb 1st. check with quiltuniversity.com if you’re
interested. Quilt university’s courses
are without doubt the best value for money of all online classes – it’s an
PPS I'm happy that the quilt at the top of this blog: Emerald City has been chosen by the American Ambassador in Monrovia, Liberia to be shown in the American Embassy there as part of the program Art in Embassies! quite an honour and a lovely surprise.