Teaching, Style, and the Avant Garde

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Teaching, Style, and the Avant Garde

From Virgil Elliott

Published before 2005


--- John wrote:

I want to ask about this answer I hear all over. In reference to drawing and painting, many modern artist describe them self as very capable and accomplished. But when it comes to the comparison of their work and that of the great master I hear the same answer again and again: I can paint like that if I want. No proof is offered.

My problem comes from students following the same concept. They feel they can get to that level of draftsmanship, but choose a more "creative approach" so they don't do it feeling that somehow they can but they just don't want to do it..

What will people here consider the right answer when it comes to an objective evaluation of the possibilities and the work actually done?

John

John,

I taught drawing and painting for twenty years or so, off and on, including three at a local college, and have often encountered the same situation as you describe, students excusing their shortcomings as if they were their "style," under the umbrella of artistic license. My response was usually along these lines: "Artistic license is for artists. You are not an artist, but a student. You have a learner's permit, not a license. After I, as your instructor, can see that you're able to draw what is in front of your eyes as it actually appears, then and only then will I believe that you're capable of doing so, rather than deluding yourself and overestimating your ability. I'm not willing to take your word for it, so show me. The assignment is to accurately depict what you see. It is not the ultimate goal for an artist, but a student assignment, and it will make you a better artist once you have developed your powers of observation and analysis to a high enough degree that drawing accurately is no great challenge to you. Until you've mastered it, you are not really an artist, and your work will be weak. There is of course much more to being an artist than that, but the basics must be mastered while you are still a student, or you will be very limited in your artistic vocabulary. Creative impulses and expression depend on these rendering abilities for their effective expression and communication. The popular notion that concern for technique stifles creativity is a fallacy. If one's creative spark is so easily extinguished, it cannot have been much of a spark to begin with.

Where we have avant-garde artists proclaiming realistic rendering mastery that is not in evidence in their work, supposedly intentionally eschewed in the name of artistic freedom, I always ask to see examples of work they have created in which this mastery is demonstrated, otherwise it must remain in doubt. If they have nothing of the sort to show, I might hand them paper and pencil and ask for a demonstration of this claimed ability, to distinguish them from the many frauds and charlatans who masquerade as avant-garde artists despite a lack of talent. The avant-garde is the last refuge for the untalented.

Virgil Elliott