Friday, December 13, 2013

Enthusiasm and Example in Art

Wilson's Snipe at Ottawa NWR. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.
Wilson's Snipe. Ballpoint Pen Sketches by Ken Januski.
As much as I liked the quote from Delacroix in a recent post about the difficulty of finishing a painting there was something that bothered me. I didn't know the context. It was just an out of context quote. Because of that it was possible that I was reading into it a meaning that wasn't there about the complexity of painting.

Because of that I managed to pick up a copy of The Journals of Delacroix and have started reading them. How exciting they are. The early ones are as much about his love interests as his art but most of them were written when he was 50 and older and seem, from what I've read so far, to be more about his art.

What I've enjoyed so much about them is that they show a serious artist thinking about art. More important is that he is an accomplished and practicing artist, not an artistic dilettante lost in the ether of aesthetic theory. In another field, for instance politics, this would be called inside baseball, something of interest to practitioners and aficionados but not to anyone else.

The thing is it's very rare to find people who talk about their craft, who have a passion for it and can't keep from talking about it, theorizing about it. In some ways it's not even important what they say. From what I can tell so far Delacroix often contradicts himself. What is important, at least to me, is to run into someone who is passionate about art.

That thought in turn got me thinking about the times I've been most passionate about art, and enjoyed it the most. The first time was as a student at the University of California at Berkeley. Part of it was the classes both in studio art and art history. But more important was a small group of passionate fellow students. We, or at least I, thrived on working, seeing their work, talking about it, going to galleries, etc.

There is much to criticize about art education and my guess is that I'd be quite unhappy today. From what I can tell theory has come to rule over everything else. Some people wonder whether it makes sense to even go to art school. The one reason I'd advise doing so is the possibility of meeting people who are passionate about art, especially your peers.

The other instance of great enthusiasm for me occurred a number of years ago with the Wildlife Art thread of There was an excitement and shared enthusiasm that it was a great thrill to be part of, especially coming from total artistic isolation as I felt I was. There is no longer any activity there. But at the time it was wonderful.

You can look at books, go to galleries, etc. But I think that there is nothing that is better for artists than to be part of a group of people who share your enthusiasm about art. Eventually everyone has to go their own way. It happens with all artists. But I do think that anyone who's been part of such an enthusiastic group is lucky. It gives you the impetus to keep on when times are difficult.

So that is part of what Delacroix reminds me of: enthusiasm in the arts.

I was also enthusiastic about the arts from a child, though oddly enough it was mainly for abstract art. When I got to Chicago for college I spent hours upon hours at the Art Institute of Chicago admiring and enjoying the art. But I was majoring in English. The college I attended didn't offer any art courses. Art was not a viable occupation in my mind, neither in high school nor in college. The occupation and career of artist was something of the historical past not of the present or future.

For that you need acquaintance with practicing artists, i.e. adults who made art. That's what I discovered when I moved to the San Francisco Bay area, and especially when I started studying with famous artists at Berkeley. Their fame was not all that important though. What was important was that they were practicing artists. They made art!

This is the example that I refer to in the title. I do think that it must be very difficult to be an artist without the experience of both example and enthusiasm. I didn't have them early in my life but I am thankful that I eventually did. Reading Delacroix reminds me of just how exciting it can be to be an artist.

Apropos of nothing in this post are the two photos at top. Both are based on numerous photos I took of Wilson's Snipe at Ottawa NWR from this October. We rarely get a good look at snipe to this was a great thrill. We saw them in the same place for two or three days.

Because I don't know them that well I did the ballpoint pen sketches from photos, hoping that I might gain some familiarity with their form and markings. The watercolor sketch is an attempt to place them in their environment. Eventually I'd like to do either an acrylic painting or a woodcut/linocut.

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