There can be little doubt that the chaotic condition of art today has caused confusion in the minds of artists, young and old. We are all asking: By what qualities, according to present standards, can a painting be judged? Is there still a solid foundation on which to base the teaching of art? Is art deteriorating, or is it being revitalized by new concepts?
It would seem that the most important problems now facing the artist are to achieve a clear personal understanding of what art is, to hew a pathway for his own creativeness, and to concentrate his efforts toward individual goals. lie must realize that art can no longer be bound by theories other than individual theories; that is, it cannot be pigeonholed into prescribed method and practice. Art is having its growing pains. At long last, art has flung open its doors to individual creativeness in a way it has never done before. It has become a broader means of individual expression.
Jf we choose to become practicing artists today, we must widen the scope of art itself to take in all forms of creative expression. Art is no longer limited to traditional forms of painting and sculpture; it must be made an integral part of life as it is lived in the present and will be in the future. Art is also architecture, ceramics, industrial design, weaving, and textiles. It is a means of expression closely related to a new way of life.
Let us at once clear our minds of the concept that art is an "ism" or a cult. Such things exist within the complete concept but are only facets of a whole movement. When we can grasp the idea that art is an integral part of mankind itself, we need only to look back to see that it has existed since the dawn of intelligence. We find it in all peoples. Art is an expression of mankind's effort to make a better world, and to bring beauty into life in one form or another. It is a creative force, and as such will naturally align itself with the conditions and circumstances of the world in which man finds himself at any time. The present revolution in art is a logical result of a period of general revolt against traditions of all kinds.
At the bottom of the national and political crises today is the struggle for individual liberty and freedom of expression. It is therefore no coincidence that art has moved with the times and given the artist more freedom of expression than was ever known in the history of art.
There is always the danger that freedom can be abused. In art this means that the man without knowledge or ability is granted the same freedom as the skilled technician. Freedom is based on the assumption that the individual is morally and socially responsible, and to grant it to irresponsibility is like opening the doors to everyone who ever perpetrated a crime against society. The new-found freedom in art has set the pendulum of creativity swinging widely. There are painters wielding the brush who do not possess one iota of the fundamentals of art. We have "art" that would make the old masters jump back into their graves, were they to see it.
The good seems almost hopelessly mixed with the bad. Yet in spile of all that, art is now in a healthier state than it would have been if nothing had changed. Art cannot and should not stand still. That is stagnation. There is little danger that art will perish; only forms of art die. Confusion will eventually give way to order, and here and there new concepts of unquestionable value will develop. Meanwhile, instead of throwing out all the concepts and procedures of the past, let us search them for values that can be put to use today. Let us assemble a whole stock of knowledge gleaned from the past and add newer concepts, and in turn join these to the concepts that will come out of the future. Let us give art the benefit of the techniques of scientific exploration. The scientist does not throw away a theory until it has been proved false or valueless. To condemn the past because it is not part of the present would be as short-sighted as to stick only to the past for the sake of tradition. It would be short-sighted not to be alert to any new truth to add to our stock. Because certain forms of art can become passé, there is no reason to believe that basic knowledge is passé also.
Why not look at art as a stream, flowing by us like a river? Some has passed by, some is passing now, and there is still plenty that has not reached us. We might think of a single picture as one cup of water from this stream, reflecting in its surface some beautiful image, or representation of truth.
There are two satisfying and basic concepts by which artists have always worked and probably always will. Two^limensional art—art rendered on a flat plane—will survive as ornamentation of one kind or another. Three-dimensional art will seek beauty ol" form. If we concede that ornamentation is the process of beautifying, then we find that beauty is the basis of both concepts. Mankind has from the beginning sought beauty, and by degrees added it to his environment. One man has the urge to create beauty, another the desire to seek it or own it, a desire which evi dences itself every day in the selection of our possessions, in self-ornamentation, and in the beautifying of our surroundings. Whether it is creative or possessive, there is an innate desire for perfection, which broadly speaking is the basis for all progress. We seek to improve upon the efforts, accomplishments, and worldly goods of our neighbors. For the creative man there is instinctive pride in doing something better than others have done. On the possessive side, man wants the better product, the best craftsmanship, the better home, the beautiful wife. His desires in this direction seem to be limited only by the power to acquire, or the wherewithal to purchase. This drive toward creating beauty or possessing it is as basic to our lives as the air we breathe.
I cannot believe that the artist who establishes beauty as his fundamental approach to art can go very far wrong. No one denies that beauty is broad in scope, so broad that no single lifetime could encompass more than a small part of it. The great danger lies in allowing beauty to get bogged down in personal opinions, trends, and isms, in narrowing our individual understanding to the dogmas prated by the few. Beauty must be free, bclunging individually to you and me, as far as we are capable of grasping it. Beauty is all around us, waiting to be discovered, and every artist interprets it on paper or canvas in his own particular way. .
It is often asked how you can tell a good painting from a bad one. Vincent Price, the actor and art collector, answered this question well when he said, "A good painting is one that pleases you." If that is true, then the next question might be, "How do you paint a good picture?" I believe that there is a parallel answer here- paint in a manner that pleases you. Forget the other fellow and how he docs it, unless you find his work particularly inspiring. Don't paint his way because of his arguments, his ambiguous explaining, and his salesmanship. The pleasure you feel in ''doing" is the very basis of any individual technique that you may develop.
It 'is to your especial advantage that you may see beauty differently from the way others see it. This difference will help you select subjects that are attuned to your tastes. It will lead you on to new and exciting fields. The source of beauty is endless, but the true capturing of it is rare; it is a constant challenge.
In our search for subjects to paint we may go beyond nature and concentrate our attention merely on beauty of form, texture, or color. There is beauty to be found in pure geometrical forms, in spacing, in creating surfaces, planes, and abstract forms. We must therefore broaden our scope, and should we choose to work in the abstract, we will still find that beauty is our ultimate goal. Rather than condemning what we cannot agree with, we should take our full measure of the freedom allowed to all creative effort; we should do things as we believe they should be done, and give others the same freedom of ex pression. All art, to be worth its salt, must be individual. It must be creative. Realism can be creative, in the selection of the subject, and in rendering that subject as it is seen and felt by you as an individual. Whether your material exists in reality or not is not significant. You may paint an impression in broad terms or you may paint with great fidelity to detail, and either way achieve a fine creative work of art. The subjcct is not the picture; it is the way in which it is rendered that makes or breaks a work of art. Abstract art and realistic art are simply two different forms of approach, and there is no one who can say that one approach is any better than the other.
Art will always have its trends, derived from those who happen to be the greatest artisans of the moment. But the pendulum of creativeness is never still, since no two people can see with the same eyes or reason with the same brain. No two brains have identical receptivity or are motivated
The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer, metropolitan museum of art, new york city. Realism can be creative, in the selection of the subjcct, and in rendering that subject
Movement, Sky and Sea by John Marin, the downtown gallery, new york city
You may paint an impression in broad terms or you may paint with great fidelity to detail, and either way achieve a fine creative work of art
Thinking Ahead by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, phillips memorial gallery, Washington, d. c.
Thinking Ahead by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, phillips memorial gallery, Washington, d. c.
and influenced by environment in exactly the same way. In fact, no two people could possibly start from scratch and paint identical pictures.
Today there seems to be a strong trend toward spontaneous, creative expression, without much regard for classical training. The creative urge is stronger than the will to study and acquire knowledge as the masters did in the past. Therefore we see paintings by men who have little or no academic knowledge, by men who are endeavoring to paint what they feel rather than what they see. We cannot deny them their right to express themselves in this manner, for it is entirely possible that a thing of beauty may be achieved by working from an emotional standpoint. In fact, the lack of one element may be more than compensated for by another, for, as everyone knows, there are many academic and expertly painted pictures that express so little emotion that they fail altogether as creative works of art. They can be trite and stiff and lacking altogether in both spirit and originality.
It is true, however, that the abstractionist with out a classical training works against greater odds than the experienced realist docs. He is like a man building a house without any knowledge of the carpenter's trade. All knowledge must come by way of experiment and innate craftsmanship, and he faces the extra hazard of being completely misunderstood. His creativeness must overshadow his technical faults, and lack of technical knowledge is extremely difficult to conceal for long.
So far as I know, there is no basic training by which a painter can learn to be an abstractionist —110 fundamentals of drawing, values, color, or the rendering of form. I suggest that a young artist wishing to paint abstractions should be as well grounded in the fundamentals of technique as an objective painter must be. This has been true in the case of Picasso and many other modern artists. The student may then turn to the abstract if he chooses, with some hope of capturing the unity and organization, and finally the beauty, that should be a part of any true work of art.
it is hardly possible—or wise—for an artist to decide at the outset of his career which type of painting he wants to do. The decision should be made later on when he is qualilicd by knowledge and training to go either way he chooses. One style is usually the outcome or, one might say, the rclincment of another as the artist gains in experience and dexterity. Therefore he should not be impatient, but let his work evolve naturally, according to his ability and tastes.
In viewing gallery exhibitions today, we must understand that many canvases are hung without the remotest expectation of ever being sold. Many are exhibited for the sole purpose of edu eating the public to new concepts in art. We cannot tell at this point how successful this program of education will be, or even whether it is justified. But if the viewer bears in mind that many such works by modern artists are more in the nature of experiments than they are representations of an ideal, his attitude toward modern art is likely to be more lenient. My own opinion is that the canvases that will stand the test of time will be only those with inherent beauty, those which stand on their own merits and can be appreciated without high-sounding literary-explanations by the avant garde reviewer. Certainly people can and should be taught to accept new concepts, but in the final analysis beauty is judged by the eye and not the mind.
The soundest advice that can be given to any-young painter is first and foremost to learn his craft well, to search constantly for beauty and new ways of expressing it, and, relating effort to inner convictions, to let his individual style evolve unhampered by any preconceived notions about how he should paint or what the critics are likely to say about it.
If I have, as I hope, convinced you that beauty-still is and always will be the source of art, we can now turn our attention to the "whys" of
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