Friday, June 25, 2010

Too Good to Miss: Making Your Own Rules by Lori Woodward

Lieutenant River early June, plein air study, 6x8 in, acrylic

Today I am happy to present a re-print of a recent article that spoke to me loud and clear! Enjoy!

Making Your Own Rules

by Lori Woodward
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Lori Woodward's website:

Today's Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is also a contributing editor for American Artist's Watercolor and Workshop magazines and she writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. Find out how you can be a guest author.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to befriend artists who subscribe to one or more schools of thought, and I find it almost amusing that each school (style of teaching) thinks their curriculum produces the only "real" artists. Well, that's just crazy! Although some students thrive in the Atelier Classical Realism program, where they draw from plaster casts for 6 months before they're introduced to any life drawing or color... others thrive in a serendipitous environment where experimentation is encouraged.

My taste for learning lies somewhere in between. I would not feel good about my progress if I were in an Atelier, and yet, I like structure and planning when making my artwork. We artists don't live in a cookie-cutter world. Just like there are collectors of a variety of styles, there is a way of learning that suits our individual differences.

Instructors and artists do not need to compete for attention, and therefore, it's a waste of their time to put other systems of painting down. Classical realism is just as valid as impressionism, as is abstract. There is good and great art in every realm.

What has worked for me is the type of instructor who teaches principles while providing healthy doses of encouragement along with some needed criticism. Each of us can learn from a variety of disciplines - embracing what works for us and our ends, and ignoring what is superfluous and foreign to the direction we each are headed.

In order to get good at knowing which principles to embrace and which to ignore, one has to know where he or she is headed - what preferences are important with subject matter and style. Our worlds are so full of words and advice that it sometimes gets confusing for us to know what to hold on to and what to let go of. It's so easy to get pulled in opposing directions.

Just looking at paintings in magazines can sometimes draws me off course. I see something I admire and say to myself, "Gee... I could do that." Then I see something else and inwardly acknowledge that I am fully capable of painting that way - and just as well, mind you. Then by the end of the day, I don't know what the heck I want to paint or what direction my body of work should take.

The answer, at least for myself, begins by designing a path that gets me where I want to go - without the influence of other people's desires for how and what I should paint. After all, I am an artist, and art is an individual statement. I need to learn to hear and stay tuned to my inner voice over the crowd of advisors and powerful people. So how do I do this?

I practice learning what to dismiss, what doesn't apply, and constantly eliminate subject matter, and advice that doesn't makes sense for my particular direction. Then I also tune in and focus on what instruction and subject matter is truly helpful to my artistic cause.

It is my hope that artists everywhere will develop their unique voice - while based on academic knowledge. Yes, sometimes we do need to copy other's work, especially in the beginning - that's how we humans learn - by observation and mimicking. But there should come a time when we chart and follow our own path, break away from the fold -- taking all that we've learned with us, but telling the story in our own way. It's a long journey, but one worth taking. And don't get confused the next time an authority says, "Never use this, and never do that". You decide for yourself what's true, and then make your own rules.

PS. Today, I made a rule for myself. When traveling, always bring a portable watercolor kit.

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1 comment:

Katherine Thomas said...

This was a very timely post for me. I've been debating what to paint for an upcoming art show. I've never entered one before, but this new group that I've joined is having their annual show in September, and I thought I would try to enter something. I've been looking at artwork online to see what other artists do, instead of going with my own ideas that I've been mentally working on. Thanks for reminding me to stick with my own ideas!