- Lesson details
In this video lesson, world-renowned artist Steve Huston provides you with an introduction to the world of art, and art theory. Throughout his lecture, Steve explores art as an idea, tool, concept, and a way of life. Steve shares his perspective on topics such as finding your creative intent, understanding art as a technical craft, finding an approach that works for you, using your art to create a connection with your audience, establishing deeper meaning in your work, and obtaining originality. Steve also analyzes famous works that illustrate the concepts he covers in the lecture.
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to the world of art and art theory. Throughout his lecture, Steve explores art as an idea,
tool, concept, and a way of life. Steve shares his perspective on topics such as finding
your creative intent, understanding art is a technical craft, finding an approach that
works for you, using your art to create a connection with your audience, establishing
a deeper meaning in your work, and obtaining originality.
Steve also analyzes famous works that illustrate the concepts he covers in the lecture.
That’s why I do what I do. I spent my life with this. That’s why we love art
is the answer to this question. So let’s figure it out a little bit. Now, a little
disclaimer: All definitions to follow are completely self-serving. I make them up to
get into my art. As an artist I want to get into a certain place in my head. That’s
what this lecture is really about. So I’m looking for definitions of things that may
not hold up in a laboratory or in some kind of philosophical discussion, but they work
for me. They’re going to be a—maybe not a truth here necessarily, although I think
quite often they are, but an emotional truth. That’s what we’re after is that gut level
of understanding, that aha moment when we go, ah, that’s it. That’s what art does
for us. Let’s talk about this stuff from that point of view.
What is an artist? An artist then, with my goal in mind I’m going to define an artist
as someone who has an idea about the world. That means in art movements, say the impressionist
movement is a group of artists that have the same or similar idea about the world. For
the impressionists what it was is they were in the industrial revolution. There were certain
advances in pain technologies, specifically the tube. The created the tube. We can now
take the paint from the studio, put it into a container. We can take it out into the world
and observe the world. But more importantly, the impressionists were dealing with an industrial
world where there was a time clock, where you had to work on time. You punched in. You
punched out. I don’t know if they punched at that point, but they did something similar,
and the world was working on an artificial time frame. And so the impressionists were
looking at the world, capturing that moment in time. Monét’s famous statement is if
I spend more than 20 minutes on a painting I’m not being true to the source. Meaning
he would go outside, he would walk sometimes up to six miles to get to that place. He would
get there an hour or two ahead of time, set up, and he’d wait for that 20-minute window
where the light was just right on Ruone Cathedral or the Poplars or Haystacks, and he’d start
painting. He’d get as far as he could. He’d stop. He’d come back the next day and do
it again. John Singer Sargent, who was heavily influenced
by the impressionists, painted Lilac Lily Lily over 2 years. He had the young kids out
in this little garden with the flowers. He painted them right towards the end of summer.
He painted them just as the light glanced through the garden foliage and hit the little
girls and their Japanese lanterns would glow in just the right way. He painted that as
much as could, and then the season changed on him. The movement of the sun, the angles
of the day changed. He had to stop. He came back and did it the next year. The kids had
gotten bigger, but he had the drawing from the year before, and he finished that painting,
that masterpiece. That’s impressionists’ ideas, and we
could go through the whole history of art, every art history of movement and look at
those movements from a similar way. So the artist is someone who has an idea about the world.
That gives us this nice kind of philosophical approach to art, but also it’s a very practical
approach. This is the attitude I’m working with all of my classes, and how I do my own
work. If we can think of work as an idea then as a craftsman, not as an art philosopher,
but as a craftsman I can get control of my craft. I can figure out better why I’m not
making progress. Or I can understand better why this drawing I did is so much better than
that drawing I did. I can get better quicker. What I mean by that is artists will always
have—well from this standpoint—artists will have a way of approaching their craft
in a couple ideas. For the draftsman, for example, it would be the gesture and the structure.
Then we would spend a lot of time talking about those things. See my beginning drawing
courses, and you’ll find out all about that stuff. But let’s just hold that though for
a second. The draftsman, the drawer, looks at the world through these two ideas, I would
argue. So if I can get a sense of how my craft is working, the idea behind the craft, in
other words, the idea behind the mark, I can be clearer quicker whether I was focused on
that idea when I made that mark. Well, if the mark is supposed to be a gestural mark,
is it really doing what gesture needs it to do. If not, I can correct it. If so, I can
catalog that, bank that in my memory, in my muscle memory and do it again hopefully the
next time, and maybe even better. So art is an idea. What the artist really
is doing then is asking a couple of questions in the broad picture.
What do I see? When you begin your career as an artist you are really asking that question: What do I see
out there when the model is on the stand? When the still life is on the table? When
I’m looking at that landscape in the distance, what am I really seeing? What colors do I
see? What values do I see? What shapes do I see? We call those the visual components
in art. Is it a certain shape? Is it round or square? Is it simple or complex? Is it
light or dark? Big or small? Many or few? Warm or cool in color? Thick or thin in paint?
You can see there are a million catalogued choices there as we parse out what we see,
and the more control we have over this question of what I see the more likely I’ll be successful
when I put my mark down. I see a simple cone with the end cut off. Maybe that’s my idea
about the forearm. It gives me a way to get control of that in a structural way. What
do I see? So when I ask and answer that question as an artist, I’m dealing with the craft.
I’m speaking to the craftsmanship that I’m trying to develop. That’s the craftsman’s question.
The second question the artist would ask then is what do I want to say about it?
What do I want to say about it?
I see these beautiful warm colors out in the landscape. What do I want to say about it?
Do I want to say that life is this warm, fuzzy thing that wraps you up in its beauty? Do I want to say that life is a challenge?
This is the philosophical side of art. If this is the craftsmanship, the practical side;
I see this and I can do this about it. This is the philosophical, the romantic, the emotional
side. This is really what gets you here in the art. Science works here. Art tends to
work here. What do I want to say about it? That’s the artist with the Big A. Those are
the great masterpieces. The great masters had something very important, very powerful
to say about the world. It may or may not have been something that you could explain
with words. I may not be a literary truth, but it will be an emotional truth. Van Gogh
probably couldn’t explain to us what his paintings really mean, but boy, we feel it
on some level. The Starry, Starry, night. We feel his turmoil thrown out in those crazy
brush strokes all over the canvas. What do I see? What do I want to say about it?
So we really have kind of this two-step method in art. There are two phases into our career,
really. We’re going to spend a number of days—well, we wish it were days—a number
of years developing our craft. That’s the first half of our career. Then the 2nd half
of our career is now that I’ve got the control, now that I know the grammar of my art form,
what do I want to say? A write can spend a lot of time learning punctuation and all that
kind of stuff, syntax. Then he or she is going to want to have something to talk about.
So the next phase then is we’ll spend a number of days—we wish, probably years—figuring
out what we want to say about it. Of course, we don’t have to stop and start. We don’t
have to spend 15 years here, take a breath, and then spend the next 15 years here.
They can be working together. So when you look at your own favorite artists,
your list of favorites, my masters, my teachers, people I look to when I wish to be an artist.
When I love looking at art, who do I go to? Do I go to Rembrandt? Do I go to Picasso?
Do I go to Jackson Pollack? Do I go to Pontormo? Look at those favorite artists and start to
think about what you like about them. I love the color of Whistler’s nocturnes. I love
the paint quality of Rembrandt’s later portraits. I love the quirkiness of Modigliani’s figures
that are kind of a little curved line characters. What is we like about it? So we have that
two-step system. In fact, two is a very important number, I think, in art. Art works off a binary
system, a two-step system. Let’s go back to the draftsman or draughtsman.
That’s a more impressive term, draughtsman. The draughtsman, I said, works out a two-step
system to do his or her craft, to make his or her marks. He or she looks at the gesture.
Just a quick tutorial. I’m going to define the gesture as a long axis curve to give that
watery fluid design of life. That’s why we oftentimes get drawings that look kind
of Frankenstein stiff. We don’t have that long fluid quality that we need to them.
So life is a fluid design. It’s mainly water. This is 67% water depending on how many glasses
of water I have during the day. So it has a watery design. The contour does, the fundamental
movement of it does. Think of the curved spine, for example. We have the gesture. The gesture
is the relationship between all the parts. The structure is the parts themselves.
In figure drawing we’re going to define the parts as the jointed pieces. The forearm works
from the elbow to the wrist. That’s the forearm part. Then we have an upper arm part.
Then we have a rib cage part, all the way through the body. The parts and the connection
or relationship between the parts, those are the two great problems for a draftsman.
We could say, well, instead of drawing that difficult forearm. I’m going to draw that conical
shape or that tapering tube shape. Instead of drawing that anatomically intimidating
idea of a thenar eminence, I’m going to draw an egg, something simple, something to
get control of it. I’m going to go through all the complex of pieces and replace it with
a simple architectural idea. That’s one way to draw. That’s my way to draw. It gives
me control. If I’m a scientist I’m going to look at
that tree. I’m going to study that trunk. I’m going to study the roots. I’m going
to study the branches and the leaves and the fruit, and by looking at each part I can start
to get an understanding of the part, but the part is only part of the story. The gesture
says that to really get a good drawing I can’t just draw this well and this well. I have
to relate them together well. The scientist knows that if I just study the trunk and forget
about the roots and the limbs I’m not going to get the whole picture or even a clear,
good part of the picture. It’s really the relationship between roots and trunk and limbs
and the rest that makes the tree the tree. They are all in this synergy working together
in this ecosystem. In fact, it’s not just the roots. It’s the roots in the soil and
the amount of the waterfall and the forest and the animals and the bugs and the life
around it. The scientist understands that to understand each part well we have to understand
the ecosystem that art is a part of. In draftsmanship, that is called the gesture. So we could have
a gesture to the arm and the gesture or gestures through the whole body, or gesture or gestures
in the composition of the 64 figures we put in our monumental painting. There would be
a gesture or series of gestures between all those figures, an ecosystem that grows ever
larger and takes the smallest thing and the biggest things and shows us how they fit together.
That comes pretty quick. In fact, if you’re six years old with just a little bit of practice,
a few days, a few weeks, a semester, a year, at some point you’re going to get very,
very good at drawing that egg, that tube, that box, whatever the simple shape you want
to conceive of something. The wedge of the nose, the ball and socket of the eye, that
kind of stuff comes rather quickly. But, getting all those little pieces to fit together into
an arm in a figure that stands and has weight has likeness, has personality, has a Chiaroscuro,
a light and dark volume, and illusion of form, the depth of perspective, all that kind of
stuff. That is tremendously hard. So between the two ideas in drawing, the gesture and
the structure, the structure is the easiest part. The gesture is the difficult part. Unfortunately
for us, the gesture is the most important part. That’s a drag. We’ve got a lot of
work to do. The thing that we most need is the most fugitives, the most, the hardest
thing to talk about in art is the gesture, the hardest thing to get control of is juggling
as many possible eggs and keeping them in the air all at once. That is difficult and
it takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice. That’s where we can spend several years
trying to master that. Then several more years refining that, and then several more years
doing it in our personal way, having our own personal vision.
That’s the interesting thing about drawing. Drawing as an artistic idea is really two
ideas. Well, let’s not—maybe you don’t want to be a draughtsman. Maybe you want to
be a painter. A painter has to deal with the colors.
It’s blue. It’s red—it’s whatever rainbow color—and the color harmonies. I don’t have much trouble putting a
blue into my painting. In fact, I can go to the art store and buy 46 blues or whatever they have
out there, probably way more than that if you go from company to company to company.
There’s a lot of blues. I can buy any blue I want right out of the tube and squeeze it
on to the palette and smear it on to the canvas and call it good. That’s not a problem at
all. In fact, I can get any blue I want and any orange I want, put them on the canvas.
Not a problem at all. The problem in painting, then, is not getting the parts. In drawing
it was structure. The parts in painting are the colors. We can get the colors, no problem.
But getting just the right blue in relationship to just the right orange, getting the relationship
between those colors, that’s where those years of practice, those many classes come
in, that repetition of doing it over and over and over. Losing a lot of canvases to tough
choices, to difficult problems. The color harmony is defined very simply as how the
color, what the colors have in common. I’m going to define—I also use self-serving
definitions. My self-serving definition for color harmony is just what do these two or
62 colors have in common? If they have a lot of common they’ll be in harmonious. If they
have too much in common it’ll get muddy. If they don’t have enough in common it’ll
get garish. We’re looking for that balancing act, just the right commonality so they keep
their own character, but also they get along with the other colors. They feel harmonious.
The difficulty in painting, then, is getting the colors to relate well. The difficulty
in drawing is getting the parts, the architectural pieces, the anatomical structures to relate
well. We can call it gesture in drawing. We can call it harmony in painting. Isn’t that
interesting that drawing and painting have the same binary substructure. They’re built
on that same issue of the parts in relationship to the whole.
Well, that got me thinking. Let’s look at writing. As a writer I have to come up with
a character. In fact, if it’s an interesting story at all there are probably going to be
several characters. Those characters—you’re probably ahead of me now—are the parts that
build my story. Well, I have to get those characters to work in a plot...
...the storyline, let’s say. It’s not hard coming up with characters.
There’s a guy, he’s a drunk and he gets abusive.
There’s another guy who no matter what happens to her or him they always have a smile on
their face. We can come up with characters all day long that are simple, complex, good,
bad. He wants to destroy the world. He wants to save the world. Coming up with characters
is not hard, but making it a story, the story is getting those characters to relate together,
to interact together in a storyline. The character in relationship to that character arc, how
he or she changes over the story. How other characters and situations act on that character
to force that change. That’s the drama. That’s a storyline. So in writing we have
that same binary system. We have the individual pieces, the characters even, even the setting.
You could add to your definition of those pieces and then how they work together, how
they relate together. How they interact and affect each other. That’s the character
arc. That’s the storyline. That is our story. Writing is about the relationship between
and literally relationship between the characters in a love story or whatever.
Writing works the same. Now you can see where I’m going. Sculpture,
same thing. We’ve got the parts, the three-dimensional parts, how they relate together. I can do
a beautiful breast for that woman, but if it doesn’t fit just right in relationship
to the rib cage I sculpted—not the right size, not the right position, not the right
active or passive quality to it—it fails. In dance, steps. I can get into ballet steps.
I’m in first position here. Take my word for it. My little girls do that.
I think that's fifth position. I just achieved two positions in ballet. I’m a lousy ballet dancer, though,
because I can’t move beautifully, successfully, correctly from one position to the next. How
do I get from this to this position? That’s what makes the dance.
What about music? I can hit every note on the piano. Good for me. But, I’m a lousy
pianist because I can’t get that note or chord to relate correctly in harmony in the
melody to the next note or cords. Every single art form is working on that same binary system
of the parts to the whole, the piece to the whole, the one to the many. In fact, what
are we doing right now. There’s one teacher trying to relate to many, many students. I’m
relating to you on your computer, but I’m doing it to many others at the same or different
times. There’s a relationship of community. What we find in art is true in life. We just
found it was true earlier in science, didn’t we? The scientist looks not just at the part.
They look at the ecosystem. As science gets more and more sophisticated they’ve started
to take on that more holistic approach to things, in medicine, in quantum mechanics,
in nuclear physics, in everything. They’re seeing how the individual elements relate
to that whole system. And so why do our systems of thought, why do these symptoms work on
this binary system? Because that’s our experience of life. It’s the father to the son, the
Republican to the Democrat. The American to the European. It’s the teacher to the student.
The child to the parents. The parishioner to his or her church or synagogue.
Our experience of life is always our separateness. The me that is really me has a much better tan, has
a much fuller head of hair, never makes mistakes, is much funnier. What I am inside, what I
believe about myself, the best of me is locked inside this shell that doesn’t totally represent
me. Sometimes it starts to break down. Sometimes it does things I wish it wouldn’t like trip
over a sidewalk or say a dumb thing. I’m better than inside. I believe that. Somewhere
in me is the real me. I’m locked away from the world. In fact, how we survive in the
world—on one level anyway—it’s called touchsight. Touchsight is a psychological
term. We spend our whole early childhood and then the rest of our life learning how far
away things are from us. That’s when the little baby is in the crib and you put a mobile
over her head. She learns that she is separate from the world. She can’t quite touch the
world. She starts to learn that distance. With a little toddler we have to help them
down the stairs so they don’t fall down the stairs. They have to learn how far down
the next step is. When we’re driving on the freeway we have to know how far away that
mack truck is. That’s how we survive is knowing how separate we are from the rest
of the world. We spend most of our practical life reinforcing the disconnect. We were born,
and right before we were born we were connected perfectly to our source. Then all of a sudden
we come out into the world and we start crying because we’re broken away. We’re disconnected
from that. We spend the rest of our rational lives learning how to keep back from the other.
Don’t go into that neighborhood. Don’t talk to those guys. They have the wrong idea.
Don’t drive too close to that mack truck. You’ll get blasted by it. There’s a lot
of truth to that, isn't there? We’ve got to know how far that step is if we’re going
to go down the stairs and get to the next place in our life. We have to walk through
that forest with whatever dangers and unseen things are waiting for us to get to our place
in life. And so our life is spent worrying about and
reinforcing the disconnection. What art really wants to do and what religion really wants
to do, and what philosophy wants to do—I would argue—is to find that reconnect.
See how things come back together. Look at what we’re going as artists. Art as an idea is
kind of a glib statement. It’s almost a meaningless word because it can be so many
things. But what we’re trying to do is put a mark on a page that is meaningful, that
responds to what we see or what we imagine even. We could replace imagine here.
Then we can start talking about, well, I really want it to be beautiful. I’m an aesthetic
creature. I want my marks to be beautiful on the page. I want to show beauty, or I want
to show disharmony. I want to show that life is a fight, a battle. That’s some of my
work. But what we’re really doing here is a bit thing, aren’t we? It’s a big thin.
What we’re doing is we’re trying to respond to a need. The bakery responds to a need by
making bagels because want and need those to fill themselves up to make it through the
day. Art responds to a need too. Science gives us a washing machines, cars,
airplanes, fax machines, computers. I mean we couldn’t do this five or ten years ago,
certainly not ten years ago. The technology is changing all the time. Science does these
amazing things. Science makes our world better, but science does not give our world meaning.
If I’m the caveman 40,000 years ago. I’m going to be born, disconnect. I’m going
to be completely dependent on my parents and tribe. I’m going to then start to learn
to be independent. The little toddler starts to run away from the parents because he or
she learns how to get up, be mobile, and starts to move through life. They run away and they
won’t come back when they’re called. As parents we’ve all had that situation in
a supermarket. Then they learn to be truly independent. They break away from their family
when they grow up. They usually build a new family. They bond to a wife or a husband.
They then try to achieve or try to conquer a little piece of the world. I’m going to
be the best artist I can be. I’m going to be the best engineer I can be. I’m going
to go out and make a lot of money. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. We achieve.
We try and overcome. Then we have to get to the point in life, if we ever do—I’m not
sure we ever do—where we have to realize life is going to get along just fine when
we’re gone. Life will continue. A few people will shed a tear maybe, but life is going
to move on without us just fine. We go through all those stages as a caveman and in a thousand
years if we’re spacemen we’ll go through those same stages.
What we want to know is how we fit, how we as separate pieces, separate parts, a thumbnail
in the world, fits into the world. How do we connect back to that on some level? That’s
what art and religion try to do for us. Meister Eckhart said there was “the truth, whatever that is."
There is our understanding of the truth, and then there is us talking about the truth.
Look how far away we are from that truth now.
but we can feel through it. When art works very, very well we get a connection. It’s
called an epiphany sometimes. We get that epiphany. James Joyce called it an epiphany.
The epiphany is when you go, “ahh.” And for a minute, for a moment, for a second,
for some short time usually we feel connected again. We break through the veil. That’s
a metaphor in writing philosophy for that. There’s a truth over there. There’s a
veil that hides us from it. We’re out here, that metaphysical, that unseen world, the
emotional truth, whatever it is. God or whatever you want to put over there is over here somewhere.
For a moment we break through that. James Joyce again, he said there is proper art and
improper art. The improper art tries to talk you into something. If you buy this car you’ll
get the girl or the guy of your dreams. Drink this beer you’ll be cool and everybody will
like you at parties. They try to talk you into something. “That’s improper art,” James Joyce said.
Proper art is when you’re not moved to do something.
You’re unmoved. You’re the axis mundi. You’re the center of the world
for a second, and the world comes to you. You’re the eye of the storm, but the storm
has quieted down. You don’t fear it. You connect to it. You go, aha, I got it for a second.
Not here, but here. The reason that it is this way is this is me grasping at smoke.
You know, I think of us as rats in a maze on one level. We’re more than that, I hope,
and I think art proves that. If we think of a rat in a maze, the rat is running around.
They never know what’s coming next. Oftentimes they forget what came before or how they got
there, and they don’t really understand what’s going on. Sometimes there’s cheese
over here. Sometimes there’s a trap over here. They don’t get it. The only person
who really understands the maze is the observer who is outside looking in. To really understand
a situation you need perspective on that situation. We are in life, we’re contending with life.
We’re oftentimes disconnected from life or butting up, connected to life in a way
that we wish we weren’t. In the heat of the battle, in the emotion and business of
living, we don’t get good perspective oftentimes. We don’t see our faults or our bad choices.
Sometimes we don’t see the beauty that’s right before us. Take a second and look at
that sunset. We’re in the maze. What we need is someone or something to give us a
little bit of perspective, to give us the meaning of it.
Now, this is a big world, and whatever that truth or those truths are, they’re big ideas
and they’re more than we can handle generally with one painting or one philosophical treatise
or one sermon. There’s a lot of truth to go around and a lot of ways to see it.
So probably what we’re going to do is we’re going to get a truth. The fact is sometimes
life is a battle. In fact, sometimes life is a happy ending like a beautiful sunset.
So there’s a truth. So as the artist what we depend on is the fact that we’re not
so different than everybody else. The artist says that I come from the same biological
sources. I’m made of the same star stuff, Big Bang stuff that they were. I come from
the same religious source, whatever my religious thinkings would tell me. But I’m really
very much the same as everybody else. Our differences are small then. If I think the
painting, those color choices are beautiful in relationship and that they are harmonious,
probably a lot of you will too. Maybe not the whole world—in fact, I can guarantee you not the
whole world but a nitch market, a little bit. A few people will buy it.
So the artist depends on the fact that he or she is not so different from the next person,
from the others out there. There is some kind of connect anesthetically. These colors are
beautiful, whatever. We also depend on the fact that we are unique. There will never
be another me. There will never be another you, for all sorts of reasons. Time in history,
location, economics, biology. For all these reasons, accidental events that go through
your life, your life experience. All those things make you you, and you are completely
unique, which means that you have a completely unique or maybe slightly unique view of the
world. So the artist depends on the fact that I am not so different from you. If I feel
this is valid work I can trust there will be some other people out there who connect
to that same feeling. But I’m also dependent on the fact that I’m unique enough that
I have something new to say. What I have to say is valid and might be a teaching opportunity.
I might be able to show you what life means at least for a moment. At least for a day,
for an hour, every once in a while when you glance at that painting.
So we’re working again on that kind of same binary system. In writing they called it—in
fact, there’s a famous book, “The Razor’s Edge.” A tightrope, walking on knives in
certain religious systems. What they’re saying is your life is a balancing act. If
I go one way I fall off and lose myself, and if I go the other way I fall off and lose
myself. For example, if I make the blue and the orange too different their individuality
is so different they won’t get along, and my painting will fall apart because the colors
will be garish. If I make that blue and orange too much the same then they’ll get muddy.
They’ll lose their own personality, their own character. They’ll be submerged into
the other and their individual beauty will be lost, and it will be a muddy, boring painting.
Same thing is true in my life. If I try to be too much of me and just say I want that,
I want all that food, I want all that money, I want to talk all the time. Well, that’s
a bad example because I’m talking all the time. I’m not going to get along with the
other people. They’re going to say it’s not worth being around that guy. He’s a
bum. So if I’m too much of myself I lose myself in a way. Life doesn’t open up for
me. Life doesn’t accept me. My community or communities will push me away. I’ll be
exiled from life. I fall off this way. If I give you too much. Oh sure, I’ll just
give you one more lecture, no problem. I don’t need to eat. I don’t need to rest. I don’t
need to do my own art. Or I’ll give my family member total control over me, or my religious
group or political group, whatever it is. I’ll just say, sure, okay, no problem and
never really look at my own feelings, what I really needed. I give them so much that I lose myself.
I fall off this way. The healthy relationship is when you are enough
of yourself that you get what you need from your community, but you’re enough of an
individual and a team player that you can give back. You’re a valuable member. You
fit into that business team or religious community or gallery of artists. You’re a valuable
member because fit in. You’re in the same realist style as the other gallery painters
say. You have your own unique voice. That is a difficult balancing act to find in life,
and it’s a difficult one in art, but that’s what we’re after. We’re after those truths.
If I can show you my uniqueness, and yet the thing that means something to me I know because
of our commonality will mean something to you.
So really, then, what art is is a metaphor for life. We’re going to spend a lot of
the time in these classes at New Masters working on our craft. We’ll talk about this artist
philosophy, the Big A in art a lot, but most of our time will be sent on how to get a gradation,
how to get good line quality, how to create great color harmony, how to make the paint
feel fresh. How to make a sketch feel like it’s a finished idea even though it’s
loose and unfinished. All those craftsmanship aesthetic ideas, we’re going to work with
those. This is going to end up being a language. I don’t know how to speak Swahili. To learn
Swahili I’m going to spend a lot of time the basic broad structures and the nuances,
the syntax and all that kind of stuff of that language so I can speak it well and so I can
communicate ideas with that language. That’s what we’re going to do with craft too. We’re
going to create great craftsmanship, and we’re going to work very hard doing it. We’re
going to watch these lectures over and over again. I’m serious about that. It’s the
repetition that will make you better. You don’t always have to be in front of your
computer watching it. You can have it in the background listening while you’re doing
the dishes, while you’re sketching in a sketchbook, while you’re struggling through
one of the ideas of color harmony have in your studio the lecture or lectures on color
harmony. Look at how I talk about color harmony and then go to Bill Perkins or Glenn Vilppu
or someone else and see how they talk about it and attack that problem from several directions.
Craft, craft, craft. We’re going to work a lot on that. Finally, the great value of
art, the reason we call certain smudged color mud on a canvas masterpieces is they’re
speaking with deep ideas, deep heartfelt ideas. They’re metaphors. The language is an excuse.
The craftsmanship, the fact that I decided to do portrait painting in oil on canvas if
I’m a powerful artist is an excuse to talk about something else deeper. In writing—going
to a different art form—they call it subtext or theme. The actors might be talking and
acting out a breakfast, a meal at the table. That’s the subject is breakfast, but the
meaning underneath is the fact that there is something wrong with their marriage. They
don’t trust each other. They’re embittered. There is some subtext and the whole movie
or story, novel, might be about how families fall apart at times. The theme might be the
dissolution of the family. So that breakfast scene in my film or my novel was a metaphor,
was an excuse to talk about something deeper. That’s art with a Big A. When we’re really
talking about it’s okay, life really is beautiful, and if you’ll just shut up for
a second and look or listen you can feel that it is all going to be okay. Maybe that’s
our message. Or maybe our message changes from time to time.
One of the things I want you to do is go look at your favorite artist and not just the painters
and the draftsman. The dancers, the musicians, the novelists, the filmmakers. Look at all
the art forms. The Rodin's sculpture. Try and see what they were really talking about. For
example, Rembrandt painted homely people. Now, why would he do that? He’s one of the
greatest draftsman in history. Why didn’t he didn’t paint magnificent figures like
the Greek and Romans did, these idealized figures, these canons of beauty, the Aphrodite,
the Venus de Milo, that kind of stuff. Why didn’t he do that? Because his idea, his
painting, the thing about Rembrandt wasn’t the good looking guys and gals he painted.
He didn’t do that. The beautiful, glorious thing about Rembrandt was light. This fantastic
light. The beauty was not his pockmarked face, this chubby, pockmarked face in his self-portrait.
It was that glorious light from off camera coming down and lighting or enlightening the
flesh. The flesh was corrupt in his religious concept, and the only saving grace we had
was in the afterlife. It was not the physical but the metaphysical, above the physical.
So that light was a religious statement. So we love Rembrandt because of that glorious
light on those inglorious objects. You know he painted a side of beef hanging from the
hooks. Not a very inspiring or even very interesting object you would think, but that was an excuse.
The portraits were an excuse to talk about something deeper.
Art digs deep and a lot of the important things about art are under the surface. They’re
deep down at the bottom of the ocean. All we see is the little Flotsam and Jetsum on
the surface. The real stuff is underneath. We’ll find that in our craftsmanship issues
when we deal with the ideas of craft. As we said, there is gesture and there is structure.
The structure is on the surface. It’s pretty easy to see that as a ball. That’s just
a simplification of the character of the shape we see. We look up in the clouds and we see
butterflies and dragons up there because those shapes are suggestive. That’s easy to see
and not that difficult to do. To get really beautiful blending gradations, perfect surface,
lovely paint quality, of course there is a tremendous amount of work going into the absolute
mastery of those crafts. By getting into the craft where you can put down a few trees and
rocks in a landscape, you can put down a simple figure sitting at a table or a nude on the
stand. Getting those basic ideas. It’s not that hard to get the beginnings of those and
feel proud of your accomplishments in those and see progress. But the gesture, that’s
deep under the surface. That’s hard to find. So each of the art forms, finding how the
things actually connect, the hidden secret connection between the truth and our understanding
of the truth, that’s the gap that takes a tremendous amount of time to find. So the
relationship, the gesture in drawing is the tough stuff.
Anyway, that’s what we’re up against in becoming artists. That’s what we’re hoping
to have. Your aspirations can be whatever you want them to be. You can be just enjoying
putting down a couple colors that feel beautiful together, laying together a couple of shapes
that feel beautiful. On any level you can enjoy art and you can create competent, good
art. You don’t have to be the deep philosopher of art that I’m suggesting here. If you
do something that gave you enjoyment that you love, other people are going to love it
too. Not everybody, but it’s a big world. If you just get a few people, a few people
might be 12 million people, for all you know. But do the art because you love it. Work on
the craft because you love it. A lot of this will take care of itself. You’ll find yourself
gravitating towards landscapes that are peaceful, that have a lot of horizontal movement to
them because that feels peaceful. Not a lot of zigzagging trees or jagged mountain cliffs
or anything like that. You’ll just be attracted to that. You’ll love still lives because
they are very simple shapes and they never go beyond a simple shape. They’re pleasant
there and it’s easier to work with. I can get further in my craftsmanship of color harmony
if I don’t have to worry quite so much about the drawing problems. I am much more a colorist
than a draftsman. So whatever you love to do, don’t let anyone talk you out of that.
You can find a path through this great history deep, powerful, medium called art and contribute
to it. Be a contributor. You may never hang it on a gallery wall. It might be your visual
journal. Your deepest emotions, deepest hopes and feels and dreams. It might be your art
therapy to work through a difficult chapter in your life. Art is there for you on whatever
level you want it to be. If you decided to put it out in the world, bless you; you’re
doing a service, I think. This world could use some powerful and beautiful art to help
people through their days. You do it for your reasons, then doing the art then will tell
or lead you where you need to go. Eventually putting it into a show, eventually making
a career out of it, becoming a teacher to show other people how to be artists, or just
doing it because it feels good and you go, “ahhh” after you’ve done a fine piece
of work, or you go, “Ugh” when you haven’t done it.
Now for me, and probably for you if you’re using this website, it’s an aesthetic idea.
Beauty is crammed in there somewhere. It can be anything. What art is really trying to
do is talk about how the part relates to the whole.
That’s what we just went through in various details.
Part in the whole. And as I said, all the art forms do that. Gesture,
structure, color, color/harmony, character to the plotline/storyline. They all do that
because that’s our experience of life. And so art and science works on that system of
trying to see how these separate things work into the greater system because it’s practical
and useful. If we can figure out how physics works on earth we can send men to the moon.
So there are those kinds of things, practicality. But also in terms of that emotional truth.
We are individual souls in a greater world, and we’re trying to find our way through
that world. And so with that in mind, I’ve got a confession for you.
I believe in fairies. I also believe in the Big Bang. Now, you may not believe
in fairies, and you may not to believe in the Big Bang, but I challenge you to prove it.
Can you prove I’m wrong? That there are no fairies? Interesting thing about science,
science could only prove the negative. If that scientific idea doesn’t work at some
point we’ll figure it out. For a long time, we thought Newton’s theory of thermodynamics
was absolutely right. The universe was a clock just moving through, and everything worked
off that clock. Einstein found that wasn’t quite true. Now quantum mechanics finds that
Einstein is not quite true. Once we get more information we can say that wasn’t true.
We can disprove the negative. I can never disprove a conspiracy theory. At some point
we might stumble on the fact that it is not true. In science they say it’s a theorem.
They don’t say it’s the truth because they know in 10 years, in 100 years, in may
well be disproved. It will be completely overturned or it will be slightly altered. I can say
Tinkerbell killed John F. Kennedy. She’s the one who did it. You’ll never be able
to disprove that. Probably. So the truth is a funny thing. There is, as I said before,
really two truths. There is an idea in philosophy called the First Cause.
When we argue, when we try and get at that intellectual truth. We always
fail on some level because of the First Cause. Well, if there was a Big Bang, what came before?
Well, we have physics and all the laws of physics after the Big Bang. Something else
was going on before. So we think it was probably an infinite number of Big Bangs. We only have
time now. Before the Big Bang there was no such thing as time so there was no such thing
as before. The Big Bang happened and now we have dialogue. But that doesn’t quite work,
does it? Or, there is a God. Well, if there is a God, who made God? You know, you can’t
think through those problems. The First Cause always puts us at the disadvantage. If we
keep arguing back we’re going to come to a point where the arguer cannot prove his
or her point, and then it falls apart. In modern times we call that deconstructionism.
We say, well, I’m just going to keep parsing out those terms. I can argue the terms, and
you can never quite prove your point, because I’ll say the mean of “Is” is different
than what you think it is. And I can bog you down in these arguments, and I can break things
down. Deconstructionism is the idea that there is no truth at all. There is no truth.
We can parse things out and it’s just situational. We can say this for this moment maybe, but we
can’t say it absolutely. So the problem that we have in the rational
world that we live in and the scientific. We’re in the Age of Reason. The Age of Reason...
...and yet we all know that at times we’re not very reasonable creatures. This only gets us so far.
It gets us to the moon. It gets us dishwashers. It gets us the internet.
It gets us this wonderful technology that we’re sharing now. It gets us very far but it doesn’t get us everywhere.
We’re limited. The Age of Reason gives us trouble. The Age of Reason was convinced (Voltaire
and on kind of times, the time of America’s founding), around that time.
A lot of people thought eventually we wouldn’t need the idea of God, that reason would take care of everything.
All the philosophers popped out of the woodwork and talked away. Nietzsche's said, “God
is dead,” in fact. And I’m not arguing any religious case here, but the fact is God
has never been more alive. Most of the planet believes in some God. There are different
Gods or different ideas of what the God would be, or there are many Gods. But there is a
lot going on there. My point here is what’s going on up here has to keep going. Science
is fantastic. It does wonders. It saves lives. It extends lives. It feeds people. It does
all sorts of things, and it does some bad things too. Science is here to stay. The Age
of Reason is here to stay. But at the same time that we’re dealing with these truths
or these theorems, we still need this truth. The fact is, you know to be honest I’m not
sure I believe in fairies, but I know we need magic. We are built to need magic.
One of the wonderful things science does is brain research. And we are, as one writer put it,
one brain researcher put it, we are wired for God, meaning we’re wired for metaphors.
When you look up at the clouds you see dragons and butterflies. When you walk through the
woods and hear the creaking sounds you hear voices. And our mind is wired for metaphor.
One philosopher made the point that if there were a God our brains would have to work this
way. Because that unseen mover or movers would need our mind to work on this metaphorical
level, on this level of connectivity, really, of putting things together that shouldn’t
go together. So what we are wired for then, as I put in
some of my other classes, we’re wired to fill the gaps. We will have this incredible
need and urge to fill the gap. It’s because God put it into us—I don’t know if that’s
true. Or if that’s because that’s what allows us to be the most creative biological
creatures. If we can solve creative problems we can survive longer than Neanderthal. Maybe
that’s true, I don’t know. But what I do know and what brain research tells us is
we are wired to fill in the gaps. What that means is if I do this...
...what shape have I drawn there?
I hear triangle. Everybody says I drew a triangle? Did I really draw a triangle?
I actually didn’t. I drew three dots. Who drew the triangle?
You drew the triangle, didn’t you?
You did most of the work. So as a craftsman, as an artist craftsman, I know that if I do
a real good job of rendering the lights and put in just a simple value or series of values
or series of marks in the shadows, since I did such a good job on the lights you’ll
believe that I know what I’m talking about, what I’m doing, and you’ll do the shadows
for me. You’ll fill it in. Or I’ll say, oh, look at that letter. You’ll say, oh,
it must be this one, and you’ll pick that one. I don’t have to touch it. I just have
to point at it. Or I’ll say what time on the clock is it. The finger doesn’t touch.
I’ll just do that. I’m pointing at a scary spider on the ceiling. You’ll follow the
track of my finger and you’ll find what, you’ll fill that gap. You’ll find what
needs to, what you think the connection is supposed to be. So we are wired to fill gaps.
It's how we survive. It’s how we’re creative. In fact, there are three ways to be creative.
Creativity comes in three flavors. There is being wholly original.
I am going to make a Jello skyscraper. I’m going to make a 68-story tall skyscraper. I don’t know why
I’m going to do that, but I’m going to do that. Nobody’s ever done that before.
That’s why I’m going to do it. It’s wholly original. It’s not that hard to be
original is it? Probably nobody has ever done a 68-story skyscraper out of Jello because
it’s a really dumb idea. Most of the time when you’re an artist and trying to be original
or any type of thinker trying to come up with a new invented product or whatever, usually
when you’re being original 98.62% of the time it’s poo-poo, caca. It’s a dumb idea.
Most art, let’s just stick with art. Most art that’s wholly original you just kind
of roll your eyes. You go why would they do that? But every once in a while, there’s
something that comes out of that that’s amazing, world-changing. So let’s not look
at art for a second; let’s look at business models. Entrepreneurs oftentimes will do this
kind of thing. They’ll come up with something brand-new. Let’s see, Arthur C. Clark, who
is science fiction writer. We’ll talk about that, I guess. We won’t talk about entrepreneurs.
He came up with the idea in the novel of a liquid—I think it was mercury—a liquid
mirror basically for outerspace. They now use that wholly original idea, and we now
have the technology to do something like that. It creates a perfect reflective surface.
So sometimes you come up with something brand-new. Velcro, pizzas, whatever it is. You go that’s
a great idea, and it can change the world, can it? That’s one way to be creative.
Another way to be creative is to keep the craft alive.
Keep doing or learn how to do incredibly photo-realistic
oil painting or a classical figure drawing. Much of this website, much of the courses, most—probably
98.62% of these courses here are designed to do that. Keep the craftsmanship alive.
That’s valuable. It’s fun, it’s creative. Look how beautiful that color is. Look at
how lovely that gradation is. Look how challenging that paint quality—it’s so juicy you can
almost taste it. It looks like whipped crème or something or a confection. Craftsmanship
is fun, a fun way to spend your time. It’s rewarding. It’s valuable. It’s creative.
But most of the time--we’ll give it a little bit better success rate.
Most of the time it’s not very good. It’s not as good as the Old Masters. It’s not as powerful or it’s
repetitious. It’s good but we’ve seen that so many times before it’s kind of cliché
so we’re not as interested in it anymore as we used to be.
about the history of art. You know, as I think about it, the early Greek sculptures, the
kouros, were really kind of one-dimensional sculptures. Meaning they were stuck in niches,
in little hollows, and they were meant to be seen from only one position. They had plenty
of form. Although they weren’t hyper-realistic, they weren’t near as realistic as the classical
age of sculpture, but they were highly realistic for the time. There was volume buildout, sculpted
out. They looked great but only from this direction. And then he got thinking. He said,
“Well, the Greeks and the Romans got into the act. The Greeks started it.” They did
what Rodin called the classic curve. As soon as you put the weight on one leg as opposed
to two legs, you’ve thrown things off balance. This hip goes up. That hip goes down. This
shoulder goes up. That shoulder goes down to balance. If it starts tipping all—if
the hip falls down and the shoulder falls down you fall off-balance. To create balance
you get a curve. You get a bow basically that goes one way and then comes back the other
balance. Or it might be a complex of curves like the spine. He thought, “now that’s
more interesting from this, if we keep it in the niche, that’s more interesting because
of the dynamic.” There’s some drama. There’s things working and relaxing. Everything is
kind of stiff. Everything is kind of working here. Now it’s working and relaxing. It’s
more interesting. This hand is working. This hand is relaxing. Contrapposto. We can make
it work and relax this way. It’s twisting and turning. The nice thing about it is it
looks great. You get a stretch and a pinch from every position. Now you can take it out
of that niche and put it in the middle of the room. We can enjoy it in the round. That’s
two-dimensional. Not only can we see it from this position, how it faces, now we can see
how it twists this way and leans this way. Then he dropped his tool, his sculpting chisel.
He bent down to pick it—he went wait a second. What if I took that classic curve and did
this? He started to do it in the Sistine Chapel
drawings, and he did it in paintings. Raphael stole it from him. Then he started doing these
sculptures. The sculptors couldn’t do that before because if we do this this will break
off and fall. Notice when he had those little classic satyrs, for example, they’re always
stuck on a tree trunk here or a rock face. That gives you a nice wide base so the thing
doesn’t break off. If they have this kind of thing oftentimes a hundred years later
that’s gone, it’s broken. So the sculptor had this engineering problem. If we don’t
keep things balanced over the base here, no matter how we do it—kouros or a classic
curve—if it’s not head to toe balanced it’s not going to survive. Engineering wise
it’s going to snap off. If we have a flaw in the marble, whatever, it comes off. What
Michelangelo did is fix that problem by putting in a really wide base. He started with victory
poses. He had a guy on top of a bound captive having his knee on him and leaning over the
top like this. So now we have a wide base. This curves this way, but we have this contained
structure that gives us a good engineered stability.
That little idea, the first person who decided to move the feet apart in a sculpture or even
give them legs and feet. The early sculptures were just torsos. They were just Earth goddess
figures. Venus of Willendorf kind of stuff, where it was just the fertility goddess basically.
Then we give them feet and we separate those feet away. Then we separate the hands away.
Then we do this, and then we do that. Each one of those moves—you know, we do this
and this and this and this almost every day of our life. But a genius thought to put that
into art. That one little change. Separate the hands from the body. Shift the weight
over to one leg. Bend over and pick up your chisel. Created great originality. So the
early craftsmen were original. We craftsmen are following in their footsteps. We can add
a little bit of new medium. The impressionists got tube paint, got to take the paint outside,
got new color theory to help them, that kind of stuff.
The third, most of these are going to be repetitive or silly, you know, cliché. We’ll call
this cliché so it gets its own legitimate criticism. The third is the most effective
way. Here you get 96% junk—no, I’m kidding. I don’t know how much you get. But it’s
much more effective. This is—we’ll call it the oil and water approach. This kind of
creativity is saying, let’s see, I want to do an action-adventure movie. I think I’ll
do big game hunting. Well, shoot that’s been done so much, kind of cliché. Maybe
I’ll do alien invasion, aliens coming down to the earth to conquer the earth. Well, that’s
been done almost as much. That’s cliché. What if I put them together? What if I had
an alien come down onto the earth and not want to conquer the earth but want to big
game hunt and hunt us like we’re deer or bears? That’s the "Predator" series that was
Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80s and it was such a unique idea they remade it again, and
I think they’re planning to redo it again. There’s been six or eight movies; “Predator
Versus Alien” and all sorts of stuff. So when you can take an idea or two or more
ideas, I should say that nobody thought. They’re usually common ideas. They’ve been in the
culture a long time. I’m going to take magic, the idea that there are really wizards, that
there are magic spells you can cast. That’s been around for forever. And I’m going to
take the idea of British boarding schools. In at least Britain that’s been around for
a long time. I’m going to put them together. I’m going to have a little boy go to wizard
school. That worked out pretty well, didn’t it? That’s the "Harry Potter" series. So creativity
that’s the most fun in a way and the easiest in, the best chance for success is to take
two or more things that no one thought to put together and put them together.
I want to talk about love, but there have been a lot of poets that talk about love.
I’m going to talk about love through the metaphor of a rose. A rose by any other name.
Love is a rose. Now, that’s cliché, but the first person who thought of that put two things
together they didn’t think of before. It hadn’t been thought of before. You see that
in business all the time. That’s entrepreneurial spirit. Apple, which is one of the biggest
companies or the biggest company in the New York Stock Exchange now, I think, but it’s
way up there. Whatever, it’s a big company. It’s successful. Apple decided I’m going
to create home computers. Well, that had been done before. It fact, it had been done so
many times that the prevailing wisdom was that within five, ten years we’ll give away
the computers. Computers got cheaper and cheaper and cheaper and faster and faster and faster.
There’s a—I forget the name of the fellow. I’m spacing on it. But there’s a law,
a Murphy’s Law kind of thing. It’s a law and every two years the memory and speed of
your computer doubles. Your little smartphone, your little store-bought or sometimes giveaway
calculator has more computing power, is a better computer than the first computers that
they used to go to the moon. Those filled a room and they were not as strong as some
of your calculators, literally, let alone your smartphone. So the amount, the price
of computers, the power and speed of computers are inverse. They’re getting cheaper and
cheaper and cheaper and better and better. I wish all of life worked that way.
So Apple came along and said, well, everybody’s saying that computers are going to be giveaway,
and it’s all going to be about software, apps now we call it. So what should we do?
Should we do what everybody else is doing? No, I’m an entrepreneur. I’m going to
do things different. I’m going to try that oil and water approach. I’m going to charge
way more for my computers. Now, that sounds like a really dumb idea. But I’m going to
make them elegant, beautiful, intuitive. I’m going to make them a pleasure to be around.
So if I buy an Apple computer I’m going to pay way more than if I get a Dell or whatever,
a PC, but what I get out of that—it’s going to be more efficient because I’m better
at it quicker. It’s going to be more pleasing to work with. I’m going to make a lot of
money doing that. So, entrepreneurs do that all the time. They’ll
say, well, there are a lot of junkyards in Detroit, but in this area there is no junkyard
that caters to diesel engines. They’ll just salvage parts for diesel engines. They’ll
find a niche. Earlier in our talk we were saying how when you find the truth as an artist
in your style, it’s probably just “A” truth, which is important. It’s a little
truth. Life is a struggle or that life is beautiful or whatever it is. There’s some
little aha moment in there, some connectivity that you get. Each art movement, impressionism,
baroque, cubism, all that kind of stuff. We’re working off that. Something slightly different
and we get a little insight in the world because of that. Small truths. As an artist, as an
aesthetic entrepreneur, whether you’re going to make your money or not, you need to find
your audience. It may just be you. It might be you’re journal. But you’re going to
be working for a niche, a small area, a small audience. I’m just going to do children’s
books or horror films or whatever it is. Work for a niche audience.
shouldn’t have gone together. They shouldn’t have gone together. That, my friends, is this.
Things that should not go together but you force together like oil and water. What happens
when you put oil and water together. They swirl together. You can get a good salad dressing
if you shake it up real well. But, little bits of the oil never fit with little bits
of the water. In general they blend together into the solution. But their own individual
character still says separate. What does that sound like? That razors edge. That tightrope.
They’re walking on the Bridge of “Neuse”. The individual character keeps some of its
character. The group, the individual part fits beautifully or successfully into the
whole and makes the whole better. The oil with the water is makes the salad dressing,
let’s say. So we get that balance there. When we use this approach of talking two things
that shouldn’t necessarily go together, sometimes they shouldn’t go together because
it’s a dumb idea. You’ll say I’m going to put together—instead of making my salad
dressing out of oil and water, I’m going to do it out of oil and gasoline. You might
try that once and then you’ll probably figure out it’s not such a good idea. You’ll
still have your share of failures. But the nice thing about it is that eventually if
you keep at trying this against that, that against this, you’re going to come up with
a combination that’s rather interesting. And it’s how you live your life. I love
classical music and I love rock n’ roll, and I listen to those on the radio when I
work. I also listen to talk radio sometimes. I also listen to books on tape sometimes.
So I have a lot of things in this world I like. I had a dear friend who left us too
soon and was a fantastic artist, and he put together—Richard Bunkall is his name—he
put together New York City architecture, Moby Dick. Now what does New York City architecture
have to do with Moby Dick? Also, he liked trains. He took three things, sometimes he
used boats instead of trains. Three or four things, had nothing to do with each other,
and he put them all in the same painting. Sometimes there is a whale from Moby Dick,
or sometimes across the architectural façade that he painted—and he’d paint big. He’d
paint as big as this or bigger. He would have a fragmented quote from Moby Dick, and then
he’d have this beautiful architecture, really moody, coming into light, getting lost back
into shadows. That Rembrandt, Chiaroscuro on steroids. Ten inside the open facade it
would open with columns. You’d look through and you’d see part of the train in there
or part of the whale or part of the boat. I knew this man, my friend was dying. These
were transporting his soul to the next level for me. This was his passage out of this world
and into the next. Looking through that facade you couldn’t see where that train came from,
and you couldn’t see where it’s going, but it was there for that moment and then
it was going to move on. That for me became a metaphor for his life and tragic death.
I don’t know why he painted that. If I had asked him I doubt he would have told me. It
wouldn’t have mattered because he put together two or three things that shouldn’t go together.
He created gaps. When an artist does that they’ll have their own reasons for doing
that. But that doesn’t matter. It can be an interesting side note. You can say, oh,
that’s interesting that Michelangelo actually dropped his chisel and that’s why he created
that art form. You can get kind of art appreciation courses on it. But what we want is that gut
instinct. We don’t want to think it through finally or initially. We want to feel it here.
We go, ahh, I just love that piece. And I love it so much now I want to find out about
it. But first, it’s that love that gets us.
When we look at an artist’s work if they put together things that shouldn’t really
go together logically that creates these great gaps. It makes things vague or contradictory,
and because of the way our mind is built, it’s built for metaphor. It tries to put
them together. It tries to turn the cloud into a dragon or the thunder into an angry
God shouting down or the creaking trees into our ancestors speaking wisdom to us. It tries
to make meaning out of that. So as an artist if I put together things that shouldn’t,
that nobody else has thought to put together or maybe very few have put together then the
audience is going to see those gaps or feels those gaps, and they’ll fill them not with
what I was thinking at the time necessarily, but with what they need. So I needed a way
to get through the tragedy of my dear friend’s coming death, and those paintings helped me
do that. Maybe for him they helped him face his death. I don’t know. But having those
gaps there was very valuable for me. When I do my work, my paintings, I make very
sure I don’t give you everything. Personally, I make very sure that I put some things in
there that shouldn’t really be in there logically. I’ll put my boxers under Christian
Martyr light. I’ll put them in kind of a vague non-environment. I won’t put an audience
there. Maybe even it’s almost church-like in feel. I’ll put them—I’ll have the
working on something but you don’t know what they’re building or why they’re building
it or where they’re taking that wheelbarrow or what’s in that wheelbarrow. I try and
put things in there, or I’ll just let the, I’ll lose some of the face of the nude or
some of the hair of the nude so that you can’t quite see her completely. She blends back
into that environment. Maybe you’ll get a vague texture that might swirling atmosphere
or whatever. But I won’t give you everything. I’ll leave things out. If I leave the shadows
out you’ll put them in. If I put things together that shouldn’t go together you’ll
figure out the meaning. Not all of you. Some of you will go I don’t like boxers. I don’t
like Renaissance-inspired light. I like still lives or whatever. But for a few of you I
can depend on the fact that it struck a chord with you. It’s going to strike a chord with
some niche audience. And so you can see how big art is and how
much room there is for everybody in it. We all have gaps in our lives, and we all have
wisdom that we’ve garnered on how to get through those things. So if you go through
your life and think about your favorite artists, your favorite activities, things that really
get you in the gut, things that make you mad, things that bring you comfort and put this
to that. It doesn’t have to be all painters. It can be from novels. You know, I love the
themes and subtexts in novels and movies. I use a lot of that for this. I use the big
budget melodrama and the Baroque bigger than life figures in my work. I use comic books.
I put together comic books with Rembrant, Jack Kirby with Rembrandt so you get these
superheroes under this romantic light. So find things that are meaningful to you. Superheroes
were big because that’s—I was a little kid and I wanted to be a big man and I loved to
draw comic books. I liked those happy heroic stories, and I loved the idea of drawing.
They can draw well to my child’s eye. And even now I’m impressed with them. That’s
one of the big reasons I got into art was because of comic books. So now in some ways
I’m a comic book artist which I dreamed of being when I was 12 or whatever. We do
these things for all sorts of reasons. Oftentimes we don’t know why we’re doing them or
why we’re attracted. Take those things and just kind of lay them out before you and say
what are the things that are the most meaningful to me and how can I fit these together? Can
I make a jigsaw connection? A jigsaw puzzle connection out of these things that are from
other puzzles? What I want to do then and what I want you
to do, because there’s one of me and there are a lot of you. I want you to go out and
make magic, and it may not prove that there really are fairies in the world, but by golly
we’re going to feel, your little or big audience is going to feel the magic when it
comes from your heart. So the last thing I would leave you with is the idea of an epic.
An epic is a story where the hero not only saves him or herself, and epic is a story
where the hero saves the society, the town, the world, the universe.
So that's what we artists have a chance to be. We’re probably not going to save the world or the universe,
maybe not even the town. But we can save ourselves, and we can probably save some people that
we never even met when we put our art out in the world.
So I want you to go out and do magic and I want you to go out and create an epic career,
even if it’s just for yourself.
and see how that applies, see how the image itself can become a symbol and the craft involved
is part of the language to talk about that symbolic idea. So in our first image here
we have the Earth, little tiny earth seen from the moon. A lot of people when they saw
this thought it would be an epiphany, a moment where mankind realized we’re on this little
tiny ball together in this big massive universe; let’s get together. For a lot of people
this was image of peace and brotherhood and coming together. It hasn’t worked out quite
that way, at least for everybody. When people saw that, for a lot of people it was a revelation.
Any kind of image, it doesn’t have to be art-made. Any kind of image can end up being
a metaphor, a symbol to each us about some idea, some emotion, some hidden truth.
If we look at the next slide we see Rodin’s The Thinker. This was originally called the
poet. It was parts of the Gates of Hell commission, which was a realization of Dante’s divine
comedy. Some people even think this is a representation of Dante. It wouldn’t look like Dante, of
course. But it would be a symbolic representation of the poet Dante. He was considered the greatest
poet of all time by a lot of people. This particular poem, the divine comedy, gave Rodin
endless material to work from. He not only would get the Gates of Hell, but he took many
of the figures that we know of, The Thinkers, part of them and brought them out into their
own separate compositions. So all those figurative studies, figurative works that ended up being
in that great composition become lone compositions oftentimes of monumental size like this is.
And so The Thinker, actually the foundry workers named it The Thinker because it looked like
The Thinker from Michelangelo. That was typical of Rodin. Rodin took a lot from Michaelangelo.
He stole in a good way, but we all steal. He stole from a lot of Michelangelo’s lesser
pieces these poses. And so I always think of Rodin as Michelangelo plus Freud. Rodin
really broke us into the modern 20th century, the individual human in angst and somehow
separated from the world struggling to get back to the world, all that good gesture and
structure, part and whole, separation and connection stuff we were talking about earlier.
Rodin is a great image of that. So he spent his whole life creating these kind of tortured
poses that were Michelangelo inspired. Just fantastic stuff. Just look at what this says.
The Thinker. Now, he did not name it The Thinker. He went along that naming, but originally
he called it The Poet. He had a very different intention. It was going to be a fairly small
piece and a great big piece. It would be the biggest piece of the Gates and Hell figures,
but it was a relatively small piece. It ended up becoming very big because it got so popular,
and it was renamed. Now, when we look at this, in fact this becomes a cliché. That pose
is the thinking pose. That shows you the power of art. When you get an image that emotes
it can create some incredible effects. It can draw some incredible ideas and emotions
out of people and into the world. They may not at all be what you intended, and that
is that gap being filled, that open-endedness that we talked about that is so important.
You need to leave room in your art for your audience to get what they need out of it,
not get stuck with what you need. If you do something great in 300 years they’re not
going to remember much about you. You’ll be a little Wikipedia page, but your piece
might have changed the world or affected great things in the world. This piece is a great
example of that. This man is in deep contemplation, a heartfelt man, a bit of a tortured man,
maybe even almost ready to be defeated man. You can read all those things into that, and
none of those necessarily were what Rodin was about. We’re not sure exactly what he
thought of it. I think it’s probably best that way. He possibly was thinking of this
as the poet coming up with his next verse, or maybe more accurately allowing the graces,
his muse, to bring him the next verse. You know, the inspiration from out, that Greek
idea. So anyway, a lovely, fantastic image. You can see examples of this bronze. One of
the great advantages of Bronze is you can do casts. And so you can find this image all
over the world in sculpture gardens of high quality. You can find even little paperweights
of it to sit on your desk in the studio. This is Michaelangelo’s David. The hand
from the David probably the most famous hand in art history—well, maybe second to the
Michaelangelo’s creation scene where God is bringing his finger to bring the spark
of life to Adam’s hand in the Sistine Chapel. Anyway, pretty famous, pretty well thought
of. Now, in the story David was-we don’t know—but he was called a boy many times,
so he couldn’t have been more than 17. Back then boys became men much earlier. He might
have been 14 for all we know. This does not look like a 14 or a 17-year-old’s hand.
Look at these knuckles. When you see this kind of thrusting out of those knuckles, that’s
a very mature hand. Look at this knuckle structure here on that. Look at the veins coming out.
At 14 or even 17 usually you don’t get those working man veins. This is much more of a
hand of a stone cutter, of a marble sculptor. These are worker’s hands. These are hands
that are absolutely strong enough to swing a rock out of a sling and take down a giant.
In fact, this figure is a giant. But, for artistic intentions the story suffered for
the greater idea. Michelangelo carved this out of a stone that was considered flawed.
None of the great artists of the time—he did this one when I think he was 23, somewhere
around there, so he wasn’t much older than David doing heroic acts. He took a piece of
marble that was cast off by everybody else and created this great sculpture. He had to
work around the flaw in the marble to get this image out. Also, this was considered
a fairly minor commission, and it was going to go way up in a niche—I forget how many—three
stories up or something in the Palazzo Vecchio. It was so well thought of when it was unveiled
on the day that supposed to be the installation, the city came out and looked at this thing.
There had been a buzz about it for months because Michaelangelo was a prodigy and what
he did other artists took note, and then the word spread. So when it was unveiled it was
a revelation. People considered this not a biblical story. This was a symbol of their
city, Florence. Florence was under great duress. It was constantly being threatened. Italy
wasn’t a nation. It was a series of city-states, and none of the city states got along. Other
countries would sneak in and try and steal and take and conquer. So it was constantly
under duress. So it was a young city put upon by greater powers. The David became a symbol,
a metaphor for what the population was going through in their life at the time. It was
loved for that. It had great power for that, and because it’s a great piece of art it
then is open for interpretation. Each new audience, each new person, each new community
can come to this piece when they want to and draw their own meaning from it. You’ll see
that always in great art. It’s open-ended enough and it’s vague enough and sometimes
contradictory enough. A working man’s hands a young boy’s body, for example. A giant
figure who is bigger in the marble creation than the giant that he slew in the biblical
story ever was. So these kind of contradictions create drama, and they create juice for us
to draw from. There are gaps. There are misunderstanding, contradictions, intellectual flaws that evoke
emotion and thereby potential meaning when they work. So great, great stuff. Great, great
artists are always creating things that open up to their audience rather than close them
off. It’s not dictatorial. It’s an open-handed offering. Take this image and do with it what
you will. That’s what the great art does. So if we
listen to or watch a Shakespearean play, an Othello, or a Hamlet, it means something very
different to us than it did to the audience at the Globe Theatre. But we get something
just as rich or richer from it now as they got then because we have our own needs, and
it fulfills them at times or it inspires other art that will fulfill us. If we can’t get
in to Shakespearean language then some great filmmaker, some great novelist, some great
playwright will learn the great lessons from Shakespeare and then give us that lesson in
a different way. We just have this. For example, coming down
here is the hand. Now, when we think of our two drawing ideas, for example, we have gesture
and structure. We flow down through all this stuff like this more or less. Each shape breaks
away from it. Now, with that in mind, when we flow easily from one thing to the other
it gives us the feeling of relaxed submission or contemplation or defeat, deflation. Ugh,
I just give up. If I take it that curve and squeeze it from the top, squeeze it from the
bottom, squeeze it from the left and the right, then that S-curve does this. A zigzag. A zigzag
is an aggressive idea. Just look at your face in the mirror with a frown on it. Pursed lips,
corrugation, corrugator muscles bunching up together, crow’s feet in the eyes. So with
zigzags think of the stormy seas, the choppy waves, crashing waves, angle, zigzags, frenetic
action, tension, fighting life, aggression. So when we look at this hand it’s relaxed
and confident. So when we feel this coming down—I’m going to push it a little bit farther.
Now, that’s no lightning bolt, but it’s taking something that’s a relaxed
hand—here’s the gesture—relaxed in confidence but still strong. Look at how it thrusts out.
Those knuckle joints show themselves off. This knuckle joint, look at that full masculine,
in the prime of life, really. This is not a young boy. This is a prime specimen that’s
ready to act. So he’s balanced out that aggressive tension, that potential or explosive
action. Look at his ulna. Again, I’m playing this up so you can see it.
Very strong against a very quiet leg there. They’re both quiet. They’re both hanging with gravity. They’re
relaxed in gravity, but they are in no way defeated or having given in to gravity. Goliath
is expecting this band to give in, to submit. This is not that. This is relaxed in confidence.
I’ve got some powers behind me you don’t know about, and you’re in trouble, buddy.
So look at how that balancing act happens between the relaxed and the energetic. So
the shapes themselves the forms themselves become metaphors or potentially become metaphors
for the artists. The colors themselves. The quality of the paint. The choice of medium,
the scale. The subject matter, figure as opposed to landscape. All of those are potentially
powerful tools. They are powerful tools and they can potentially teach us great lessons
or teach our audience great lessons or hopefully both. Vein coming down.
So anyway, that is art in service. Art as an idea. The part in relationship to the whole.
How does a hand work to the body, but how does this art work for the community? How
does each individual get his or her needs out of it? How does this become a statement
that this little city-state is going to stand up to the giant city-states? So it’s always
about that part to whole, that relationship between. Life and art is balanced on that.
It only works when the balance is correct or the individual element is showing its qualities
and is respected and yet shows respect and fits and relates back to that whole. Finding
that balance politically, emotionally, color harmonies, storylines,
all of them are working on that same balance.
got Zeus coming as a bull. He’s a shape changer. In terms of historically we had the
conquerors, the conquering society coming in and taking over little villages and such.
So oftentimes Zeus or later Jupiter, the Greek or the Romans would have come in and conquered
that area, and then they would take it over. They’d say now you’re part of the Roman
empire, let’s say. You’re going to have to get along, but we’re going to be magnanimous
and you can keep your own gods and goddesses. You can keep your beliefs as long as you respect
ours too. So what they’d do is take their Zeus or Jupiter, their master of their Universe,
and they would marry him to the fertility goddess of that township or village. Zeus
ended up with a lot of wives and a lot of love stories about that. So to make that work
out then we’ve got Hera, his wife, in Greece and named Juno in Rome. We’ve got a lot
of really almost comedies where she is not too pleased with that fact, that he’s constantly
going off to other places and getting in trouble. We have him trying to be stealthy, sneaking
in to do his dirty work and trying not to get caught. So he’ll come as a shape changer.
He’ll come as a shower of gold or a bull or all sorts of stuff. A swan, Leda and the
Swan. Artists love that. Renaissance artists particularly because they wanted, they loved
the human form because they were finding at the time, rediscovering the actual sculptures
and the history and wisdom behind that artwork. They are finding Greek and Roman sculptures.
The Greek sculptures and the Roman copies generally, such as Laocoön, the Belevedere
Torso, all those things. Michelangelo’s Laocoön was dug out of the earth, and it
had a huge effect on Renaissance art. They loved the nude, and oftentimes if they were
doing a Christian religious painting they couldn’t show, they’re not going to show
Mary nude or Joseph nude. You might show baby Jesus nude, but you’re not going to show
the males nude. Oftentimes, they would get commissions that were of these mythological
stories, and then they could go crazy drawings those lovely nudes and such. So this is one
of those. But the story itself is the God of the Universe stealing away our poor young
girl, and we can see the family, the village elders, way over here on this little island.
You can see that little spit of land coming out. Let’s try it that way so you can see
it a little bit better. These village elders, they’re just stuck. There’s no way they
can reach her, and if they did what are they going to do? This is the master of the universe.
We have these little cherubs, and the cherubs are little love figures, and this is not the
romantic love you would hope for; this is something much darker. Since they’re in
service of this sky king they are not going to say a word. In fact, they’re going to
support his actions. So we have these little characters up here and here.
In fact, he’s got the arrow. It’s not love. He’s not interested in shooting an arrow of love at
this couple, because that’s not what this is about, obviously. He’d be in deep trouble
if he tried that with Zeus. So we have all those characters here. Now, notice what is
happening. We have a triangle here. We have a triangle here. We have a triangle here.
Triangle here, triangle here. There are triangles all over the place.
This reluctant couple is a triangle. Triangle for the leg. You can pull a triangle out of her. He’s a triangle.
His head is a triangle. He has triangles everywhere. The mountains are triangles. The sky with
the clouds are triangles. Now, if this was a religious painting, a Christian
religious painting, the triangle would be the trinity. Father, son, Holy Ghost.
This reluctant couple it was a Madoona and child, for example, you’d have Mary. You’d have baby Jesus,
and usually you’d have John that Baptist as a baby too. You’d have the three characters there, and
they’d be in a triangle arrangement. The folds on the costuming would be triangular.
The triangle would mean a very religious meaning. Here it’s a little bit different.
So we have all these little triangles going on.
But look at what we have here for the whole composition. Let’s take the cherubs.
I’ll do that for us just to make the point.
But look at that arrow going off. So really clever device here. It’s very subtle. You’re
not going to say, oh, I see an arrow. Instead of the arrow of love of Eros, it’s the abduction.
He’s stealing her away. She’s going off away, and these poor guys down here, there
is nothing they can do about it. They could have the greatest military in the world. They
could be the wisest men in the world. They can’t help their daughter. She’s gone
and she’s, of course, in great distress in that pose of her, to get off basically,
looking back for help that will never come. I mean, the ocean below and the sky above
is supporting his actions. What hope does she have?
So this whole thing was conceived of an arrow of flight, of twisted love basically.
So all of our main characters have—we have this storyline of major characters and minor characters
just like any play, any story, any movie in the big screen. And yet the whole thing, all those characters
are supported by the shape design that in another painting would mean one thing, but in this painting
he took that idea and subverted it. It was maybe a subtle statement that our Christian
religion is better than these mythological religions. But in any case, we have this fantastic
idea. Now, you can argue and say, “You know, Steve, that’s very interesting, but I don’t
really see a very strong arrow going off the page. I see something else. I see it actually
kind of curving back here since she’s looking back that way. It’s very different and maybe
there is hope for her, and she is going to get away.” We could argue about interpretations,
but the fact is the art is open enough that we can come up with these interpretations.
More importantly, for me as an artist if I start looking at artwork in this way, as these
visual metaphors. Maybe he didn’t do that. Maybe you talked me into saying, no, he did
not do an arrow shooting off the page. And I’ll go, you know, now that I think about
it, you’re right. But since he didn’t do it, I’m going to do it. I’ll be the first.
So we look at these things, and we look at The Thinker.
We look at the tiny world we live on, and we project onto those what we
hope for, what we need emotionally or what we need artistically to do our own work, and
we go from there. Then that inspires us in our life or in our craft, and then we pass
that on, and then next person, the audience looks at it. They take what they need, and
the meaning absolutely can change. It probably will change as time goes on. What’s important
is that there is inspiration. Then we could look at these things through all sorts of
lenses. We could look at it as color. She is in white in pure. While he’s in white,
he’s not so pure. What’s going on there? He’s a little sullied, his white. Maybe
that means something. We could say and in this age this was a common practice; white
is purity. Red is passion. Blue is a mystery, mystery of God, the Christian God, or the
domain of the mythological bull God. Same with water, the mysterious subconscious underneath
or the mysterious powers underneath. He’s a little power animal coming up to the surface.
He swims in both worlds. He came down from the sky, but he’s in the waters, and he
conquered on the land so he is in control of all of the elements. So we have this whole
pantheon of meaning that we can work from. The real point here is that when you do art,
and when you do anything meaningful in your life, it’s gonna be a symbol. It’s going
to be a metaphor. If you always tell the truth. If you always follow through. If you say you
want to be an artist and then you become an artist that becomes a powerful tool to motivate
the rest of your life or to inspire other lives. In your art you could create a metaphor
by context. You can take something, it can be a puddle, and you can make it a metaphor.
So as artists we can look through world, take the things that mean something to us, put
it in the right context and do it in several paintings or in several stories or in several
songs or drawings and build a meaning around that. It may or may not be the meaning that
the audience picks up. It will be meaningful for us. It will motivate us to do more
of those paintings and drawings. If I do something out of that kind of deep center, that grounded
center, there’s a good chance that the audience will get something deep out of it too. Maybe
not the same thing, and in a way hopefully not the same thing, but they’ll get something.
So that is art. That’s what we’re aspiring to. That’s the tools that we’re going
to learn to use. That’s the fantastic opportunities that we’ve been given, so let’s make the
most of it. Go into those New Masters lessons and look at them and look at them and draw
from them and paint from them and look at them again. Be the best you can be.
Free to try
Watch the whole lesson with a subscription
14m 55s2. Art as an idea
16m 16s3. Creating a connection to the world through your work and art as a metaphor
19m 31s4. Leaving room for imagination in your art and having craftsmanship in creativity
14m 44s5. The oil/water approach
11m 38s6. The oil/water approach, cont. and finding what is meaningful to you
11m 23s7. Final thoughts
15m 59s8. Analyzing Earthrise, The Thinker, and the hand of David
12m 1s9. Analyzing The Rape of Europa