Following Tradition

“Observing a tradition implies following, but does it mean following and nothing more? One can follow the rules and models, when doing so is really following; and one can oppose them, when doing so is really following. Is opposing really following? When one should oppose and it is reasonable to do so, then I oppose the methods of past masters. Although I am opposing them, my opposition is in accord with what is reasonable. At times when one should follow and it is reasonable to do so, then I follow. Is such following merely subjective? In truth, I follow the dynamic principle of the universe and nothing else. Would you say then that I belong to a tradition? -Wu Fang, (Chinese Painter, 1362-1416 CE)

Thanks to Damian Chavez for this quote. It provides a way to consider the rift between atelier-trained artists and postmoderns, as well as that between some atelier artists and painters who paint realistically but aren’t that interested in placing any guidelines on art, in defining what is, and isn’t art.

There’s been a noticeable shift in the art market towards representational art, with many contemporary galleries adding one or two representational artists to their roster. I’ve had conversations about this with three respected dealers — not a significant sample size, I know, but worth considering. All three saw the art pendulum swinging back to include representational work, but never going back to the 19th century. One went so far as to say that he wouldn’t even look at atelier work. I think this may be due, at least in part, to a clientele that is still in the process of learning to see, and criticize, traditional drawing and painting skills.

I’ve had quite a few discussions with artists who describe themselves as traditional and think that there should be concrete definitions of what is accepted as art and what is not. While I do understand their desire to eliminate the worst of the postmodern — dogs starved in galleries; MFA candidates who video self-abortions; last supper referenced meals cooked with the artist’s liposuctioned ass fat — it seems very dangerous to determine what art is or isn’t. It’s not that I think it’s all art either. Most of the time I am in the I-don’t-get-it camp. And I really hate the movement to deny expertise, to brainwash the masses by claiming that skills deter creativity, and the greater the skills the less creative the artist can be. That’s just pure POMO BS.

I’m mostly self-taught, with a very big assist in color mixing from Graydon Parrish. My experience is that as skills are gained, improved, my creativity is heightened, not lessened. There is creativity and execution, two separate and different things. I am always in creative mode, taking in the world, forming connections between the themes and concepts that interest me and my experiences in the world.

When I encounter a subject I want to paint, whether person, place or thing, I ask myself why this subject at this moment, not two seconds or feet before? This is my creative process and I am always in it.

Once I have decided to move forward with an idea I shift to execute mode. There is nothing inherently non-creative about this state of being. Trust me, I spend a lot of time in it and it is just as creative as the conceptual state. But it’s a different type of creative state, more practical and effects-based.