Brainstorming a series of fine art tutorials has me thinking a lot about this idea of accessibility. One of the aspects of the contemporary fine art world that has always bothered me is how incredibly exclusive it is. In my experience, so much of the fine art world behaves in an elite, condescending manner towards the layman. Take contemporary art galleries, for example: the last time I was in New York City walking around art galleries in Chelsea, one thing I noticed was how cold and unfriendly the people working in the galleries were. I walked into one gallery where the two people at the desk wouldn’t even make eye contact or greet me as I walked into the gallery. In the past, when I did make an attempt to talk to someone in the gallery, I felt like I was intruding on their space, and how dare I try to speak to them. Can you imagine any other business or store treating a visitor in such a manner? All of these qualities sends a harsh message to the average person that the contemporary fine art world is off limits to them, it’s a closed world that they cannot enter.
Many other fields, like design and illustration, across the board aggressively make themselves accessible to the general public. There are millions of professional blogs, TV shows, online tutorials, social media sites for these fields. This accessibility is completely accepted and encouraged by other professionals in these fields. This is not the case in the contemporary fine arts world. The vast majority of professional fine artists today present their work with a mystique. They don’t generally show any glimpse of their creative process, all of the mistakes and blunders are completely hidden from the public. One of my favorite things about Julia Child was that she was not afraid to make a mistake on camera. Instead of being embarrassed by her mistake, she would transform it into a teachable moment and explain how to fix it and move on. For many people, her mistakes taught people just as much, if not more than when they watched her do something perfectly.
I’ve written in the past about how at times I get self-conscious about the fact that I blog extensively about my fine arts work. I worry that many of my academic colleagues would look down on the kind of writing and blogging that I do. My approach to my writing is conversational and not written for an academic audience. For this reason, I’m an anomaly in the academic fine arts world. This is why I’m thinking that a series of art tutorials from someone with my background could fill a niche that has not been addressed so far.
I was teaching at RISD yesterday, and was able to carve out time to have lunch and dinner with two other RISD faculty. I talked to both of them about my “pie in the sky” idea of creating a show for fine artists which would feature tutorials on techniques and approaches in visual art. Both of them were very encouraging about this idea and it got me thinking that maybe I’m not crazy, and maybe this really is something I should seriously think about pursuing in the near future.
While I enjoy writing my advice column “Ask the Art Professor” for the Huffington Post, I have come to the realization that the format of a written advice column is limited when it comes to the visual arts. Yes, there are endless topics to be discussed, and I do intend to continue the column-but-ultimately to truly drive an idea home it seems like the format for talking about visual art has to be, well, visual.
I’ve been doing some research, trying to get a sense of what has been done before in how-to art shows. All of the videos I’ve come across have been embarrassingly awful, demonstrating terrible approaches to drawing that offer both cheap shortcuts and incredibly inefficient ways of working. Or, I’ve found a few select documentaries that depict someone who is a contemporary master of an extremely difficult, specialized technique. While these documentaries are really great and fascinating, the techniques being shown are so advanced and require such high end facilities that for the average person, the technique is totally inaccessible.
In thinking about how I might approach this, I’ve been considering cooking shows as an analogy to what I might want to do. I love to cook, and hands down my favorite chef isJacques Pepin. I’ve watched his shows and cooked through many of his cookbooks throughout my life. He embodies the perfect balance of accessibility and mastery in his cooking shows. In his demonstrations, he delivers content in a distilled, simple manner that anyone can understand and actually put to practical use. He provides solid, fundamental ideas but is also extremely detail oriented. I hate recipes that say “salt and pepper to taste.” By contrast, Jacques Pepin always tells you precisely how much salt and pepper to put in. Simultaneously, he is undeniably a master chef, and does amazing things that I will never be able to do as a home cook. (I will never, ever, be able to chop garlic like he does.)
I think there is a void in the fine arts that I could potentially fill, and it’s exciting to think about the possibilities.
I am starting to brainstorm ideas for creating a series of online art tutorials, featuring a wide range of techniques and approaches from my point of view as a fine artist. What has been your experience with online tutorials? What have you seen that has been useful to you? What would you advise against?
Recently I’ve been thinking about other opportunities I could create for myself that would allow me to broaden my teaching. Currently, my teaching is focused on my classes at RISD and through writing my “Ask the Art Professor” column for the Huffington Post. (although the column has been on hiatus because I am preparing for my solo exhibitions in November. I’ll resume the column when the two exhibitions are up) I enjoy both, but lately I have been feeling an itch to somehow expand beyond those two veins of teaching.
In graduate school, I once helped a friend with some sculpture techniques, and she said to me “you should have your own cooking show!” From what I’ve seen online, it seems like there is a huge audience that is starving for tutorials in art. In some ways, I’m thinking of taking my friend’s suggestion literally: a “cooking” show for artists. This is totally pie in the sky, but I figure that it doesn’t hurt to think about it, and we all have to start somewhere. I like that this is percolating in my head right now, and that something new is stirring in me. What do you think? What would you like to see from me?
I am working on the 6th and final drawing for my November exhibition atSimmons College. This drawing by far has the most solid and opaque central standing figure. The surrounding figures will have almost entirely disappeared. They will be transparent and slightly hinted at. I’m glad this is the final drawing I’m doing before the show, by contrast it’s going to be much less work because most of the figures will be barely there. The drawings that are packed with figures took multiple revisions and adjustments because they were so dense. It’s a relief to finish the work for the show with a drawing that is so much less labor by comparison.
I have 4 weeks left until I install my exhibition at Simmons College, and there is still so much that needs to be done before then. It looks like I really will be working up until the last minute.
Over the past week, I’ve been working on adjusting several of the large figure drawings, mostly scraping away at the etching ink areas with an x-acto knife. I’ve been trying to get the figures to become more transparent, and to soften the transitions in the tonal areas so that they are more gradual.
One aspect that has come up in the scraping process is that for some reason, areas that are scraped with the x-acto knife have a slightly different color than the etching ink areas. In some ways, this introduces a third color into the images. The etching ink is very brown, the lithographic crayon is a fairly straightforward black, while the scraped areas verge on looking blue by comparison. The issue is that when I scraped one area of the drawing, that color difference really stood out a lot against the rest of the drawing. I ended up scraping significantly more than I initially planned on, in order to more evenly distribute the scraped areas throughout the entire drawing. This way, the color change from the scraping process won’t appear to be isolated to one area.
Today I finished the last areas that needed etching ink, which means I really am on the verge of being finished with these drawings for my November exhibition. From here on, I don’t anticipate any major changes in the composition of these drawings. I’ll focus mostly on slight adjustments in all of the drawings to try to balance the dynamics between the five drawings. Mostly I will spend time scraping away at the etching ink areas with the x-acto knife. There are many passages throughout all five drawings that are too heavy and lack the transparency that I’m looking to achieve.
Every day I’m getting deeper into these drawings, which is a great feeling. I had been thinking earlier that I was tired of working on this series. The original plan was to finish these 5 large figure drawings for my November solo show and then to walk away and start something else. On the contrary, the more I work on these drawings, the more work I am finding myself wanting to make in the near future.
Last fall, I scrapped several large figure drawings because I knew they weren’t working. I thought that was the end of those drawings, since none of them were any good, but now I’m thinking that I can resurrect several of those drawings for this new series. The next few drawings I want to create will be extremely dark and heavy, where the figures are barely discernible. I’ll use several of these failed figure drawings and work many more layers on top. I like the thought of being able to use past failures to start new work, something I’ve never really done before.
Although I am actively working in the studio on these large figure drawings, the logistics of my November solo exhibition at the Trustman Gallery are starting to need more attention. I spent most of the morning shooting photographs of the three figure drawings I’ve finished so far, and I have to get started on a new artist statement for this show. I already have an artist statement that is an overview of “Falling“, but this series of large figure drawings really warrants a new statement since it’s much more specific than the previous works in this series.
Within just a few weeks of working, I’ve already seen a learning curve in these figure drawings. My marks with the etching ink have loosened up a lot recently, and the consequence is the the figure drawing on the left in the image below feels too controlled and stiff right now. That drawing is nowhere near finished, but I’m really going to have to make some major changes to get the composition more dynamic and lively.
I’ve gained some really good momentum with these figure drawings. Just a few weeks ago I was dreading working on these drawings, but I’ve made enough progress lately that working on the drawings has become a very satisfying experience. A huge part of this is the fact that my schedule allows for significant time in the studio four days a week. I am almost finished with the etching ink sections of the drawings, which means I am close to completing the work I need for my November solo exhibitions. This is great news, because it means I don’t have to stress anymore about meeting the November deadline. Knowing that the majority of the hard work is behind me, I can now work at a less frantic pace.