Art Quote for the Day


Before setting out to rummage through the mounds of art supplies stocked in our local art store, suppose we turn inward and tune our own equipment a bit. Before the salesperson asks us if it will be acrylic or gouache, or designer colors, or watercolors, or oils or tempera or casein, or inks, suppose we put some questions to ourselves about ourselves.

Before we make strategic decisions as to what material we “need”, we will do well to give thought to the match between what we want to say and our choice of an instrument through  which to convey that statement.  In other words, what alliances can we make with things in the world so as to enhance our power to transform products of the mind to products of the hand? The world at large is a vast jumble of things, the world of art only slightly less vast and jumbled. In this mad zoo, whose inhabitants alternately call to us and hide, we need somehow to find the correct fit between our purposes and the expressive power of each medium.  One way to accomplish this is to set up a temporary but useful classification system by slicing the world  into halves, each half revealing a telling cross-section.

Thus we can slice the entire universe of art things into a half consisting of things that are two-dimensional, planar, and one made up of all the rest, things that are three-dimensional, spatial.  We then have before us two distinctive piles.  In the planar pile of art media are paintings, drawings, prints, photographs. In the spatial pile are sculpture, gardens, and architecture.  We can also slice the world along the axis of wet and dry. In one pile we have gouache, inks, acrylics, oils, and watercolors, in the other pile we have pencils, charcoals, and pastels.  We can slice the world along other critical ways as well, and each time we do so , we reveal another display of the world’s dichotomies. Other sample cross-sections are organic/inorganic ( e.g., cherry-wood/core ten steel), color/tone, hard/soft, permanent/transitive, solitary/collaborative, mobile/stable.

Having cut the world in two, we can now proceed to test the fit between what we want and what the world (media) has to offer. In  the coming descriptions of several such halvings, the cross sections are examined more closely.  MORE NEXT TIME!


Art Quote for the Day

“The  practices that are now called painting and drawing are entirely different that what they were in past centuries. Painting has died – its central techniques have been lost- four times in the history of Western art: once when the Greek paintings and textbooks were lost, again in the sixteenth century when Jan Van Eyck’s method was lost, again in  the late eighteenth century when Venetian Renaissance technique was forgotten, and a fourth time in the early twentieth century when painting alla prima ( wet in wet) definitively replaced the more systematic Baroque techniques.

Renaissance  painting was done in many stages, with each layer drying before the next coat, and the images were constructed: that is, planned in advance and brought to completion in a more  or less systematic and deliberate manner.  Different emulsions were used within a single painting ( a typical sequence was tempera, followed by oil and then glazes and varnish.) Nowadays artists paint all at once, alla prima, in a single thick coat.  Even Romantic  painting at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was definitively different from what is done now.  the change happened as early as Manet and the Impressionists.

It doesn’t help to look in old texts, because Jan and Hubert Van Eyck kept their methods secret, and there is no Renaissance source that says how Titian executed his glazes.  Nor does it help to turn to contemporary chemical analyses, because what is important about the technique – such as ultra-thin paint layers – cannot be adequately studied in infrared, X-ray, or thin section.  Some German texts, written around the turn of the twentieth century, record attempts to recapture Renaissance methods-but even they have become hard to interpret as the traditions of reconstruction have died out.  the fact is that oil paintings is a lost art several times over, and what we call oil painting bears very little resemblance to what past centuries knew by that name.”

Why Art Cannot Be Taught – a Handbook for Art Students-  by James Elkins