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More on Teaching Art

January 30th, 2010

Or, better put in an earlier title: “Can Art be taught? “. For me writing for this blog has contradicted my way of doing things. I’ve never had any use whatsoever for keeping a journal or a diary. I any case, I remember having written an article titled “Can Art be taught?” What did I write? I do not remember and do not have the inclination to reread it. Perhaps a better question and title would have been “Can Art be understood today?” All joking aside, it will, I fear, be a most serious question for some time. And the fear of the matter is that although having spent a lifetime attempting to think clearly about difficult matters the issue becomes more and more obscure. Kant as well as Descartes clearly located the universal with the individual: not with the social/cultural setting the individual lived in! And yet, in these interesting days in which we find ourselves, is it not politically incorrect to discuss philosophical issues? Where does this leave Art?

Published in french as Plus sur l’enseignement de l’Art


Beyond How to do Watercolor

Originally posted on December, 17, 2007

The logical question following how to paint watercolor is what to paint. Bearing both questions in mind at the beginning helps accelerate the learning curve. I’ve given these questions of the budding artist painter more than just a little reflection. Advice has been asked by many other the years. Subsequently, there were many days and hours of talking with them about becoming a painter as well as much painting together. In the end teaching and learning become indistinguishable and I fondly remember these encounters.

Hopefully, if you can bear my rambling, I can offer some thoughts that may help. Recently, on the post Painting the Universe, there was a painting titled “Man and Nature? (See also the older paintings). This was painted 10 years ago at a time I was still very much fixated on watercolor. I had reached several years earlier the understanding I must concentrate on learning the materials (pigments, papers, brushes, etc.) in order to become free from them. We all have to experience in our own terms this inner necessity to learn the materials. The artist, as it is said is a person in love with his tools.

Back to the painting: this painting and others of this period were for me pivotal. I was experiencing some freedom and was fully conscious what was taking place. I’m an intuitive, so a conscious understanding of the process does not come easily. To become lost in the process and to then, literally, to find yourself is what it is all about. Some months ago I wrote about learning to paint watercolor. The advice about materials was broadly given. There have been so many good books and magazines devoted to this that I did not see the point of adding to them. But if I can help encourage you to absorb them and move past this concern… then I’ve done something.

I will answer e-mails from anyone engaged in the work of doing this.

Keep your brushes wet,


Published in french as Dépasser le comment faire pour peindre à l’aquarelle


Peace – Art’s First Rule

Originally posted on November, 7, 2007

"Misty Morning", watercolor and dry pastel, 38cm x 29cm, 100% cotton paper, 2007

It has been said that the first rule in painting is that there are no rules. Also, it has been said that a painting begins with an “idea?. I believe that both of these conflicting statements to be false. It is not to say that a painting may not begin with an idea. It is to say that an idea is not an integral part. Within the limitations of a short essay I can only suggest why I think so. Even if I was to persuasively argue this position many people would still not agree. Such are many popular firmly held convictions. I will, however, return in future articles to this problem. It is vitally important today.

Not only for the artist painter, but for the artist generally, peace and tranquillity are absolutely prerequisite. It is for this reason that I believe that it is impossible to teach art. Aesthetic sensibility is not something you can learn. Artistic sensibilities are the natural result of peace and calm in one’s life and much contact with nature. You cannot teach this in a classroom or a workshop. Impossible! This for the same reason, “we do not sing because we are happy, we are happy because we sing?.

If you are one of the few people who are actually reading this article I can only tell you this: It is not the things in life that you do not know that are the problem, it is the things that you think that you know that are not so.

Very, very few people can grasp the importance of what I’m saying: Almost nobody gets it. It is too simple. Our minds have been conditioned to look for complex problems to solve. Yet the great minds among us pursuing scientific problems find their solutions when they relax and do and think of other things. This has been documented countless times. Most of our important scientific discoveries have happened this way.

Back to the problem at hand: artistic creativity. Finding the core of our creative instincts may be like pealing an onion. We simplify our lives one small piece at a time. The instinct for positive emotions and creative work is innate. We cannot find it by looking in our minds. It is in our hearts. Tranquillity and peace is the golden rule. It is the only rule. There are no other rules.

Published in french as Être en paix – principale règle de l’art


Painting Instruction: Finding the Words

Originally posted on July, 14, 2007

«Walk in Provence», Oil on canvas, 65cm x 50cm, July 2007.

Over the years I’ve been approached many times for advice and instruction. For me it has never been easy or clear as the best way to proceed. And it has not been often that I’ve undertaken the task to give much advice or attempt to teach. It is just too dammed difficult. Thinking about this problem has been with me for a good long while. And I am not comfortable seeming to be aloof.

The main problem, it seems to me, is the emphasis which has been placed on technique. It is as if most people have a cookbook approach to doing things. Here is the crux of the matter: the huge gulf between what is known and direct immediate experience. Abstract first principles are substituted for intelligence. Our world is now threatening to become opaque and unintelligible. It is so opaque that some contemporary writers describe our society as a hologram.

Since Plato, the painter and particularly anyone audacious enough to teach painting have been considered marginal members of Society. If Gestalt Theory is correct, and I believe it is, seeing and thinking are not separate processes. Perception is intimately involved with how we learn to think. It is nothing short of criminal that this has not been addressed in our educational systems. We are literally teaching our young people to be stupid. The painter has much to teach and much misunderstanding to overcome.

As an aside, last week we were spending a couple of days in a chambre d’hôtes in Alsace. We had the TV on in order to catch the weather forecast. On “Who wants to be a millionaire” a man was asked “in which century was impressionism born: the 17th, the 18th, the 19th, or the 20th”. He did not know the answer. So does the 50-50 option. This gives him a choice between the 18th and the 19th. He still doesn’t know. It was for 12,000 € and he quits. I was dumfounded. I wonder if he had ever heard of Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Degas, or Renoir? Does one need to be part of the cultured elite in France to have this inside information?

Getting back to the subject at hand. Seeing and thinking are not separated activities. When you see a tree there is a time lag between the stimulus on the retina and the recognition “tree”. We tend to think that this time lapse is unimportant. It is a big clue that there is something going on here (See Robert Pirsing).

The good news, getting back to helping someone is that if you understand the problem well enough it is possible to help others. You can help them to understand the difficulties connecting with direct immediate experience. It may be more difficult than teaching painting techniques but I believe it is worth the effort. For me, I am slowly reaching the point where I understand well enough to find the words.


Published in french as Conseils pour peindre : comment trouver les mots ?


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