Learning how to paint and draw is possible. While a cloak of mystery surrounds the mythical artist that is often intimidating to the novice, if someone is visually wired, he or she can learn to paint and draw. So why aren’t these disciplines easy? Why do they seem at times so difficult and why are great artists not more prevalent? Painting and drawing themselves are simple, but there is a reason that in practice, they are not easy. There is the small matter of our own minds. This is the real hurdle that is not broached often enough. Every brushstroke and line we make is filtered through our own perceptions, prejudices and emotional resistance to change. We are each the product of our entire lives and learning to be an artist is really learning about ourselves. And to me the most valuable part of this process is not the product of our labors, it is the richness of deepening self-awareness.
Students are often nervous about what they don’t know. However, not knowing is, ironically, where the real learning occurs. Not knowing is the allure where something new can happen. Artists educate their powers of seeing beyond what is normally required and a teacher has the privilege of helping students clarify and streamline this discovery. Yes, there are technical aspects to these disciplines—mixing color, applying paint, understanding anatomy and achieving line quality to name a few—but there is so much more to developing as an artist than the craft. The most important aspect is the developed ability to see as an artist, tempered with a compassion for one’s own humanness.
Becoming an artist opens up a very special relationship to the world—one of structure, symmetry, color harmony, edges, shapes and the sensuality of paint and line. The struggles encountered with changing how one sees mirror those of life—the tussle with it, the messiness of it, with all the good, the bad and the ugly. Most meaningful relationships do not come without a price, and so it is with art. Out of the struggle of learning to see comes a universal language. It is this very distinction—not knowing as opposed to knowing—that separates art from illustration. Art, the magic, the mystery come amidst the hesitance and the groping for a new understanding, a new way of seeing and the thrill of discovery within the relationship with your subject.
It is no accident that some students are drawn to certain teachers. When we resonate with another artist’s work, it is because we recognize it. The philosophy behind it lies deeply within us already. As a teacher I try to awaken these dormant sensibilities through an appreciation of the student as an entire human being. The more sensitivity I can bring to this relationship, the more possible it is to convey the language of painting in a way that the student can comprehend. Sometimes learning requires words, and sometimes it requires a visual demonstration. But if I am successful and I see the light of recognition in their eyes, this connection is, I know, why I continue to teach.
Nicolai Fechin: The Art and The Life
By Galina Tuluzakova
I have patiently awaited the release of a project that I have been intimately involved in for some time now—the definitive biography and collection of paintings on one of Russia’s most esteemed artists: Nicolai Fechin: The Art and The Life. Nikki Branham, Fechin’s granddaughter, and her husband Mark Donner have spared no time and effort in producing the finest book on Fechin yet. This monograph was first released in Russia by its author Galina Tuluzakova, the world’s foremost authority on Nicolai Fechin’s life and work. And now, Fechin Art Reproductions, through painstaking efforts, has made it available to the English-speaking world in clear and insightful prose. This full-color, lushly illustrated book includes obscure work from Fechin’s early days in Kazan (often hidden from view in Russian museums), and explores an iconic life from Russia to Taos, NM all the way to his last days in California. One section shows detailed photos of the carvings he did in an architectural masterpiece, his home in Taos, which now houses the Taos Art Museum. Thanks to Galina’s connections here in the States and in Russia, we can discover work that shows Fechin’s true genius—from his carvings and sculpture to a large body of paintings, including many rarely seen sketches for murals, landscapes and still lifes. If you love the work of Nicolai Fechin, this is a must-have book!
While on Fechin Art Reproductions site, also take a look at Galina’s book on Fechin’s drawings, Drawings of Nicolai Fechin, a book that I edited and wrote a forward to as well. It is equal in beauty to the painting book!