I want to learn
October 19, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

"Learning to draw primarily comes from practice. Spend ten to twenty minutes every day sketching something new. Don't feel demotivated if you start off as a not-very-good artist." Want proof? Check out the dates of this conceptart.org thread: Over the next sixty pages and seven years of drawing, you'll see how Jonathan Hardesty was working a little bit every day and developing from a beginning hobby artist to an accomplished art teacher.

This was found inside a detailed response to an 'AskReddit’ thread I want to learn something new. But what?
posted by growabrain (47 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool story. It's true, too. We like to believe that talent is some magical thing that only a few lucky people possess but in fact it's quite the opposite. We're all amazing, we just have to keep trying. And trying. And trying. And trying.

Nice to see someone else's journey so well documented.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:09 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Browsing most webcomic archives is a good source of this too. Penny Arcade is a common example.
posted by curious nu at 3:13 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

That's beautiful, thank you!

Curious nu, you stole the words from me. Webcomics are deeply satisfying for this kind of viewing.

So are web shows. I work with an amazing vlogger/actress/host, Grace Helbig. Years ago, she started at My Damn Channel with some less-than-impressive videos, and since then she's turned into a real powerhouse that we all suspect will have her own sitcom in a couple of years. How did she do it? By making a video every single weekday, year after year.
posted by NickDouglas at 3:17 PM on October 19, 2012

I scrolled all the way through and was pretty underwhelmed. He didn't seem to have come that far.

Then I realized that was page 1 of 71.
posted by gurple at 3:28 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you want to see a good compare/contrast of two images, nine years apart, check out Page 70, post 2048. This should be the direct link.
posted by Malor at 3:47 PM on October 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

And he's way better, on Day 1, than I've ever been. Sigh.
posted by Malor at 3:47 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Okay, this makes me want to go back to the resources and advice I got five years ago (!!!) and re-start the process (I got lazy/distracted). Because damn.
posted by rtha at 3:50 PM on October 19, 2012

But... but I want to be a great artist now.
posted by Flunkie at 4:08 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow, this guy came a long way. Check out his paintings on page 64 to see some examples from earlier this year. The painting of his wife is quite good, and the other painting, "Memories" is very detailed and amazing. Inspiring stuff!
posted by malapropist at 4:19 PM on October 19, 2012

This is super inspiring. I'm a graphic designer who kind of hates drawing, and the more I avoid it, the worse I feel about it. A few years ago I found myself envying my then six year old and how dramatically her drawing had improved from even one year earlier. And then, yeah, I realized that if I drew for hours every day (the way I did when I was in my teens) I'd be improving at a good rate, too.
posted by looli at 4:19 PM on October 19, 2012

He starts off roughly ten bazillion times better than me. This was less inspiring than I could have hoped.
posted by yoink at 5:35 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

That's pretty good work for a high school kid. But I am not impressed by his "classical technique" of tracing photos. With more work, he might eventually build a portfolio that could get him into a decent art school.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:38 PM on October 19, 2012

um, charlie don't surf: that's not a tracing. And painting from photos is a fine, common, respectable technique.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:00 PM on October 19, 2012

that's not a tracing

I superimposed the traced sketch at 50% opacity over the photo. Yes, it's a tracing.

And painting from photos is a fine, common, respectable technique.

Common, yes. Respectable, no. I know plenty of artists who paint from photos. I have painted from photos. I have never met an artist who actually traced photos. If you're Thomas Eakins and are already a respectable artist, I'll respect your tracing photos. If you're some kid claiming to use "classical art techniques" and you trace photos, I will scoff at you, and you will deserve it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:47 PM on October 19, 2012

I think I want to believe that talent is some innate quality so that it's not my fault when I'm bad at something. It's odd, I'm very happy to practice a game to get better at it, but practicing drawing is so dispiriting.
posted by lucidium at 7:55 PM on October 19, 2012

I don't get how Charlie's 50% opacity shows that it's a tracing. It doesn't line up perfectly and looks like it couldn't, no matter how it was jigged.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:48 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually you can come a long way pretty quickly. I went through the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and was amazed at how much I improved in just a few weeks. And this was after 30 years of thinking I couldn't draw.

I decided to spend my free time elsewhere, but its clear that drawing is a skill that can be learned.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:59 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is wonderful, and yes, he's very good: if you do anything on a daily basis for 7 years, you're going to get very good indeed.

But this doesn't erase the idea of talent, and I'd argue that he has it. Some people have great gifts, others have small ones, and some of us have, well, 'knacks'. Decades ago I went to art school, and largely sucked except for one thing -- I can draw, and am particularly good at life drawing. I've recently gone back to art -- painting, which I love but am not gifted at -- but I've not lost the stupid knack with life drawing. Even sitting down for the first session in decades, I was able to produce reasonably good stuff. Portraits? I suck like a vacuum cleaner. Naked bodies? I'm oddly skilled.

It's not a great skill -- it's a knack. But it's innate.
posted by jrochest at 11:15 PM on October 19, 2012

I don't think that's a tracing. It's off enough that it looks organic, and accurate enough to reflect that he does have a good eye for proportion and placement. I've gotten unusually close to reference images before with my own art and it was because I was particularly in tune with my visual coordination that day.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:54 PM on October 19, 2012

Sinfest and Gisele Lagace's art are another good set of examples of art progression, though admittedly both the artist of Sinfest and Gisele were really good to begin with and just keep getting better and better each year.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:07 AM on October 20, 2012

I don't get how Charlie's 50% opacity shows that it's a tracing.

Fire up Photoshop and try it yourself. The highlights and shadows on the shoes, in particular, are an exact match. It isn't a particularly good tracing.

I made another overlay to show the exact correspondence more easily. I took a couple of minutes to enhance the drawing to the point of exaggeration. Then I overlaid it on the photo at 50% transparency. Then I used Transform>Skew to correct for keystone distortion caused by an inexact perpendicular angle on the photograph of the drawing, and for distortion in the projector over the canvas. I could not get an exact match since I cannot know the precise angles of his camera to the tracing.

But it should be obvious the tracing is exactly overlaid on the original. The contours of both the feet and the upper arms are precisely overlaid. He did change the line around the waist, dropping it down, but everything else is lined up from top to bottom. The arms line up, the tops of the socks line up, the bottom hem lines up. The head is a little sloppy since he obviously wasn't quite done with that part.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:08 AM on October 20, 2012

I'm a little bemused by your dedication to proving that this guy traced, Charlie. Do you think he lied about his progress as an artist or something? If it bothers you this much, go email him and accuse him of being a fraud. Tracing that image really doesn't extinguish his evolution in my eyes, and I find your disdain for artists that do trace as a warm up a bit over the top.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:35 AM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree with Charlie that tracing reduces the artist's hand in their work but to an extent question how uncool it is: is there a level of grid drawing granularity that's acceptable? Unacceptable? It seems a slippery slope. (And yes, I know its apples and bananas but rendering a stroke between two lines is miles apart from freehanding the whole thing especially when you pile enough reference lines on top). The conundrum got pointed when I took digital illustration: am I more of an asshole for drawing on top of a reference or wasting my time to do it rough when its so damned easy to have done otherwise?

I think he pulled of a nice painting in either case. Nice colorwork in the face. Grar, but did he mix them from the primary eight?!?! [/notatubeist]
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:28 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

That doesn't look like it's traced to me. This thread reminds me of an old image I posted at the Sijun.com forum in 2003. I was trying out Painter, and being new to digital painting in general, I decided to copy a publicity photo from The Matrix, just for practice.

My image to the left, the original to the right.

I spent about six hours on it, but I didn't care about copying the background exactly, and my Trinity turned out slightly smaller than the original. Still, apparently it was similar enough that I had to spend the entire thread defending myself against accusations of tracing, with people overlaying the images in Photoshop and claiming that them (nearly) lining up proved that it was traced. Well, it wasn't, it was drawn freehand. I think some people really overestimate the difficulty of this type of hand-eye coordination.
posted by martinrebas at 2:00 PM on October 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Dedication? I spent a whole 3 minutes in Photoshop doing something trivial. He did something similarly trivial, projecting a photo onto a canvas and tracing.

This guy has succumbed to a common problem with "classical technique." The painter gets so caught up in the technical issues of reproducing an image accurately, that he loses his ability to create an image that has a reason to exist on its own, separately from the original scene. That is the difference between an artist and a technician.

I am not impressed. What this guy did in 9 years, art school freshman are expected to do in 2 semesters, maybe 4 if they're slow like me. By the time they graduate with their BFA, they are expected to develop a unique "voice," which this guy absolutely does not have. Works like this are phony because they speak in someone else's voice, in this example, Dutch painters from the 16th Century.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:40 PM on October 20, 2012

I didn't know a lot of people in my BFA program that hadn't been drawing for half their life, personally. The marvel of the post is just about the evidence of the possibility to improve in something a lot of people assume is a natural talent people are born with. The improvement in technical skills is what is highlighted here, not whether or not the guy's making a worthwhile statement.

The painting doesn't look traced at all to me.
posted by girih knot at 2:48 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

charlie don't surf: nobody--nobody--is comparing him to significant actual artists. Dude's an art teacher, not a candidate for a Dia grant.

What's impressive and awesome about this is precisely that what he's done isn't amazing at all--but that we have a cool, simple record that shows pretty clearly how much time it can take a random beginner to develop strong technical skills at drawing and painting.

And that's rad.

(and martinrebas is right that your little sleuth-show is not remotely proof that that painting is traced. Not that I even care)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:29 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, nobody is saying he's some kind of prodigy or Rembrandt. This is a really weird thing to be obsessing over. If you find him distasteful because his process doesn't fit what you define as classical art, fine, but going on about how you're not impressed is kind of out of the spirit in which this FPP was presented. It is really inspiring to see someone move from basic art skills to painting in the way that he did -- regardless of how he got there. He seems like a pretty humble kid and I am heartened by his desire to help people move past their insecurities about their own art so they can unlock this ability in themselves too. Pissing on this is so pretentious.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:58 PM on October 20, 2012

BFAs .. are expected to develop a unique "voice,"

In my personal opinion, a lot of them just develop a gimmick and get really practised at writing the supporting documentation.

The guy's made pretty remarkable progress. Who knows where he'll be at in another 10 years?

I actually agree with Charlie in as much as I feel a little ripped off when I see artwork that uses a photo as a crutch but I see examples in public and private galleries all the time, so what do I know?
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:11 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

From various: I didn't know a lot of people in my BFA program that hadn't been drawing for half their life, personally.

Didn't you know any photographers or graphic designers? I did photography because I was absolutely terrible at drawing. Then I had to do the drawing and painting curriculum anyway. I noticed in the drawing programs that there were two types of people who did drawing. First were the "doodlers," they always had sketchbooks and were constantly doodling, producing tons of crappy work, and only occasionally developing a drawing and putting some effort into it. Then there were the "reluctant drawers" (like me) who hated doing sketchbooks and doodling. These people tend to do as little drawing as required to develop a finished work, because if you're going to put in some effort, it should result in a serious finished work, otherwise you're wasting your time. I found that the people like me tended to produce better, more focused work.

nobody--nobody--is comparing him to significant actual artists.

That is the problem with this sort of "classical art technique" work. Every single painting is a declaration that you are worthy of comparison to classical artists. I picked that painting from his website that declares he is worthy of comparison to Dutch Masters. But this guy never studied art history, so he doesn't know what Vanitas paintings are about.

I am heartened by his desire to help people move past their insecurities about their own art so they can unlock this ability in themselves too. Pissing on this is so pretentious.

Welcome to the Art World, where every artist, and every work has to withstand critical scrutiny. But perhaps you are right, I should not judge him by those standards, since he is not really a serious artist.

Regarding art students developing "a voice" a lot of them just develop a gimmick and get really practised at writing the supporting documentation.

Those are the ones that don't make it. Technical skills tend to become a gimmick.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:55 PM on October 20, 2012

>That is the problem with this sort of "classical art technique" work. Every single painting is a declaration that you are worthy of comparison to classical artists.

I know, right? That's why, when I have a free afternoon, I like to go down to the park and make fun of the kids. After all, as they shoot jump-shots and layups, and sometimes even attempt chest- and bounce-passes, they're obviously "declaring they are worth of comparison" to hall of fame basketball players. If they don't want me to do that, they can just make up new techniques.

What a bunch of fools, I say!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

(and as for the claim that all BFA students are expected to find their own voices by graduation HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA that's hilarious. I did enough course work for a studio art major at a top academic school with a well-known and -respected art dept., and oh my you make me laugh. Til I cry. I knew maybe three people in our art dept. who had unique and individual voices by graduation. Three.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:25 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

The kids in the park aren't charging money for their work, or selling their services as an instructor.

And yes, in a serious program, BFAs are expected to develop a voice. Few of them actually do, and even fewer of them go on to any sort of minimal career as an artist.

You say you did "enough course work for a studio art major." But did you finish your BFA? Many students wash out after "doing enough course work" to consider themselves a BFA, even though they didn't finish. In my program, I had to get "BFA Clearance," I had to present my work for critique by an assembled panel of the studio department heads, to show that I had a portfolio with several major projects demonstrating my major themes, including a year long senior project. Many students wash out even after completing the entire curriculum, but failing their clearance. They only get a BA. If you're not already developing your voice by the end of your sophomore year, you're going to end up with a BA.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:37 PM on October 21, 2012

I received an email from Jonathan Hardesty, which includes the following:

...Thanks so much for posting up my story on metafilter as well. I took a read through the comments and I really appreciate all the kind words. I saw those hilarious comments about a particular painting as well. Just to put the issue to rest as well I did not trace and transfer that drawing at any point. I sketched it in with charcoal (after many revisions of the proportion) and then went at it with a brush. It wasn't gridded out and I don't even own a projector. I work from life 95% of the time as well and the reason I worked from a photo with that orphan painting is because I couldn't pay to go back to Africa to work from life. I spent time with that little girl in an orphanage and I wanted to capture her as she was. I have been exhibiting that painting at various charity events and when it sells the money is going to that orphanage I worked at. I would have loved to do it from life, but I will get back to Kitale soon if I can. Ironically (considering the discussion) that painting was done live on livestream in front of a ton of people. They saw the whole process from stretching the canvas to blocking it in, etc... So I have videos of everything as well haha. I'll attach a still from one of the videos. You can see me holding the printed out photo...that's how I always work with photos.

Tell "charlie don't surf" that he is right I don't have a voice yet. I don't expect one for another 20 years. I am still literally considering myself a student. I think it takes that long to truly study the past and current masters and find where you fit in and what you want to say. Now, having said that, I will challenge "charlie don't surf" to a contest with any subject matter using any medium. We can create paintings in whatever style or method he wants and then we can let people judge the outcome on metafilter. You can pass that on.

posted by growabrain at 7:26 AM on October 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

I haven't seen this until today. What a cool demonstration that just by practicing you can develop these technical chops. It's so easy to be discouraged when you're starting out just painting for your own enjoyment, because - for me anyway - I'm not technically skilled enough to accomplish the things I want to. It's nice to be reminded that practice really is what it takes to develop the skills to make more satisfying finished products.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:56 PM on October 22, 2012

Tell "charlie don't surf" that he is right I don't have a voice yet. I don't expect one for another 20 years.

That is pretty stunning. Even the worst MFA painting students have to do it in 3 years. I've seen CalArts undergrads do it in 2, and get representation in a major gallery.

Now, having said that, I will challenge "charlie don't surf" to a contest with any subject matter using any medium.

I generally do not accept this sort of duel. But I will accept the challenge. I choose the medium of 4+ color gum bichromate printmaking, larger than 11x17 inches. Let me know when you're ready to begin, which I figure will be like 20 years. Don't forget to register your chemicals with the Department of Homeland Security.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:47 PM on October 22, 2012

Wow. Charlie, you are a caricature of a BFA.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:19 PM on October 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Yeah, Charlie, you really are something.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:59 AM on October 23, 2012

Mod note: No more of the challenge thing here, please. Charlie don't surf, your personal axe-grinding time is pretty much used up in this thread; give it a rest.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:25 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

>You say you did "enough course work for a studio art major." But did you finish your BFA? Many students wash out after "doing enough course work" to consider themselves a BFA, even though they didn't finish.

No, because I had two other majors, both of which were higher priorities for me and less dependent on BS (which was easy and fun, but still BS), so I dropped studio art when the prof I was closest to left for a better gig. Your school, where it's hard to get a BFA sounds great, but if you're imagining that that is the widespread standard, you're woefully mistaken.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:45 PM on October 23, 2012

It's not a big deal guys honestly. I have come across this type of mentality for a long time. I actually had a free path to get a MFA from the university of pennsylvania and I dropped the program. That's what led me to classical studies. Now I know charlie "apocalypse now" ;) thinks that it was a huge mistake, but not from my perspective. The reason I left the program is because of the mentality that you see expressed in Charlie's posts. I wanted to learn the technical side of things first before learning the expressive side. My teachers literally kept telling me not to try to draw, but just "express yourself". They said those exact words in a drawing 1 class. I thought that they might do that for just the first week...then two weeks went by...and then months. I started realizing that I was never going to get the technical side. Then my drawing 1 teacher came to class and told us about a wonderful master's thesis that the teacher's assistant was working on. She was going to go to Vegas get married and get divorced right away...videotaping the whole process. She would then present it as an installation. I knew at that point the training wasn't the direction I wanted to go. I, unlike most classical artists, don't have a problem with "modern art" (for lack of a better term here). I actually point my students to lots of non-representational paintings to show them what they can learn from those artists. I don't just think it looks "cool". I try to evaluate them based on their goals and I also see similarities in approach and intent with representational artists quite a bit. It's funny because people say exactly what Charlie is saying about non-representational work from the classical side. People say, "You slapped that up on the canvas...any kid could do that...you aren't an artist"...because they are expecting a certain level of technical skill when they look at those paintings. The truth is that there is this war back and forth and both sides will never see eye to eye, because people don't understand the intent of artists. They are judging the other side with a different criteria that the creator (artist) doesn't adhere to or care about. I think when either side presents their side as "truth" is when it gets into trouble....which is what you are seeing happening here.

Charlie is right too. Technical skill can absolutely become a gimmick. People can get caught up in and obsess about "exactness" and forget why they should be making art. However, I don't think technical skill is something to be ashamed of or something to hide. Can't I love Jimi Hendrix AND Andres Segovia. I love both of their guitar technique. I don't think it's fair to say that because Andres Segovia played classical pieces, written before his time, that he did not have a voice. Can't someone find a voice within that genre?...which is exactly what he did...(no I'm not comparing my skill level to his at all...he was awesome!). That's why I am giving myself a long time to study and train. I have been working very hard for nine years to get my technical chops in place so that I have even more freedom to express later on. I don't want to be limited by any technical barriers...that's the goal of course haha. If I would have started when I was 12 I would have those first ten years already behind me, but I started late.

You mentioned my obvious Vanitas painting. You say that I don't know anything about them but do you know what that book is on the table? It's an old German family Bible that I searched for and found eventually. See that little tab sticking out of the bottom...guess where it is bookmarked...ecclesiastes. So I did more than just try to analyze their technical side.

You said that for me to create a painting in that style is to place myself on their level. That is complete rubbish. In fact it is the opposite. I am studying them because they were so awesome. I am trying to learn everything I can from the way that they worked. So creating a lighting study of the dutch masters is setting myself up as their equal?....what? I think you aren't giving people enough credit when they view my art. It is completely obvious that I am using dutch master lighting and setup. It would be like a composer writing a piece in the style of mozart to help understand his technique. Would you feel better if I title it "A study of the great dutch masters"....I guess I feel like that part was obvious and didn't need to indicate it. When people approached me about that painting at a gallery show I told them exactly that, "I was studying the dutch masters and this was my attempt to absorb what I could from them".

I understand that you dislike my paintings charlie. I'm totally cool with that actually. However I don't think that technical skill is something to shamefully hide. If I'm still doing "studies" in 20 years then slap me in the face, but I don't think it's wrong to dedicate yourself to being technically great at something. This is the stage I am at right now. I'm growing as an artist. You may not like my work but I've sold a lot of paintings and I have raised a lot of money for various charities with my art. I've made a career for myself and I'm proud of that. You cannot make me feel ashamed for doing what I'm doing. My students know exactly what they are getting...an introduction to the classical techniques...nothing more. You feel I'm spreading misinformation about what "true" art is, but I see it as enabling people to express in the way that THEY want to express themselves with art. They can't get rigorous representational training, in general, in the university system which is why I offer what I've learned. My teaching was born out of a need (countless emails)...it's not me "forcing" my technique on the world. I'm just trying to help those who wanted the type of training I was searching for as a student.

I can see that you are probably involved with printmaking at your university which makes the painting duel I referenced unfair. You mentioned painting earlier in your post so I thought you were primarily a painter. Either way though post up your work here so we can take a look. I'm sure they are great pieces. I've admitted that I have plenty of room to grow in the "vision" category so use your pieces as examples and teach us something.

Now, on another note, you are a department head at your university "charlie". You stated emphatically that you "knew" I traced and projected a photo when I did not. I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did not trace that painting. You know better. I deserve an apology. I'm not sure the university would like to see you representing them in a manner like this.


Now I wanted to answer your question Ogre Lawless. Here's the palette I used for that painting. It's the one I pretty much use all the time as well. These are all blockx paints:

Titanium White
Mars Black
Ultra Blue
Transparent Mars Red
Venetian Red
Burnt Umber Deep
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Yellow
Crimson Lake
Cadmium Orange

I try as best as possible to keep my colors to a two "tube" mix if you know what I mean. I want to mix it in the most efficient way possible so the color is dulled down the least. So I will use two (straight from the tube) colors and titanium (or flake depending) white for each mix. You have to get really familiar with mixing before you can do that, but if you can get that discipline down it allows you to "mess" with the paint less and the colors stay more pure.
posted by JonathanHardesty at 7:06 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

JonathanHardesty, it's fantastic to see you here.

Personally I am not so very interested in drawing or painting, but I'm fascinated by how people learn and develop skills, and by what capabilities we have that we may have written off. Since I read about you yesterday, I've been thinking to myself on and off: "So... what might I be interested in devoting twenty minutes a day to, for seven years?"

Btw, if we are making comparisons about how far and fast people develop, it's worth noting that spending twenty minutes a day for a year is the same amount of time as spending four hours a day for a month. i.e. Seven years of effort in small amounts of spare time equals maybe half a year to a year of full-time work. Time enough to make substantial improvements, but likely not enough to reach what might be considered mastery in most fields.
posted by philipy at 8:25 AM on October 25, 2012

The reason I left the program is because of the mentality that you see expressed in Charlie's posts. I wanted to learn the technical side of things first before learning the expressive side.

Yeah, I have seen plenty of art school dropouts that decided they knew more than their professors, or the artists who taught them, and on since antiquity (where those "classical techniques" you study were improvised). I might even have been one of them, but I wised up. Yours is an exceptional case, a devotion to purely technical aspects rather than expression of meaning. You have disdain for the teachers that tried to get you to express yourself. I can see that in your work. I am telling you the same thing. It doesn't matter how skillfully you can paint, if you have nothing to say in your painting.

Jean Dubuffet once said, "The problem of painting is how to cover a surface in an interesting manner." He was poking fun at academic painters who prized technique over expression. Look at some of his works, like this one, Vache Tachetée. This is the result of a career developing technique at the same time he developed an expression that transcends technique. And Dubuffet completely abandoned this technique he had worked so hard to develop, and developed several more techniques that he explored for the rest of his life. A true artist knows that every medium has limitations, the mark of a true artist is in how he transcends those limitations. Anyone can "cover a surface" with paint but how do you do it in an interesting manner? You must have something interesting to say.

I remember taking a master class with Brice Marden, you would probably hate his work as the most severe of abstract non-representational painting. But the one thing he pointed out in critiquing our work was that we all had "narrative." Some representational works have a narrative, in that they depict a scene. In some abstract work, the narrative is about painting. I like the term "autobiographical painting" that says every painting is its own autobiography, it tells the story of how it was painted. That is something that goes beyond mere technique. It is technique in service of an exploration of ideas about painting and how painting is art. Until I listened to an artist who has his next 25 paintings pre-sold for over $1m each, admiring the work of students, and connecting them to his own work, I never really saw his abstractions as more than squiggles on paper. Then I heard him talk about narrative, and saw it in his work too.

And that is what is lacking in your painting, it has no narrative. It is technique without a purpose other than to explore technique. It only expresses the idea "I can paint." It does not express the type of ideas that were contained in the works of the artists whose painting styles you are studying. For example:

>It is completely obvious that I am using dutch master lighting and setup.

Right, and that's about all. Why did the Dutch painters of the post-Renaissance use the styles you are emulating? What did those paintings have to say? You look at those paintings and see the surfaces, the technique. You do not look deep enough to see the message. If you did, you would be able to understand the need to put a message in your work, and you would be able to.

If you want my advice (and clearly you don't want anyone's advice, merely their adulation) I would suggest you study more art history. That seems to be what you skipped in art school. The difference between an artist and an illustrator is that an illustrator may be skilled at representation of the appearance of things, but an artist uses those techniques to express ideas, and connects those ideas into a dialogue with other artists throughout history. You can do that without any technique at all. But you can't do it without understanding why artists make images, why YOU are making images.

The one thing I worked hardest at in my painting, is to determine why I even painted. I decided that it was too easy to make technical works that had no real reason to exist. I decided that for a painting to be "real," it had to be the way it was, it had to have a reason to be what it was, to look the way it did, to use the techniques it used. I had to find the reason why I made the image, why I made THIS image THIS way and not some other image some other way. I have no way to really express that in words, I express it in painting. It took me a while to find that out. I am only commenting on your work because it looks like you have no desire to find that out, you even have disdain for people who express ideas beyond technique. My critique isn't criticism, it isn't anything personal. This is how painters talk about painting. Compared to the critiques in a serious painting program, my words are mild.

IMHO, if you really want to paint, study more art history and learn why artists used those "classical techniques." For example, I was stunned at your palette. The reason the "classic" artists used earth pigments like umber and ochre was because they were dirt cheap. They literally are dirt. Even white pigments were expensive and used as sparingly as possible. Those little white highlights in your painting were used only in the smallest highlights, because it was too expensive to mix it with colors. They used lots of light earth tones instead of white. Nobody does that today, when you can buy nice artist's grade pigments in tubes, instead of having to grind it yourself. Why don't you study modern techniques? All you need is 3 colors and white, a cool/warm pair of each color makes only 7 pigments. You don't even need black. Nobody has painted like you do since Cezanne, and there's a good reason for that: they started making premanufactured pigments and selling them in tubes.

Now once again, don't take this all personally. And all the spectators kibitzing in this thread, I admonish them to not take it personally on behalf of this guy. Artists all believe in their work, and the work of painters is to develop their beliefs so they can express them in their work. You don't do that just at the easel with a paintbrush, you also do it in a dialogue with other artists.

Now, on another note, you are a department head at your university "charlie".

Never have I ever implied such a thing. When I have referred to "my art school," I refer to the school I attended and attained a BFA with two studio majors, in Photography and Painting/drawing. I am currently considering doing an MFA in an unrelated area, but have not applied for the 2013 program yet. Other than a few years of working as a studio assistant for a retired professor, I have had no direct association with "my" art school for about 15 years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:58 PM on October 25, 2012

Either way though post up your work here so we can take a look.

No, sorry, we aren't going to be doing this. JonathanHardesty, moderator here; welcome to Metafilter! We're really happy you're here and hope you'll stick around and enjoy the site, but if you and charlie don't surf want to engage in mutual art criticism you guys need to go ahead and take that off-site.

Charlie, you've expressed yourself at length now, and it's time to get off the podium. This is a post about something interesting that someone did and documented, pointed out here because people might be interested in discussing that process, and you aren't allowing that conversation much air. You can continue the personal discussion with JonathanHardesty via email if he's willing.
posted by taz at 12:49 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry about the school thing! I looked at your posts to see if I could see your work and I thought I saw you saying you were involved at a university. My bad.

Don't worry at all charlie I don't take it personally. I actually agree with you 100%. Art history has actually been my new focus. I've only just started though. I actually LOVE this kind of dialog. You are wrong in saying that I don't want to find it out. I think that narrative is paramount in all forms of art. I eventually want to combine a lot of technical skill with narrative to get the double whammy, because that is my particular goal. I also agree that I don't have that yet. I am just taking it in chunks. I am starting to feel more capable, technically I mean, and the rest of my training is going to be spent pushing technique AND figuring out who I am and what I want to say. I think our only difference is that you would probably want me to study the narrative side at the same time. I'm just breaking it up into sections. I want to be so technically proficient that I can stop thinking about it altogether and just "do". I would be fine going back to that Univ Pa program now. The past nine years have been about getting my foundation on the technical side so I am not limited later in how I express. Admittedly I am biased in the way that I think people should learn a disciple. I think the technical side should come first, but certainly not at the expense of the narrative (in the long term). So perhaps we agree...partially at least! Woohoo...oil and water mixing haha! I certainly don't have disdain for people that pursue narrative...I just don't expect it in a first semester foundations drawing class....especially when the class description specifically says that you will learn the fundamentals of drawing (not the fundamentals of making art). Now, if you feel that technical skills ruin someone's ability to express then we probably would never see eye to eye and we would have to agree to disagree. I don't think you would say that though since you mentioned your respect for Eakins.

I actually like his work if you can believe it (Marden). This is a cursory look but I think he definitely has a narrative going on especially considering the shifts from cold mountain 1 to cold mountain 6 that I saw online. Admittedly it is my first time seeing his work though. Now I know he is referencing ancient chinese poetry (based on the description), but he must be making a play on words because that painting looks how you feel when you stand on a cold mountain. It's almost exactly what you see when standing there...to me at least. His work shows technique as well! People might think that it is mere lines, but it isn't. There is layering going on there that people would find very difficult if they tried it on their own. I would have to read more about what he was saying with his work to fully understand it though. I've got him bookmarked and I will check him out.

Now on that note, one of the things I have been exploring lately is the people in my area. I just moved to rural PA and I've been getting to know the Amish actually. I am really interested in their way of life and I haven't seen a lot of people explore it. I've gotten to know some families and I'm thinking of spending time there. I don't paint like Wyeth of course, but I want to start exploring their way of life a bit like he did with those around him. I saw a show with his work around here and I also got to walk through his studio as well. His work spoke even more clearly in person. There's a true simplicity to the way that the Amish live, but it also is set up against this idea of modernity. They will ride in cars but will not drive them, etc... Cars go wizzing by their horse drawn carriage. That's a really interesting juxtaposition that I think want to explore. That idea has larger ramifications for a commentary on where we are headed as a society. I find myself torn in both directions. I certainly love an ipad, but other times I wish that we were all just living on farms. I've got to spend some more time with them first to get a clear vision of how they live though.

If you have thoughts on that particular thing I would love to hear from you charlie (seriously...I'm not being sarcastic). I love discussing and learning (I know you might not believe that...but it's true). The other classically inspired artists hate me because I don't trash non-representational art and I try to learn from it. The non-representational artists hate me because they (like you) don't think I care about narrative or the idea behind a work of art. As far as I'm concerned...the more polarized the views the better the chance for learning. I think you would find me and my work less reprehensible to you if we were talking in person haha. Shoot me an email and we can keep up the conversation (jonathan@jonathanhardesty.com).

p.s. - I do 3 color paintings all the time (actually lots of different palettes). That just isn't my go to. The palette above can achieve a LOT of variation very quickly which is why I use it. I could care less what colors the classical artists used when I was picking my palette. I pick my palette colors based on mixing efficiency (time-wise) and what colors I want to emphasize. Wyeth used almost exclusive earth tones in tempera and watercolor so I think they can be used effectively. When the sun is going down and I want to do a study from life it can take a long time using only three colors to mix everything...so I arrange my palette based on what I am doing. That one I described is my go to. I use black as a color...not as a "darkener". It quickly desaturates and cools something so I find it useful for that reason. Like a muted blue almost. If I was going to paint in a more impressionistic style I would throw the black away (I remember reading that Sargent was baffled that Monet didn't use black haha). I've ground my own paints before (just for the experience of it) so I know they are "literally dirt" ;).


No problem at all I understand. Sorry about that. We will move it to email if charlie wants to keep talking and we can get it back on topic. I think it will be put to rest now. Metafilter looks really cool as well. I will definitely stick around.


I know exactly what you mean. You know what is interesting. Taking art seriously and really focusing on the technical side has helped me learn how to approach other areas. I realized, when pursuing art, that I had never really tried to be great at something before in my lifetime. I had done things, but never really devoted myself to it. Devoting myself to art for the last 9 years has given me respect for people in all different fields. I am nine years in and I still feel like a baby! It's shown me what it takes to be great and that is a lifetime of devotion. It's taught me the dedication it takes to be a husband and father as well, etc... I almost feel like if you can become good at one thing then it will be much easier to be good at other things. There is definitely a "science" behind learning. That part is very interesting to me. I'm sure there have been a bunch of books written on that topic. It seems like there is always a core set of skills that has to be figured out...a language of sorts that has to be learned...and then you can move forward from there. I've heard it described like this and that it progresses in this order: Unconscious ineptitude, Conscious ineptitude, Conscious aptitude, Unconscious aptitude. Once you get to the unconscious aptitude you can start to express without having to think about it. You just "do" stuff and you can't remember why. So it's like a blues guitarist...eventually just feeling the notes and absolutely never thinking about technique. How long did Miles Davis have to think about where to place to his lips on a trumpet before getting to the point where he could do it so effortlessly...a long time I'm sure. He certainly wasn't thinking about it when he was playing though that's for sure.
posted by JonathanHardesty at 8:45 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally, Taz's decree notwithstanding, I think this is a decent dialogue that should be held in public, not via private messaging. Both Mr. Hardesty and I have put considerable effort into our comments and into understanding each others approach, and everyone else trying to provoke a fight, or mischaracterize comments as hostile. It is worth keeping this dialogue in public, to disprove the opinions of the people who tried to provoke problems.

In lieu of authorization from authorities, I will just make a couple of brief comments.

Mr. Hardesty may enjoy this picture of Brice Marden painting the Cold Mountain series with a 6 foot long stick. He was deliberately trying to prevent any elaborate technique by decreasing the direct contact between himself and the canvas. I had a long chat (and too many glasses of wine) with Brice, and we discussed his references to Chinese calligraphy. I was astonished to discover that he didn't really know crap about calligraphy. He can probably BS anyone but me, since I studied calligraphy in Japan. But that's not the point. Each of those paintings is a response to the tradition of calligraphy, to whatever level he understands source material and makes it his own topic. So there is not a huge leap between these 8th century writings and the Cold Mountain series.

Also, Mr. Hardesty may be surprised at his new Amish environment and their approach to the arts, which is basically nonexistent. I know it all too well, since my grandparents were Amish. The Old Order thinks art is sinful and a waste of resources, and painting is "creating graven images." The only arts that I know are accepted are singing hymns, since it takes no resources and serves a religious purpose, and sewing/quilting which serves a practical purpose.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:42 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

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