Core Academic Training
There are three areas where the apprentice has the most to learn. They are: drawing from life, drawing masterworks, and drawing from imagination. The apprentice must include a third of each in their studies as the world’s great masters have done for over six centuries.
Practitioners in past centuries studied and analyzed works of their masters and available masterworks around them. They did this not with the intent of duplicating or copying, but to dissect and understand. An apprentice program provided the major part of their training and was supplemented by drawing and painting in the Cathedrals and museums.
The reason for this is two-fold: This was free, and of course, extremely valuable because the master had already solved a great many problems for them. Working from dead life or still was also free and also a large part the arts education. Working from the model was a great luxury and provided a time for the student to practice what they had learned from their study of masterworks. They also worked on their drawings without the model again bringing into play what they had learned from the masterworks. This latter practice has fallen out of vogue currently but is extremely important and an integral part of the big three.
Working from imagination has mostly been sidelined by the ‘Conservative Realist’ movement. The ‘pure’ observationalist contend that working from anything but life is taboo. Working during model breaks is discouraged. They copy masterworks rather than analyze them learning little more than technique. The current flux of the atelier system is collapsing under its weight. The technique oriented training progresses into ‘each one teach one’ because most copyist consortium graduates cannot make a living any other way. This trend is a self-fulfilling prophecy when ateliers churn out thousands of mimetic minions that produce virtually indistinguishable works there is little or no market for them. The problem is not that ‘Conservative Realism.’ is misunderstood, the problem that it is completely understood. The problem is that there is far too much of it. The problem is that most who emerge from these technique oriented vocational institutions can do nothing else. The problem is that they let been encouraged to let their imaginations lay fallow. The second obstruction is the proliferation of resources in print and online. What would seem to be a boon to art education is more often a hindrance. The reality is that there is no clear path. The sheer mass of these resources is overwhelming and daunting to the potential
Drawing is an intellectual business that has to progress past verisimilitude. The visual journey travels through the mind’s eye depositing massive amounts of information into the subconscious. It is in this subconscious area that the real alchemy takes place. Here observing becomes visualizing, here invention and imagination fluorous.
When Sargent’s apprentice said, ‘I paint what I see,’ he replied, ‘wait until you see what you paint.’
Seeing ones drawing or painting is an entirely different thing than seeing the object or subject.
Study a significant number of masterworks dissect them analyze them and reconstruct them. Do drawings of paintings and paintings of drawings, work from plasters to understand form and how light and shade travel two directions at the same time providing a topographical roadmap of the underlying masses. Forgo the laborious reproduction of copy plates working from the originals teaches far more. That is what working from life is all about. Drawing is the language, not a technique. First, one must understand the language, then find their voice.
Without a solid grounding in the big three, there is not a strong foundation to build on.
Alternatively, a man of wisdom “drawing is the cake” No matter how much time you spend smoothing out the icing, is the cake is not right; you are wasting your time.” It requires an excellent start to have a good finish i.e.; a good copy does not a good drawing make.
Practice the trinity of draughtsmanship if attempting to master all aspects of drawing. Mastery does not come easy, but littler worthwhile ever does.
“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all. Michelangelo.”
P.S. Academic training in art history, theory, and aesthetics form an additional Trinity that needs to find a home in one’s knowledge vault. Ateliers seldom provide this because much of it contradicts what they profess to be ‘Classical Tradition.’ The apprentice must turn to the books or the universities for the philosophical encage of ideas.