Have you ever heard someone at an art gallery or museum say “I can do better than that” or “My kid in grade school could do better.” These comments are most often applied to modern or abstract works like those of Jackson Pollock, which are often seen as splashes of paint devoid of any classical training or real skill. Without discussing the merits of any particular artist or painting, let me just say that anyone can create some kind of art – but not everyone is an artist. You may very well have the skill to execute a painting as well or better than someone else, but that does that make you an “artist”? So what is an artist if not one who creates art? With all due respect to Merriam – Webster, for the purposes of this article, we must differentiate between a trained artist and an amateur hobbyist.
At this point, I know that I may outrage, alienate or otherwise offend some of my readers. So, if you believe how-to-paint TV shows are good art training, if you think you’re an artist because your “art” is proudly displayed around the house by your mom, or if you believe that you will be the next Picasso or Pollack without any traditional art education, then you may wish to stop reading right here.
Whether one studies at a college, an atelier, or combines self-study with professional workshops, there is no substitute or shortcut for studying drawing skills or classical training in painting. “Artists” on TV who say they can teach you to paint even if you can’t draw – like Bill Alexander and Bob Ross – are only “dumbing down” the painting process for hobbyists. Sure, you can learn some techniques or tricks to manipulate paint to obtain the image of a mountain or tree. Just remember that even apes and elephants are able to manipulate paint without being able to draw. Actually, some of those animals show quite a bit of natural talent, and their paintings have sold for a lot of money. Certainly, some amateur hobbyists are also able to sell some of their work, especially on the internet. But art dealers and critics can spot the difference between a trained professional artist and a cloned hobbyist using the Alexander, Ross or other gimmicky methods. At some point, one must decide if you want to become a serious trained artist or just be a hobbyist that uses gimmicks to paint to make some extra cash on Ebay.
Just for the record, from the age of seven, Pablo Picasso received formal artistic training from his artist father in figure drawing and oil painting; and Paul Jackson Pollock moved to New York City in 1930 where he studied under the great Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League of New York. Yes, even abstract artists like Picasso and Pollock had classical art training.
Of course, investing the time, money, and effort to learn drawing and painting does not ensure success as an artist. Nothing ensures success in any field. There are no shortcuts to the skills and knowledge needed to master any craft, regardless of one’s talent or genius. But a true serious artist loves the study, creative process, and has the drive for the ceaseless work it takes to improve their skills, regardless of success or recognition. Then again, any bit of success or recognition is icing on the cake that is very tasty and satisfying indeed!!