Roots and Wings: The Tao of Teaching


Yesterday I received an email from my former student Roger Derrick, which jump-started this post in my mind. Roger wanted to show me some new works in progress. I was astonished to see how far he had come since being in my class. The goal of my teaching is to cultivate each student’s understanding of the underlying principles that inform the decision-making process, giving them the ability to come up with the appropriate course of action in any situation. This approach allows an artist to continue to develop just the way Roger has, through determination, hard work and applied logic.

Teaching is no different than parenting. When people learn that I am a father, the first thing they ask is, “Are your kids artists?” My reply is always, “No, they’re not me! They get to choose their own paths.”

Now, many parents want their children to follow in their footsteps. They want their kids to come back and ask for advice when there are important decisions to make, regardless of their age. Obviously, these parent’s intentions are good. They want what’s best for their children, but they base their counseling on their own priorities. It’s only natural to want what’s best for your offspring! Right? But natural for whom? I raised my children to think for themselves based on understanding and good judgment. I chose to support their interests rather than imposing my own. As a result, they grew up to be independent thinkers, more than capable of making their own life choices. I couldn’t be any prouder or happier of them, regardless of the paths they follow.

My goal as a teacher is the same as my goals as a parent, to allow my students to develop into the best artists they can be, and not a replication of myself. There’s a very famous poem by Dennis Waitley about parenting, entitled “Roots and Wings”. Here’s the poem:

If I had two wishes, I know what they would be
I’d wish for Roots to cling to, and Wings to set me free;
Roots of inner values, like rings within a tree;
and Wings of independence to seek my destiny.
Roots to hold forever to keep me safe and strong,
To let me know you love me, when I’ve done something wrong;
To show me by example, and helps me learn to choose,
To take those actions every day to win instead of lose.
Just be there when I need you, to tell me it’s all right,
To face my fear of falling when I test my wings in flight;
Don’t make my life too easy, it’s better if I try,
And fail and get back up myself, so I can learn to fly.
If I had two wishes, and two were all I had,
And they could just be granted, by my Mom and Dad;
I wouldn’t ask for money or any store-bought things.
The greatest gifts I’d ask for are simply Roots and Wings.

When it comes to teaching art there are two basic approaches:

1)You can teach what you do.

2)You can teach the underlying fundamental principles of understanding.

Those who teach what they do have very specific rules regarding not only technique but what to do in every given situation. In other words a strict edict to follow. Unfortunately this results in students whose work strongly mimics that of their teacher. The better the student, the closer the adherence. Everyone turns into a some version of the master!

I choose the fundamental understanding route. If you know why things work then you have choices in every given situation; you do what you do based on your artistic intent and not anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean I eschew technique. On the contrary, my teaching is very technical because it’s vitally important to have the ability to manifest the choices you’re making.

I love it when no apparent stylistic imprint of myself is evident in the work of a former student. It’s my understanding that Jean Leon Gerome – the great academic painter of the 19th Century and one of the most revered educators of his time – shared the same philosophy. This enabled him to develop students as diverse as Thomas Eakins and William McGregor Paxton. Each of those artists took what they learned and were able to form their own unique personality and point of view.

I thought about the past week, where I had the great privilege of seeing a new show of paintings by my former student, TM Davy, a series of beautiful unique and innovative paintings of horses at the 11R gallery in New York City. I also saw, on Facebook, two great paintings by former students Billy Norrby and Martin Wittfooth. I received an email from Steve Birmbaum, the Assistant Director of Media at SVA. Steve had interviewed another long ago student, Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), a highly successful Chelsea gallery artist. Steve wrote, “The interview went great and Brian had a lot of wonderful things to say about you and your class during his time at SVA.” A few weeks ago, I learned another of my past students, Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, was developing, for 20th Century Fox Animation, a feature film based on “The Dam Keeper”, his 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated short. The incredible thing about all these artists is that you would never know they all studied with the same teacher. They took their roots and flew to the heavens.

This week my new continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts will be starting. It’s a perfect opportunity to self-reflect and ask yourself, “Do I follow in someone else’s footsteps or do I want to grow roots and wings?”

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Fridays
12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Jan 27 – Apr 21 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Saturdays
10:00AM – 4:00PM  • Jan 28 – April 29 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page on my website.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

A special bonus field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and analyze some of greatest portraits in the collection will take place on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Portrait Painting • Spring 2017 Continuing Ed Classes at SVA in NYC


Artist: Indu Ramkumar

Marvin Mattelson teaches Portrait Painting: The Real Deal

It’s a new year, and if portrait painting is your passion, now is a great time to do something about it. I’d highly recommend taking a class with me at the School of Visual Arts. My classes go beyond the mere technical (which BTW is covered in great depth and fully demonstrated) to focus on the real crux of the matter: garnering a deeper insight into the mindset of the great classical painters of the western tradition. The purpose of my teaching is to transform and empower my students to be the best possible version of themselves.

Here are some examples from this past fall 2016 semester. These are students who come to one class a week and and have made incredible progress in their own artistic evolutions. Some have been in my class for a number of years while others are new to the program, but all have experienced tremendous growth in the short span of 12 classes. Here are some examples of their work as well as some of their thoughts.


Indu’s first and most recent paintings in my class.

Before joining Marvin Mattelson’s class, my experience taking painting classes was of being left alone, expected to find my own way and teach myself to paint. I wasn’t taught techniques or correct practices and was just told to express myself. Marvin’s class was a complete eye opener. You learn how to observe correctly and draw accurately. We learn to mix realistic skin tones and learn the best practices of painting in oil. You learn everything you need to paint a portrait capturing realistic color, three dimensional form and life-like appearance. On the way you also learn a lot about art history: about the works and styles of famous artists and how their work relates to your own.

Watching Marvin demonstrate painting a portrait is an amazing experience. He is a highly skilled painter and is confident enough in his abilities to paint in front of the class, all the while describing and explaining his methods. He is incredibly generous with his knowledge and has no problems sharing his methods and techniques with his students. He is patient and methodical and will answer any question you have.

Learning under Marvin has completely revolutionized my painting practice. Recently I looked at the first painting I had done in Marvin’s class and compared it to my latest one (see above). The difference between them was night and day. I couldn’t believe the progress I had made. My skill level has improved, I’ve learned to better observe, to mix the exact colors I need. These newly acquired skills can be seen in my painting practice in all its aspects, even outside of portrait painting.

Indu Ramkumar

 


Artist: Alma Ortiz

Artist: Barry Grayson

Artist: Claudia Mullaney

Artist: Debbie Waldron

I love my classes with Marvin Mattelson, Master of painting AND teaching! He has researched, tested, and refined each step of his method, leaving nothing to chance, and he shares everything with his students. His portraits look three-dimensional and alive and he does not wave a wand! There is no mystery or nonsense, simply instruction and practice. I always knew that painting involved skills and if ever I found someone who could teach those skills, that I could learn too. Marvin is just such a genius. His work is methodical and rational and he explains it all. You can learn how to produce realistic skin tones; how to give shape and form to a flat surface; how to  change how you look at a model so that your painting also changes – for the better.

He has apt quotations and beautiful resource material (including his own expert photographs of master works) to help answer any question. He encourages and critiques and demonstrates until – with practice – his students make these skills their own!  At the end of a studio day (with professional models in perfect light and great music playing) each painter who followed Marvin’s instruction is better since their last attempt. If you practice what this incredible painter teaches, your results  will improve. Guaranteed. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from Marvin Mattelson!

Debbie Waldron

Artist: Debbie Waldron

Artist: Donna Rollins

Artist: Larry Houser

Noor Chadha

This spring I’ll be teaching two continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Fridays
12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Jan 27 – Apr 21 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Saturdays
10:00AM – 4:00PM  • Jan 28 – April 29 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page on my website.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

A special bonus field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and analyze some of greatest portraits in the collection will take place on a Sunday afternoon.

Artist: Riley Yeun

Artist: Wenkai Mao

FINE ART INFO SESSION: Free and open to the public Jan. 04 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
133/141 West 21st Street , Room 602C, 6th floor
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
I’ll be there. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and say hello!

Fall Portrait Painting & Figure Painting Classes with Marvin Mattelson at SVA in NYC

Featured Artist: Carole Katz

Carole_Katz3
The Department of Continuing Education at the School of Visual Arts has a display case outside their offices where they exhibit outstanding work created by current students. For the month of September, my student Carole Katz is being featured. The work will be on view at 209 E. 23rd Street in New York City. Enter through the rear of the lobby.

I’m so proud of Carole and what she has accomplished. Despite running her family’s business and attending to her many familial responsibilities, Carole somehow manages to squeeze in my CE painting class each week. This is the only time she gets to devote to her passion of painting from life. The primarily focus of my teaching is on having each student develop the mindset of an artist. As Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.” I don’t teach a specific style, contrary to the way most academic painting is taught, today. It’s vitally important to me that my students do not to lose their sense of self. I feel teaching style, is the proverbial “throwing out the baby with the bath water”. The Japanese poet Basho said it best, “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old masters; seek what they sought.” Carole’s sense of soulfulness comes through loud and clear. I’ve tried to nurture her ability to put on the canvas what she sees in her heart and I think she’s doing splendidly well.

Carole_Katz4
Here’s what Carole has to say about her experience of studying with me:

“I’ve taken art classes for many years in both New Jersey and NYC. I’ve always felt that, being a realist artist, something was missing in every painting and/ or drawing class that I took. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I couldn’t explain what I was missing, but I knew there were missing pieces to the art instruction that I was getting.

And then I attended Marvin’s portrait painting class, and I realized I had found the teacher with the knowledge and technique that I knew I had been missing. He was the teacher I had been looking for. His talent, ability, depth of knowledge and generosity in his teaching sets him far apart from other art teachers and puts him in a class by himself.

I feel very fortunate to have found him and to have been able to study drawing and painting with a true modern-day master artist.  His portrait painting class and his drawing workshop have both transformed my skills and brought them to a higher level. I will continue to study with him because every new class brings new insights and knowledge that help me continue to evolve in my art.”

Carole_Katz2
I believe there’s a general misconception that in order to be a highly accomplished realistic artist one must put one’s life on hold and devote oneself to five years of intense study. Obviously the more you practice the better your chances of succeeding. According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. But practice alone guarantees nothing. The most important aspect of becoming masterful is learning to think like a master – it’s a contextual shift in the way one sees the world and I believe that’s what distinguishes my approach to teaching from others, and I know Carole, as well as many others, would wholeheartedly agree, as you can see by reading the feedback of many current and former students.

Carole_Katz5
This fall I will again be teaching two continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Realistic Portrait & Figure Painting
Fridays • 12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Sep 23 – Dec 16 • 12 Sessions
Register online for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Saturdays • 10:00AM -4:00PM  • Sep 24 – Dec 17 • 12 Sessions
Register online for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

Carole_Katz1

Oil Portrait Painting Workshop 2016

11 Day Workshop with Marvin Mattelson

August 1 – 12 (No class August 7)

Includes a 1 Day field trip to the Met

Ida2

Workshop demonstration by Marvin Mattelson

Painting is a function of problem-solving; the key is understanding how to control pictorial space on a flat surface. Every paining is different, every lighting condition has its own specific issues, and every situation requires it’s own unique solution.

“Common observation and a plain understanding is the source of all art.”

Sir Joshua Reynolds

After having devoted myself to a life-long in-depth study of the old masters, I have come to the conclusion that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula which will solve the myriad of problems an artist encounters in the course of  creating a realistic painting.

Recently I went to see the Van Dyck portrait exhibition at the Frick Collection here in New York City. I went a total of four times. Each time I went back I was able to pick up on more subtle touches, which served to further validate the ideas that have been percolating in my head for over thirty years.

Van Dyck is one of my great heroes and he has played a significant role in my artistic evolution. In 1988, The National Gallery in D.C. had a show of over 100 Van Dyck portraits and figurative paintings. It was there my ideas about painting took a 180 degree turn when I realized it was possible to not merely replicate reality but to greatly enhance it. Compared to the people looking at the paintings in the gallery, Van Dyck’s figures appeared far more alive and dimensional. To be able to achieve that same enhanced sense of reality became my Holy Grail.

I wasn’t interested in having my paintings look like they were painted by Van Dyck. To merely copy his stylistic devices, would be the artistic equivalent of feeding myself a fish rather than learning how to catch them. I didn’t want to merely copy what he did, rather, my sole focus was to get inside his head and fully understand his thought process.

Understanding why and when he varied his approach seemed to be the key, since he solved seemingly similar problems in a plethora of ways. Little by little, I was able to assimilate his thought process and, I realized, when I began analyzing the paintings of the other great artists I admired, they too employed a similar strategic way of thinking and were also able, without compromising their own unique look, to achieve the same sense of enhanced dimensionality and aliveness as Van Dyck.

With each subsequent Frick visit, this past spring, I felt more and more validated in the approach I utilize when I’m painting and teaching. I believe that once understood, this knowledge can help any artist take their work to a higher level.

What I teach is not a dogmatic cookie-cutter solution but a context within which you can make intelligent and appropriate choices. Conventional thinking never worked for me. I don’t believe that keeping halftones cool or shadows warm or any specific action or series of actions comprise the secret to exceptional painting, No magic medium, fancy palette or specific color is going to transform you into a great painter.

I’m leading an eleven day portrait painting workshop at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from August 1-12. I will be demonstrating all aspects of my teaching. (You can see the demo above, from a previous workshop.) We’ll be working from live models and also be spending one day at the Met, where I’ll be analyzing some of the greatest portraits of all time, and showing you exactly what it is that makes them so effective. This is the only painting workshop I do all year, so if you’re interested in what I have to offer you can register online or call 212.592.2200.

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM • No class August 7.
Find out more information about the workshop
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.

Until next time…

Register now, or forever hold your piece (of charcoal)

Marvin Mattelson interviews himself!

Detail of Marvin’s drawing demo from a previous year:
Dustin-draw2

My 5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop at the School of Visual Arts in NYC starts on this coming Monday, June 6th, and runs until Friday, June 10th, so I decided to pose some deeply probing questions to myself so that potential students could get a better idea of why they should sign up today.

Q: Why your workshop when there are so many to choose from?

A: Good question! First you’d be helping me line my pockets with gold. Just kidding, I will receive a check in payment for my services.

Q: No seriously. Why your workshop?

A: I think I offer a different level of understanding than what I’ve come to see in the teaching of others. The majority of teachers give rules and techniques to follow. Me, however, I feel very strongly that unless you know why you are doing something, you’ll never have free will.

Q: That’s a pretty bold statement. Care to explain more succinctly?

A: Yes, it’s like the parable about fishing, the difference between giving a man a fish and feeding him for one day or teaching him to fish and feeding him for a lifetime. Creating art is about making the appropriate choices, moment by moment. Rote reaction to any circumstance makes you a robot at best.

Q: What makes you think this rote way of teaching is so widespread?

A: I see students coming out of learning institutions and all the work looks pretty much the same stylistically. What other conclusions could I draw?

Q: Good point and clever pun (if I say so myself). So what will people walk away with if they sign up?

A: First they’ll have fun. It’s hard to learn in an uptight environment from people who take themselves too seriously. I’m a very irreverent person and I’m an artist because I want to spend my life doing what makes me happy. Being in a relaxed state encourages flow.

Q: Anything tangible beyond this new age mumbo-jumbo?

A: For those who want a more meat-and-potatoes kind of explanation, my students will learn, first, to see more accurately, also a function of being on the moment (Mumbo-jumbo or not…this is key!). They will learn how to convert what they see into a 3D representation on a flat surface. They’ll learn techniques that they can blend into their own way of working. Most importantly they’ll become far more adept at drawing, which is – as Ingres put it – the probity of art. To that end they can have far greater control whether drawing or painting or whatever their end game.

Q: Wow, you make a very compelling argument. I’d sign up for that in a minute. Any last thoughts?

A: Here’s the thing, far too many people get caught up in believing if they can only learn that one elusive technical tidbit, that’s the answer. I know, I’ve been there…and nothing could be farther from the truth. Basho, a Japanese poet said, “Don’t follow in the footsteps of the masters, seek what they sought.” I think anyone would benefit greatly from this approach.

Q: Thanks so much for the interview.

A: The pleasure was all mine!

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200