Presidential Art Quotes I’m Electing to Share

The above small article ran in the New York Times Magazine this past Sunday, September 15. It was a sidebar to an article about education. Obviously Ike understood the importance of art, since he had taxpayers foot the bill for a White House Staffer to prepare his materials. I’m assuming he didn’t wash out his brushes either. I say, money well spent. However, It got me to thinking. What have some of our other nation’s leaders said on the subject of the arts? So I did a Google search, and this is what I came up with–in chronological order.

George Washington:

The Arts and Sciences, essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.

John Q.Adams:

I must study politics and war, that my sons may study mathematics and philosophy…in order to give their children the right to study painting, poetry, music and architecture.

Abraham Lincoln:

I presume, sir, in painting your beautiful portrait, you took your idea of me from my principles, and not from my person.

Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Every time an artist dies, part of the vision of mankind passes with him.

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

Aeschylus and Plato are remembered today long after the triumphs of Imperial Athens are gone. Dante outlived the ambitions of thirteenth century Florence. Goethe stands serenely above the politics of Germany, and I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The age Elizabeth also the age of Shakespeare. And the New Frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a New Frontier for American art

The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose- and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.

Lyndon B. Johnson:

Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.

Gerald Ford:

Music education opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them – a world of work, culture, intellectual activity, and human involvement. The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.

Bill Clinton:

Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and by studying music in schools, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective.

Barack Obama:

In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education.

The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.

Until next time…

Fall Continuing Education Classes in New York City

Realistic Portrait and Figure Painting at the School of Visual Arts

Once again the fall semester is upon us. I teach two classes at the School of Visual Arts in New York City each fall and spring. A large number of my students keep coming back. It’s a diabolical plot to entice them to return semester after semester, by making sure they experience incredible progress in their artistic development. Then they’ll continue to register again and again and again. (Sinister laugh!)

All kidding aside, my teaching is effective because I don’t merely teach tricks, techniques and/or dispense rules. My goal is to transform the way my students think about painting, through a contextual approach.

A number of my students teach at the school. One such faculty member is Lori Hollander, who teaches jewelry making. She is a recent addition who has really flourished utilizing my methodology and thought processes. She started the above portrait–which she emailed to me yesterday–this past spring semester. At the end of the semester Lori took some reference photos of our model, Dustin, because she wanted to take her portrait to a higher level of refinement. I was so excited when I saw the completed painting. I’m posting a detail to give you get a sense of the intensity she achieved. It’s just brimming with life. I’m so proud of the great progress that Lori has made.

Realistic Portrait & Figure Painting runs 12 Fridays from 12:00 PM ’til 6:00 PM. Click here to register or get more info.

Realistic Portrait & Figure Painting runs 12 Saturdays from 10:00 AM ’til 4:00 PM. Click here to register or get more info.

For those interested, the classes start next Friday and Saturday, September 21st & 22nd 2012.

Until next time…

Looking for Art in All the Wrong Places.

Style vs Substance: There Needs to Be Much More Than What Meets the Eye

I’m a very analytical kind of guy. When I was a kid I always took things apart. I wanted to get to the bottom of how they worked, much to the chagrin of my parents. I’m just not content knowing something works, because only by understanding it can I truly own it.

When I began painting, my dissatisfaction with existing teaching modalities emanated from the fact that they seemed anchored in rote methodologies. In a given situation do this, do that, but never do the other. No explanation about why. (As I tell my students, “You can’t explain what you don’t understand.”) So I started looking at the paintings I was attracted to, and tried to figure out what it was that made them so compelling. The search for the common denominator! One strong commonality was a sense of sincerity, an clear connection between artist and subject. We’ve all had that experience of losing ourselves in a situation when we become enthralled. People appreciate the fact that an artist took the time to commemorate their fascination by making a picture of it.

The other night I attended a local theatre to see a series of one-act plays. I was invited by someone involved with the production. Two of the plays really stood out to me. One was actually quite good. The actor made the character he played believable. He transformed himself into another person. I didn’t feel as if I were watching a play, rather, I sat listening to this guy talk. The other performance was painfully difficult to view. The actor was so vested in creating a strong character he lost the point of the play. What was intended to be a dark comedy came across as pointless and confusing.

Afterwards I realized that the dichotomy between the two performances was equally applicable to painting. So many paintings seem to be about style and not about sincere communication. The art that’s most interesting to me is when the artist has something real to say. It doesn’t need a significant concept. It can be the smallest statement imaginable. In the parable of acting, it’s the difference between a performance by Meryl Streep versus one by Jack Nicholson. Jack is always Jack, while Meryl loses herself completely in her role, which makes for a more engaging experience.

I’m interested in artists whose works seek to convey something deeper, and not just the statement: see what I did and look how awesome I am. For that very reason I love the sensitivity of William McGregor Paxton, Ivan Kramskoy and William Bouguereau, and at the same time, I don’t feel much affinity for most of the works by artists I considerself-serving and superficial, like Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent. Look at Kramskoy’s Woodsman, above. Although it’s superbly painting It’s about so much more than that.

For me, art becomes special because of a genuine connection between the painter and their subject. Particularly with regards to portrait artists, since that’s my oeuvre. I’m not saying that every single painting by Bouguereau and Paxton are great, and rarely misfire. On the other hand, Sargent and Eakins–who each did do some incredible paintings–did a lot of paintings I find less than appealing.

I don’t think it has to do with loose or tight paint application either. I see this epidemic of superficiality spanning all styles. Maybe it’s a function of living in a world that too often celebrates the superficial and materialistic aspects of life. Ironically Sargent and Eakins are more widely known.

I believe the way the art is taught is a huge contributing factor. Far too much painting today maintains an extremely strong imprint of the teacher or school. When I teach, I go out of my way to leave my inclinations out of the equation, my intention is facilitating the evolution of the student as a unique artist, not a clone of myself. I think it’s important to teach general principles and not specific rules or dogmatic points of view.

Stylistic predilections and contrivances not only limit self-expression they also poison one’s ability to appreciate work that falls outside the confines of imbedded belief system. Judging a painting by the way it looks reminds me of the Johnny Lee song, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Look at Kramskoy’s Woodsman, above. Although it’s superbly painted, it’s about so much more than that.

Until next time…