Why Settle for Conventionality When Greatness May Be Around the Bend?

Last chance to register for Marvin Mattelson’s portrait drawing workshop in New York City!

A number of years ago Apple had a great advertising campaign entitled “Think Different!” It was quite brilliant, placing the emphasis on innovation by those who went against the norm. One would think that artists in particular would be able to relate to that, because by nature we are different than the majority of people who are non-artists. In lieu of that, I find it really amazing how fearful artists seem when it comes to thinking differently.  I guess there is comfort in the road most commonly traveled. It appears that far too many of us cling to convention as far as creating art goes. Thinking similarly? I tell my students, all the time, that conventional thinking makes for conventional artists.

Several weeks ago I went to a couple of auction previews at Christies and Sotheby’s as well as to an exhibit of contemporary realists. To me the Bouguereau painting entitled “Petite Berg” (see above) was by far the most impressive painting that I saw that day. It wasn’t great solely based on his technique, there were other paintings I viewed where the paint handling was top notch, but Bouguereau’s superior decision-making made it, for me, a far more compelling work of art. The way Bouguereau handled his color, edges, values, light and atmosphere put him in the league of his own. The great thing is, once you understand his thought process – which can be discerned in the works of all great artists – you can adapt these things to your own work in your own style and make yourself the best version of yourself, not a secondary clone of someone else.  It’s not about the application of paint, it’s about the application of knowledge.

Far too many who seek to be better artists think that the end-all is in achieving better technique. As a result the majority of students coming out the schools and teaching academies create work that looks eerily similar to their classmates. Based on the way paint is applied, the choice of colors, the composition and other telltale stylistic artifacts, the work tends to lack the handprint of the individual. When teaching is technique-centric what else can you expect?

There seems to be such a proliferation of artists out there consumed with understanding the exact techniques of any particular artist they admire. “If only I knew how so-and-so painted, then I could paint just like him/her.” Playing on this mind-set, manufacturers are now offering the traditional pigments and mediums used by artists of the past. Do you seriously think that’s going to make a difference? Not that it’s bad to use these materials, but it’s certainly not the end-all.

The truth of the matter is, it’s never the particular technique of any artist in question that makes them great.  In fact many great artists have changed their painting methodologies many times over the course of their careers. Don’t kid yourself, it’s the underlying thought process that makes great artists great. Yes, in my teaching I too cover a myriad of technical aspects – you still need a way to manifest your ideas on a canvas – but it’s this strategic thinking that lies at the heart of it all. It’s exactly what Michelangelo meant when he proclaimed, “A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.

So in my workshops and classes I offer a different point of view. This decision-making is at the heart of all my teaching. Once you understand it you will be able to forge your own path and no longer need to rely on technical convention.  So anyone looking to think differently should think about taking my drawing workshop which starts this coming Monday or my painting workshop which is scheduled for the second week of August, both at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

And it all starts with the drawing. To attend the drawing workshop please call 212-592-2200 or you may register online now. If you are interested in further information, you can read about the course here.

I’m also leading a 2 week workshop: Portrait Painting: The Real Deal from August 14-25. You can register online as well, or call 212-592-2200.

Until next time…