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Technical Skill as a Painter is Not Everything

by Brian Sherwin on 5/15/2011 5:25:48 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

A recent debate inspired me to tackle the tug-of-war concerning the value of technical skill in painting compared to raw skill, if you will. Involve yourself in debates about the process of painting and it will not take long for you to realize that some view mastery of technical skills-- specifically from an academic standpoint-- as the end-all-be-all of what makes a 'good' painting. I for one have a different opinion. A painting can be solid, if you will, without strict adherence to mastery of skills. In my opinion, technical skill as a painter is not everything.


It is often the case that artists become discouraged when they observe works by other artists that exhibit a high level of technical skill. This is due to the fact that said skills can rarely be emulated effectively unless the artist spends years-- perhaps decades-- practicing the art of painting in order to convey the same technical control, so to speak. It can be intimidating-- especially if you surround yourself with peers who value technical skill over all other aspects of what makes a 'good' painting. Thus, I think it is important for artists to critique their own work beyond just the limitations of technical skill.


I realize it is controversial for me to suggest that technical skill in painting is limiting-- but in some situations, based on the individual, it can very well be. Consider this-- an artist who has all the technical skills down to mastery may create paintings that don't really 'say' anything outside of 'this painting was created by a skilled painter'-- while an artist who has yet to reach the same level of technical skill may create a painting that 'speaks' to thousands of viewers. Mastery is important-- but it is not always everything. Sometimes the gut-kick reaction that can be spurred by viewing a painting is of more importance to a viewer than how technically sound the painting is overall.


I would go as far as to say that what makes a painting 'great' is the unique spark that rests within it-- a spark that makes what is being viewed more than just a painting on canvas. Often the deeper you dig within yourself-- who you are-- the more powerful your art will be. So in that sense the mastery of the art of painting is not all about technical mastery of skill-- it is also about mastering yourself. In other words, mastering your authentic voice expressed visually on canvas. That connection-- if 'heard' by viewers-- can be more valuable to a painting than years of dedicated practice.


I've seen works that are solid from a technical standpoint-- but fail to make a lasting impression otherwise. Said works were created by artists who have dedicated years to developing their technical skills as a painter-- but have done little to discovery themselves as individuals. The lack of intuition, if you will, shows in their work-- paintings that are often dull in the sense that they offer very little in respect to self-reflection or fail to capture the essence of the human experience, if you will.


Even in regards to art marketing we can observe that high technical skill does not always sell a painting. I know artists who are masters of painting-- from an academic standpoint-- who rarely sell their original artwork and barely attract the attention of viewers. On the other hand, I know artists who are relatively new to painting who have done well selling art online, have won painting competitions involving other painters who are far more advanced technically, and have a large following of individuals who are inspired by their work. If technical skill in painting was everything, so to speak, that would not happen.


In closing, I do think that learning to be a skillful painter is important. I'm in no way suggesting that artists should avoid learning skills nor am I implying that dedication to mastery of skills is a waste of time. However, I don't think technical skill is the only important factor when deciding if a painting is 'good' or 'bad'-- or how viewers will 'see' the work. Balance is often the key. Solid technical skills and the ability to work beyond them-- beyond what is known as 'the right way to paint'-- can often make a powerful statement when expressed on canvas. In that sense, an individual new to painting can create a work of art that is more 'powerful' than a painting created by an artist who is considered a modern master due to technical prowess alone.


Consider this an open topic on technical skills versus intuition-- raw skill, if you will.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin

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Topics: Brian Sherwin | creativity | inspiration | Instruction | painting 

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I don't agree. I side with Art Renewal Center on this subject. Modern art gave birth to mediocre works. That is why you see so much crap in galleries and on artist sites. The loss of technical skill is a burden for the integrity of art.

Faye Creel
While I will always strive for better technical skills in my artwork, that can never be my main objective because then the joy of painting, teaching others, especially the children and wonderful little old ladies in their 90's would not be part of my life as an artists. My opinion is establish your priorities; however, stay creative and enjoy the ride and views of other artists.

Lori Woodward
As many of you know, one of my mentors is Richard Schmid. He learned how to paint from an academic standpoint when he was in his late teens and early twenties. Seriously, you can see his early academic paintings in Chicago, but you really can't tell that they were painted by him.

In Schmid's late 20's he began to experiment with paint application.. he wanted to make his own artistic statement beyond academics, all the while keeping the integrity of representational painting - using accurate color, knowing how light and shadow works, but developing an individual style. He always painted from life.

My studio was in the same building as an atelier in the early 2000's, and while these painters knew how to accurately represent what was before them, I often couldn't tell who painted any one painting - they all looked like the same artist did them.

I believe in academic training, but also think there is a time to move on and develop ones statement by making his or her paintings somewhat unique and recognizable as theirs. After all, we're artists.

What if musicians all played the same tune in the same style so that you couldn't tell who the composer was? Even God likes variety.

Teresa Tromp
There are some paintings that just seem to come alive. They are filled with excitement, color splashing around every corner and they just scream, BUY ME!!! I am the one you want on your walls. Sleep with me if you dare!!!

How do they do that?

I've seen seascapes so technical you could count the threads on the sailboat sails, and abstracts so vibrant with nice clean color dancing about. I have no idea what the artist is saying, however, they say it so beautifully. Both types of paintings can be exciting, if they are painted with the heart.

Sometimes I feel if I don't paint the windows perfectly straight, then the viewer will think I can't draw windows. Maybe if I taped my paintbrush to the end of a 4 foot pole, I could loosen up. I really have a desire to loosen up, and in my dreams I do loosen up. When it comes to actually painting, something clogs up. You're right, Brian, technical skill can be limiting if it lacks life. Painting must come from the heart as well as the head. The heart is where my pipes are clogged, when it comes to putting that passion on my canvas.

There will always be something to work on; something to improve. Once we know the basic skills, we should leave the mother's nest and learn to fly with our own wings. Some artists convey their passion so effortlessly, or so it seems. Their work is so exciting to look at, whether it is highly technical or loose as a goose.

God Bless!

You need "enough" technical skill to actually carry out your idea. "Enough" to make it look like whatever was in your head/heart when you started the painting. But being skillful "enough" is not an excuse to be lazy. Keep practicing, keep striving.
But more important than technical skill is honesty.
You MUST be honest. Don't try to be someone or something you're not. Be yourself.

Brian, I agree, and I think Lori added the perfect example. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you both saying a painting can't live unless it has both? (ouch, that was a lot of negatives!) How about a painting has to have both heart-and-soul as well as technical?

When I think about work from life drawing studio, I think of works meticulously done that are still boring. And I think of works full of emotion, but including obvious visual errors, making them uncomfortable. I think the artist has to bring ALL of their technical abilities and ALL of their emotion to the plate if they are wanting to hit the home run.


Betty Pieper
Although I had oils since the age of ten and took as many courses in college as possible in art, it was not until I watched Sal art director for GE international, paint...that I caught the "passion"! I could draw well...accurately...well beyond my years as a youngster but I didn't know what to "do" with that. Sal would paint and often it would turn into a desolate sand dune, a village square or Times if by miracle. In just seconds and as few brush strokes a mass could turn into a building; the headlights on a car would appear, a portion of a sign. It was ONLY from knowing the form and structure of so many subjects so intimately that he could pick and choose and be so utterly facile in bringing his evolving mental visions to the paper or canvas. He was well recognized in the art world...if not remembered for his unique works.

Carol Schmauder
This is a wonderful article, Brian, and the comments that followed it are great as well. I think good art work should be a combination of technical skills as well as "heart".

Brian Sherwin
Thanks for commenting everyone. Yes-- I'd say a combination of both is the best route to take. For someone who has devoted years to academic study of art that can mean unlearning what has been learned. For someone who has focused on their raw ability, so to speak, that can mean paying more attention to the technical basics.

Stan-- the Art Renewal Center, in my opinion, is a very closed-minded organization. They have went as far as to suggest that an artist is not an artist unless he or she has studied at one of their supported ateliers. With enough digging I'm sure a vested interest in those specific ateliers could be discovered.

I honestly don't have much respect for Fred Ross or Brian Yoder of ARC. Yoder backed out of an interview with me years ago-- and both have denied requests to debate with me over their opinions in past. If someone has hardline views on art and refuses debate you really have to question their motives.

Samthor-- I agree. I'd say honesty plays a big part of it.

Brian Sherwin
Lori, as you imply it often seems that the most praised artists who adhere to academic traditions are those that can break from that tradition when needed.

John Smith
I tend to relate to Stan and Lori's view. It is worth reading Malcolm Galdwell's "Outliers" where he explains how and why great people (including artists) become great. 10,000 hours and the persuite of excellence and understanding.
If you do not have the reqired skills there is no way you can adequately express yourself visually.
A new artist 'selling' paintings on the internet or any other way, does not mean they are good but often that those buying that work are in effect ignorant. (I'm certain artists such as Richard Schmid would agree with me).

Sergio Lopez
I think you have to go further to explain what you mean by "technical skill." I know what type of painting you are implying. There are many different types of painting skills you can develop technically. If you get to a high level of rendering form without developing your composition/color/design abilities, you are neglecting a huge part of the skillset you can absolutely improve on. I would go so far as to say that the ability to generate fresh ideas and concepts is a skill you can develop through somewhat technical means. So rather than saying someone has "raw skill" I would say that person developed a different type of skill set than someone who solely worked on their rendering ability.

I've seen academic and new realist paintings that were technically correct, but boring as all get out. Things get rendered so tightly that one artist looks just like another. In the past while learning to paint I have done work that was very realistic and even photo-realistic, but I now prefer to paint more loosely. There is a difference between painting loosely and having no technique. If an art work is technically so unsound it crumbles off the canvas in 6 months, or in a portrait one eye is two inches above the other, then I say a little more attention to technique is needed. However if an artist creates an interpretation of nature that is structurally sound and any departures are intended (not "I can't draw, so I'm being myself")then I say more power to him/her.

whitney peckman
I think Lori hit the nail on the head - it seems to me that w/o having mastered the technical skills of your medium, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to push the envelope. Often those who have highly developed rendering skills seem to hide behind that, failing to push into unexplored territory (either visual or cerebral). On the other side, many times I have seen an exciting, dynamic work by a beginning artist only to quickly realize that it was a happy accident and they are unable to come up to that level in other pieces. You can't dance till you can walk.

Judy Palermo
I'm enjoying this article and all the comments, and tend to agree with Brian. I only want to add: in local small competitions I've noticed when the ambitious work, with obviously higher technical skill, loses out to a simpler piece that clearly hits a common emotion, usually an 'Aw,gee!' cutesy type of thing. So the $100 prize goes to the two highly colored birds looking forlornly at each other on a very simple tree- and I agree it should win! It may be trite, but the work got its point across effectively, and was 'pretty' to look at. But I feel sorry for that technically higher piece. I see all the work put in it, but because the artists are still developing their skill their 'mistakes' are more obvious too, in that more exacting level, and the 'errors' distract from their vision. I guess I'm concluding that you get penalized for being ambitious, and reaching higher than your comfort level.
On the other hand Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a wonderful, deserved classic, yet we don't know all of Beethoven's work that well, so maybe it's unfair to compare. Art is democratic- and maddening!

Brian Sherwin
Sergio -- I'd say there is always room to learn-- build up-- skills followed by breaking those skills down when needed. Also”¦ as you imply an artist can develop a skill that does not fall within the tradition of academic painting, for example.

I'd say that is one reason why so-called 'self-taught' artists sometimes hit on something that really makes their style, if you will, stand out. Obviously academically trained artists can find that spark as well. Still-- when everything is said and done I think balance is key.

Brian Sherwin
Whitney, I understand what you are saying. I'd like to point out though that even highly skilled painters make 'happy accidents'. In fact, I'd say that is where an artist finds his or her authentic voice, if you will. In that sense an artist who has studied academically will most likely have an edge over an artist who has not when it comes to exploring what happened and how to 'make it' work again, so to speak.

However, you also have to factor in that some artists are great students having never entered a classroom or workshop. I did not mean to make the impression that formally trained artists are 'better' than artists who have studied on their own time. I just want to be clear on that.

Trust me-- after viewing some college grads artwork I wonder how they earned their degree. The breakdown of higher education in art is a topic for another day. :)

Brian Sherwin
Judy-- that is the fascinating thing about art. I'm sure we have all seen an artwork hanging in a museum wondering-- 'How on earth did THAT get HERE?'. My point-- even in a museum setting one can find varied levels of skill, intuition, and so on.

Darren Daz Cox
I understand what you are getting at here, and it is a valid point. All art is valid and the level of craftsmanship doesn't relate to the aescetic value, as Chuck Close would be the greatest artist alive, next to the people who paint those frost cola bottles on drink machines. Realism only gets you so far! However, this shouldn't be an excuse to not work at learning the the skills of realism. Too many artists I've known were too lazy to learn the basics, or rather, expected to learn them in college while learning less important things like Japanese History not understanding it takes time and effort to create the illusion of 3D on a 2D plane. Picasso knew realism and this helped him abstract. It was likely that he couldn't have done what he did if he didnt learn realism first. So if you you are a paint splatterer or random dauber, you may reach a level of mastery, but only in that area. Why limit yourself as an artist, learn realism and abstract back to your level of comfort!

If an artist who chooses paint as a medium and lacks classic skill he is just a painter. We have too many people claiming to be an artist today. If you want to be an artist learn the skills that have been passed down from century to century. Just because art supplies are plentiful today does not mean that everyone who can afford a generic set of brushes and canvas is an artist. Anyone can be a painter NOT EVERYONE can be an artist. Until we bring that level of professionalism back to this time honored craft the dullards of painting will continue to rule. We have painters today who confuse feces for paint. Did I say that a lunatic can pick up a brush just as easily as a skilled artist???

Faye Creel
Comments like Vandal just provided is what makes the art world "cheap" not those artists who are "lunatic" or deprived of some of the technical training and professionalism which others people possess. Artists and painters all have different reasons for doing what they do. While I strife to improve my skills as an artist daily, it is attitudes like this artist which I hope I never acquire.

By the way you can visit most artists websites to see their work; however, Vandal may be an imposter because I could not go to his/her website from the above comment to see their work.

I say keep making art, sharing art, selling art and enjoying art and let the public determine if your artwork is a collectable. If not just enjoy being an artists or painter; whichever, we may classify ourselves.

Hooray to all those artists who do not have the same attitude as Vandal, because I feel the "lunatic artists" also have their own place in society. Their art might speak to my heart and soul and their enjoyment should not be destroyed because of any attitudes.

Enjoy art as artists, painter or collector and ignore people with this type attitude. I hate that is upsets me when I see someone like this person, He/She is so blinded to life's blessings.

Faye Creel
Based upon the typing errors above, you can see I am neither a professional typists or writer; however, I don't stop being me to be a perfect person. We were made to enjoy living even in the computer age and in our 70's, 80's and 90's if we have that honor of living on earth. Again paint, write, become a computer whatever; but be thankful and enjoy who you are. I must go and finish painting now. Goodbye artists friends.

Melinda Cootsona
I think Picasso said it best, "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
Technical skills can be a good foundation, but they are only a foundation. They are the alphabet to a writer and arithmetic to a mathematician.
Once you have them, the true work begins.

Linda Packard
Thanks for this post! I agree whole-heartedly. While academic training is important as a base, it sometimes gets in the way of an artist experimenting and allowing for rules to be broken and happy accidents to happen. So many technically perfect paintings lack soul and emotional expression by adhering to the rules of composition. Plus, as a painter I find it more exciting to paint working outside my comfort zone, allowing the painting to emerge, to speak to me as I work.

jack white
All I can say is Thank God you are correct in your assumption that you don't have do be technically perfect to make art people will buy. I'm a great example of some with less skills that makes art people love. I know scores of artists with higher skills than me and yet they never earned enough to pay my monthly American Express.

It's not that I didn't strive for excellence. I was born a few strokes short of perfect. My drawing skills are okay but nothing that would make a person sit up and take notice.

Yet I never let the lack of talent prevent me from moving forward. I'm probably the least skilled artist you know that has earned what I have. As you said, it's more important to make art that connects with people than to be letter perfect. Thanks for the sound advice.

In my case I've never taken a class or attended a workshop. Perhaps that shows to other artists, but not to my clients. jack

Donna Robillard
I think whatever your technical skill is, you should do the best you can. Of course, those with 30 years of experience will probably have more technical experience then someone with only 2 years. Each person has their own passion and how they want to express it - that's what makes art so interesting.

Paul Breddels
Thanks for this article. It reflects my opinion about this matter.

I think it is important that one learns to cope with their technical ability. I i try to create something beyond my skills it shows. If i let it go, accept and work with my shortcomings amazing things happens.

If an artist "struggles with the material" it shows, and mostly not in a good way.


Sharon Weaver
I agree with your argument in theory, that art without an individual spark can be pedestrian, even boring but I have one pet peeve. Drawing, if the drawing isn't right I am not able to see the painting beyond that flaw regardless of how spirited or inventive the artist may be. For me you have to get the drawing right.

My main problem with this article is that you are starting out with three misconceptions.

First, not all art is supposed to speak to an emotional level. This is where Romanticism triumphed over Classicism on a historical standpoint, but not everyone gave up the satisfaction that an intellectual appreciation of art can provide.

Second, you are assuming that the artist is selling to an audience that values emotional response over a more classical intellectual response.

And third, you are assuming that the artist's goal is to provide an emotional response.

To a majority of people, emotional response is all that they are capable of judging a work of art on, because they were never taught how to judge art at all, and so they have no choice but to fall back onto a primal sense of "like it or don't like it".

Emotional response is not the absolute arbiter of what makes a work of art great. This viewpoint has only been around since the 18th century, making it the newcomer on the block compared with a longer history of judging art based on its technical and intellectual merits.

And pursuing what is personal is a trap that is waiting to spring. There is art that is too personal, in both the technical and non-technical camps, which no one will buy since it is so specific it is unrelatable, or is uncomfortable like viewing someone's open psychological wound.

But, having said that, the title of your article is correct as technical skill is not everything, but it never has been.

The reason why masterworks of the past seem to be all about technical copying is because the the audience has changed. In the past, it was the clergy or aristocrats who were the audience, and having a visual education was considered just as important as any other education.

A trained eye can spot where anatomy has been deliberately changed, where perspective and viewpoint has been altered, and see the artist's personality shine through, despite the lack of an obvious brushstroke.

On a personal note, I look at a lot of art, and the untrained hand is as boring to me as you find the works of an atelier. If you look at enough paintings you will find that the untrained make the same kinds of mistakes as other untrained hands, and their "unique" handling of paint looks the same as a dozen other's "unique" handling.

I believe that it is our blindspots that shape our response to art, and if we were to judge art with absolute objectivity we would be bored to tears, no matter what type of art we view.

To contradict myself, I think it is good to celebrate our blindspots when it comes to art, as the alternative of boredom would be, well, really boring.

But the assumption that everyone's starting point is the same point should be acknowledged, if not thrown out altogether.

Marian Fortunati
I am NOT reading your article as saying that technical skills are unnecessary... What I AM understanding is that we artists need to go beyond technical skills to find our own meaning within a piece of artwork that we create.
If we don't convey the feeling we're trying to convey through technical skills or in some other way, we haven't achieved a piece of art that others will respond to.

So it's really going beyond the basics to reach a point where the viewer can connect in some meaningful way.

jack white
Brady, if that is your obviously have not sold much art. If art is investment quality like G. Harvey then the work may not have to connect to bring a million dollars; however, if you are like the vast majority reading these blogs if you don't make art that emotionally connects with people you will not earn a living in this field. That's a fact. I've never seen anyone succeed that didn't make art people felt an emotional attachment. Never!

I'm not a master draftsman like my wife. She has amazing drafting skills. The best I've ever seen, but it was me who taught her to make art that connects emotionally with people. Your mouth would fall open if you knew how much art she sells each year.

You remind me of a man down here in Texas with a big hat, tall boots, jingling spurs saying he is a rancher. He is all show with no cattle. I doubt if you sell enough art to buy our supplies.
It's people like you that know everything but can do nothing. You don't even have the courage to use your full name. If you did we might see what you make.

Brian this column is dead center correct.
Jack White

Jack, I agree with you. I read your books on art marketing years ago, and learned that if a patron emotionally connects with one of my paintings it's usually an easy sale, however if there is no emotional connection, all the salesmanship and craftmanship in the world won't make them buy. In the "real world" of art sales, (and I'm in several galleries now and I have done street art shows in the past, so I've been and am on the front lines), I found my paintings sold when they reminded the prospective patron of a place near where they grew-up, or a time when they were out on a boat in the early morning on a pleasant fishing trip, or the mountain near their vacation home. Sometimes the emotional connection was a story about the painting I told them, like the time a snapping turtle sat on a log watching me paint a plein air piece, just me and him at a lake in the morning. Whatever the reason, they fell in love with the painting and then just had to have it. However, if they didn't fall in love with the painting, no sale. IMHO no emotional connection = nada sale, period. I believe there is room for well crafted paintings, but they also need to hit people where they live in order for them to want to hang them in their homes and look at them for the next 20 years or so. I haven't met too many patrons who wanted a painting because it was an intellectual item, they can read a calculus book for that. I think artists are in an entertainment business of sorts, and if they don't recognize that fact and think they can sit in an ivory tower and people will be amazed at their skill and shower accolades on them, they will starve.

Sergio Lopez
Dude seriously?

I'd learn to draw better but that aint the Texas way...

Yee haw!

*rides off into the sunset*

George De Chiara
Nicely put Brian. I've seen many examples of technically well done paintings that do nothing for me at all. The one thing no one can teach you how to make your painting speak. That's up to the artist and their vision.

Lori, I couldn't agree with you more. I went to the same school as Richard Schmid and one of his large full figure nudes hung in our oil painting studio. While it was well done and technically accurate it could have been painted by almost anyone. In fact if it wasn't for the fact he signed it I don't think any of us would have known he did it.

@ Jack White, if you click on my name it goes straight to my website. I'm not a troll, I never have been, and I always post under my real name. My real name is Brady. (It didn't even occur to me that not using my last name would be seen as devious, as it is common practice on the internet to only use first names.)

It may surprise you that I agree with you. The point of my response was not to say that in today's art climate a cool or classical art would be a hot ticket, but that some artists, and some art buyers do appreciate technical skill.

I do disagree with your underlying assumption that art that sales = good art. I have seen stuff sale that even you would most likely object to, if you didn't know it had sold.

I also disagree with the premise that the amount of art that one sales has any bearing on the quality of the art. It may, or may not, have an effect on the artist's bank account, but that is a separate issue. ( I hate to raise Van Gogh's ghost, but he is the poster boy for this example.)

To get back to emotional response, if there was no hype and no price on the Mona Lisa, would people have an emotional response to it? Not to disparage Leonardo, but if I made a list of my favorite paintings, it wouldn't make the top ten.

It is, in my opinion, a classical, emotionally remote painting, and yet would anyone turn down owning it if given the opportunity?

It is also a good painting to discuss the fact that even though he was very technically proficient, and shows that proficiency in the Mona Lisa, that he chose to change the perspective of the background, and in fact make up the entire landscape behind her.

Also, he has changed the anatomy in subtle ways, choosing to model the forms based on classical shapes, like spheres, cones, etc., so that parts look a little more round than they should, such as the backs of her hands.

You can also see this in paintings by Ingres, such as, Madame d'Haussonville, where he has changed the angle of bones of the wrist to make a more classical shape.

These paintings are obviously technically demanding, and even at the time of their creation sold despite being classical in nature.

Would they sale today? Maybe, maybe not, but I was merely arguing for the fact that the assumed starting place in not universal.

As far as the rest of your remarks, I will forgive them as a misunderstanding of what I was trying to say.

I look forward to more articles by you, and I hope to learn a lot.

This is an important topic to discuss I think that the academic painters and ARC believe that beauty is an absolute, achieved by technical skill and that beauty is an end in itself. This is only partially true. In his essay The Wound of Beauty Thomas Wolfe reminds us that traditionally beauty is one of the three transcendentals, along with truth and justice all qualities of God, and equally important. Modernism without beauty falls short, as does academic painting without truth. I think the art that touches us most, whether modernism or traditional, incorporates truth beauty and justice in a way that transcends the ordinary.

"...if you click on my name it goes straight to my website."

Except for that last one as I realized I spelled the URL wrong when I clicked on it to check it.

Brian Sherwin
It is a delicate balance if you think about it -- an artist can allow himself or herself to be imprisoned by technical skills as much as he or she can allow himself or herself to be imprisoned by raw ability, if you will.

Sharon, I have to agree that drawing ability is always a plus-- especially if you draw from life. It is one of the best ways to learn form in general. It really shows in a painting.

Brian Sherwin
Brady, I clearly stated, "I realize it is controversial for me to suggest that technical skill in painting is limiting-- but in some situations, based on the individual, it can very well be." prior to mentioning anything about self-reflection or the human condition. Again, "some situations" and "based on the individual".

In fact, I never used the word 'emotion' within the context of the article. Though I will agree that the example I gave does hit on one path of expression, so to speak, but I was in no way suggesting that is the only path. I'm not suggesting that a work of art can only be 'great' if it is emotionally charged. That said, in "some situations" it is very important.

Furthermore, I'm not suggesting that all paintings created at an atelier are boring. I'm not suggesting that all academic paintings, in general, are boring. I'm not suggesting that all painting that break away from academic technical skill are 'great' either. I want to be clear on that.

Brian Sherwin
Brady, you say, "To a majority of people, emotional response is all that they are capable of judging a work of art on, because they were never taught how to judge art at all, and so they have no choice but to fall back onto a primal sense of "like it or don't like it"."

Emotive responses from art-- and the exploration of those responses... which are stimulated visually as well as psychologically-- are more than just a 'like it, don't like it' situation. The emotional qualities of art are of no less value compared to academic/technical skill.

During my years in college if we had said "I like it." or "I don't like it." in response to emotional qualities OR technical qualities of a painting during a critique we would have been thrown out of the classroom.

Brian Sherwin
Though I will say that over the years I've seen just as many technically sound painters state that said skill is the end-all-be-all of art as I have artists with basic skills say the opposite. Both are championing their direction in painting. I don't necessarily blame them for that-- but sometimes it pays to open ones eyes to the other side of the coin, if you will.

The technically sound painters I speak of tend to make dry works of art, if you will-- while those lacking technical skill tend to make painting that are a train wreck to the trained eye. Again, I'd say a certain balance is best. Furthermore, having an authentic visual voice, if you will, is vital-- no matter how 'loose' or 'skilled' you are.

The academic painter would serve himself or herself best by going beyond what has been learned. The painter who lacks a solid foundation in technical skill would serve himself or herself best by practicing skills. I do agree with several of you that drawing is a good start-- and that a routine of drawing really does show in a painting.

I'm sure we have all seen solid technical paintings that we walk past without a second thought just as we have seen non-technical, if you will, paintings that we walk past with eyes rolled. The point-- both artists have failed to make a connection with the viewer... but what would happen if you could mesh the two directions together into one painting? It might just click with viewers-- that is for the artist to find out I suppose.

Brian Sherwin
Everyone -- do keep in mind that just because someone does not agree with me-- or you for that matter-- does not mean they are trolling. Opposition during debate is the creative juice of these articles-- this is where we all learn. We may not find common ground-- but we will certainly take something from it.

Jo Allebach
I certainly agree with the idea of getting it technically correct so it gives the appearance of being non-technical and therefore appealing In any field the more practice there is the easier it looks. With painting the easier it looks the better the chance of the message getting across. If that makes any sense.

john smith
This response from Brady, to me, is a beautiful and intelligent assessment.
I find it strange that as soon as anyone advocates the importance of learning technical skills there are those that will immediately go into attack mode and find every lame reason to not learn things as basic as drawing.
When the academic art schools in the 60's and 70's etc. decided that drawing was not cool we lost a generation of potentially great artists.

Now drawing has been rediscovered and is being embraced. There are those who are hanging on to that lost generation like a bad taste.

Apologies to Picasso, but who on earth wants to spend a lifetime trying to paint like a child anyway? All the many profesional artists I know spend huge amounts of time trying not to paint like a child. That was a thought back then - does it mean everyone has to to embrace that idea? Is it becasue its easier to scribble than learn to make something deeper and more meaningful? Is laziness of body and mind at the root of all this?

@ Brian Sherwin,

Balance, I can get behind that.

To quote myself and yourself: "Brady, you say, "To a majority of people, emotional response is all that they are capable of judging a work of art on, because they were never taught how to judge art at all, and so they have no choice but to fall back onto a primal sense of "like it or don't like it"."

Emotive responses from art-- and the exploration of those responses... which are stimulated visually as well as psychologically-- are more than just a 'like it, don't like it' situation. The emotional qualities of art are of no less value compared to academic/technical skill.

During my years in college if we had said "I like it." or "I don't like it." in response to emotional qualities OR technical qualities of a painting during a critique we would have been thrown out of the classroom. "

I agree with this to a certain extent, but you are specifically mentioning people who are artists or art trained, while my reference was to people who were neither.

I specifically made sure I did not blame people who do not have this training, as I don't hold them responsible for the lack, or think that they are somehow dumb for not knowing it.

The comment was simply a statement on how a person without any training is left with their gut reaction in response to an artwork.

I agree with you that emotional response is an important factor in how someone responds to an artwork. But it is not the only view, and in the past it was not a highly valued one, and was even ridiculed at some points in time.

I was trying to point out that our modern view of how to respond to art was not always the case, and that other ways of looking at art are valid, even if they are not popular.

But, I will say that in our current view, an artist wishing to make money at his craft would be foolhardy not to make art that connects with the majority of people as they are now the current audience.

But if an artist doesn't care about money, or somehow wishes to change the current view, they can make art to suit their own particular outlook even if it is opposed to what would be considered wisdom.

Post Modernism is the current status quo, so all of us who are representational artists could be considered stupid for not bending to the popular "wisdom", but for some reason we persist in our efforts to paint something that looks like something.

Different ways of making and viewing art should not be stamped out, even if they fly in the face of advice that might be considered "smart".

I'll end this with a quote from you since I think it is apt.

"The academic painter would serve himself or herself best by going beyond what has been learned. The painter who lacks a solid foundation in technical skill would serve himself or herself best by practicing skills."

john smith
Brady - you are a breath of fresh air. Your thinking and reasoning is clear and delightful and makes absolute sense! You give me hope in a rather 'muddy' contemporary art world.
A rather interesting little book is Steve Martin's "An Object of Beauty" which throws some light on the crazy thinking that prevails at this time.

john smith
You make perfect sense Pat!

Brian Sherwin
John, I don't think anyone here is saying that skill in drawing is not needed-- or that technical skill in general should be avoided. Technical skill is just not the ONLY thing to consider as far as a work of art is concerned. Art collectors prove that. As far as drawing is concerned I'd say that Laurie Lipton is a master-- that is just my opinion.

John -- with all due respect... if you want to suggest that Picasso was "lazy" be my guest. That said, his impact on art-- even today-- is very clear based on the fact that you and others have mentioned him during this little debate. Obviously artists were breaking away from the academic tradition long before Picasso-- so I'm not sure Picasso is the best example to bring up in the first place.

I don't think this is an issue of one direction dominating the other-- isn't there enough room in the art world for several creative paths as to how paint is applied on canvas, so to speak? If one direction, so to speak, dominated our museums and galleries I would think the visual experience would be rather restrictive.

What you call a 'scribble' may not have meaning to you-- but it may have great meaning to someone else. Furthermore, if we are to judge artwork based on the academic tradition alone that would mean that most of the art that is praised today in museums throughout the world are "meaningless" because they fail to reach that standard, if you will.

Suggesting that people who don't adhere strictly to academic traditions are just being "lazy" only serves to cultivate an 'us vs. them' mentality between artists. Just to tap history on the shoulder again-- the last time that happened on a large scale those showing full support to academic tradition.... well... lost. That is something to think about.

What makes an artist an artist in your opinion? Does a high level of technical skill make an artist an artist over a painter who lacks technical skill? It might be helpful to no where everyone stands on that question.

Brian Sherwin
Know rather -- I need to get back to sleep! :)

Meltemi aka Phil Kendall
I wanted to comment here but We're sorry blog commenting with javascript turned off on your browser
has been temporarily disabled due to spammers?

I had a reply on my 'one note'

I think the rise of conceptual art has done more to harm representational art than anything else. Early modern art was a departure from tradition but it still held to it!!!
Conceptual art is described as art that is not concerned with traditions or proper use of materials. Only the concept or idea matters. That school of thought has dominated art schools since the YBAs gained ground in the 1990's. Marcel Duchamp paved the way for conceptualism over 100 years ago but it has only dominated the art world in the last 2 decades.
Today anything can pass as art. A crushed can of Pepsi next to a torn American flag is thought to be groundbreaking while an oil painting that took months to create is shrugged at.

john smith
But Brian, that is exactly what some are advocating. May I draw your attention to Jack White for instance, who's only yardstick it seems, is how much any particular artist sells, with no reference to where they sell, or how much individual works sell for. Any artist can churn out mass produced drek painted to a formula at low prices - many aeem to support that approach.

None of the artists who support some technical background, as far as I have read so far say it must stop there, and to my understanding if technical skill is the handwriting of art, they are in a far better position to express deep and complex feelings and emotions than someone who has little or no technical ability. That to me seems like pure common sense.

john smith
Brian,may I add that Iwas not critising Picasso, a man who i have some respect for but the idea that one should spend one's life trying to paint like a child-why? Childrens art is pure response and that has some merit,but beyond that?

jack white
John Smith, my last portrait commission sold for $72,000. I am interested in what art sells for. My skills are good enough for one Texas Governor make me the Official Artist of Texas and Governor Rick Perry made me an Admiral in the Texas Navy. My work is in 11 Museums. My skills are average but not great. I started too late to be an artist to be great. I never painted until I was almost 38. Most start drawing at 5.

I was looking at Western Art Collector at one of the CAs artist work. One of his horses was way off. The neck was several inches too long, but the painting had a powerful emotional connection. His painting sold for $120,000 last month.

My mate draws as well as anyone reading these blogs. She has illustrated 47 major medical text books, but it's not her drafting people buy, it the way her art makes them feel. People call her work Billboards of Happiness.

The Medical College of Georgia keeps samples of her drawings on their walls to teach new students draftsmanship. Few can say that about their skills.

Brian is right, you can be letter perfect and boring. If that's the case no one will buy your art. I have seen some crudely painted art that sold like ice in the summer. Look at the Blue Dog. IBM paid Rodgriz $5 million to use his Blue Dog image in their ads. Most children can paint a blue dog as well as his, but can they add the emotion?

jack white

Brian Sherwin
John, concerning Picasso-- he said a lot of things... and contradicted himself often. Keep that in mind. heh He was very good at using words to cultivate his image-- build connections where otherwise there would have been none. If Warhol is to be credit for shaping the contemporary concept of marketing art I'd say that Picasso should receive credit for fueling the flames of what the cult of personality can achieve for an artist.

Brian Sherwin
Off topic Jack, but medical illustration is TOUGH to get into. Anyone who does it and makes a buck doing it must be doing something right.

As for selling art in general-- I personally think any work of art can be sold. That does not mean that all works of art will earn great profit. I'm certain there is some eccentric art collector out there who goes crazy over stick figures and views those works as more powerful than any image found in a museum. I suppose my point is that collectors will define art for themselves-- and go after what they want to have on their walls.

The market for art, if you will, is a very open market. It is very WIDE. You can't contain it-- you can't box it in with rules. In that sense, the art market is very much like art in general-- there are a plethora of directions it can go.

True, there are aspects of the art market, if you will, that are buzzed about more than others-- but they don't define the scope of the art market as a whole by any means.

Art collectors are individuals... just like artists are individuals. Some may be traditionalists, others consider themselves cutting edge, while others like a combination-- and on top of that there is the guy that likes stick figures.

Wyn Easton
This article reminds me of the old saying. "even a blind squirel finds an acorn once in a while."

Without being a student for life, you will only produce "art" once in a while.

You should know the basics and keep trying to hone your skills. Break the rules to say what you want to say with your painting, but know what rules you are breaking and break them because that is what you meant to do. Not because you didn't know any better.

Julliette Carignan
I'm in complete agreement. I think technical mastery is VERY important, but that authentic emotion and story and a true voice that connects with viewers is the more critical.

In the past I've tended to focus on technical mastery partly because it's more readily able to learned--resources are readily that teach it, and it can be readily studied. Now that I'm more more on the WHAT and WHY rather than the HOW, I find it alot harder to get help as I dig deeper into my inner self, mine what's there, and connect that with what and how I paint. I consider it paramount to my Life Purpose, though, and am dedicated to that discovery. I would love to learn about resources for learning about ways to do that inner discovery and expression of voice.

One source I've found, by the way, is a subset of the pro photographers' community that is all about the WHY. A great voice and focal point for that group is found at and the other thoughtful artists David links to.

Thanks for opening up this conversation!

No Thanks
The idea of mastery today is connected to art schools and workshops that want your money.

Those programs, including ateliers are a billion dollar industry. The same skills can be learned outside of those programs. One should not have to pay to feel like an artist.

I hate to beat the dead horse of Vincent Van Gogh but he is an example of a modern master who did not focus much time in art school.

I've read that he only had one year of academic training in art. He was considered a poor student. I believe he was kicked out of school.

The skill set that he had was something he developed on his own and because of that he created unique paintings and sketches. Van Gogh was a master of the skills he built for himself!!!

Those same paintings and sketches are learned about and duplicated in major schools of art throughout the world now. They are viewed more seriously than they ever were in his life!!!

There is irony because Van Gogh was considered unskilled by his peers during his life. Van Gogh teaches us that you don't have to hold to the traditions of painting practice in order to impact the world with our art.

Sergio Lopez
Ateliers are not making that much money. I know a few schools that are just making rent. They're not part of the "billion-dollar industry" that is the commercial art school.

Wyn the rules you talk about are rules defined by the money machine of art instruction. The artist can shine on her own by expanding on an individual skill set.

Past traditions in painting should be observed but new paths can be found by those considered unskilled by academic painters.

The traditional skills were skills honored by the church, merchant class and wealthy people from the past.

Imagine if musicians only stuck to those old traditions of music. We would not have rock, rap or country!!! We would not have the music that defines us today!!! Is that music less than classical music?

It was not until those powers were kicked to the curb that artists started to emerge beyond the traditions of centuries. No need to return to that dusty prison.

Art and music is no longer just for the wealthy and elite. It is for everyone and speaks to everyone!!!

That is why a painting that you think is unskilled speaks more to the public than years of academic training!!!

Calling an artist lazy because she does not have the skills you have does not explain the success that the artist has over you!!!

Don't be angry at what you call an unskilled artist because that artist shines over you in public opinion!!!!

The public decides who the masters are!!!

I read this article here and people call art dealers slick for selling unskilled art!!!

The art dealers are not duping anyone. The people the PUBLIC decides what is a master work!!!

A skilled work of art might be just that SKILLED and nothing else!!! It can be boring it can be horrible visually beyond those skills.

Skilled art can be bad art just like unskilled art can be bad!!!

Why do you fear the success of raw art???

Brian Sherwin
Santiago -- based on the definition of skill itself I would say that the better question is, “Why do the results of a painting have to be pre-determined in order to be enjoyed-- in order to be considered successful works of art?”

Brian Sherwin
Wyn -- 'Happy accidents' are not a bad thing. Every artist has those moments-- and they can be inspirational. As you suggest-- knowing what to do with those discoveries, if you will, can make or break what is learned from it.

Yep, I agree that a balance between technical mastery and bringing some individual passion and expression into the work is the best route.
I don't think it's a good thing for art in the long run for any one or any organization to foment conflict between non-objective artists and those who do representational work. The world is a big place and it can handle the full spectrum of art being produced by artists of every style and culture.

Donald Fox
I came late to the party, but what an intriguing article and series of responses. Comparing painting to writing or composing or dancing may help expand the conversation beyond one's personal prejudicial experience. We often follow what we're taught unless that is found no longer useful or we find something better. The best writers, for example, understand language at the basic level of grammar. They know that grammar illustrates how the language functions. They also know that grammar can sometimes be tweaked and language can be pushed in new, expressive directions, but it is the basic understanding that gets them there. A dancer cannot freely dance without the body being conditioned to movement upon command, whether intuitive or choreographed. Neither can a composer effectively compose without the experience of the connection between sound and the means to convey that sound.

An artist may have intense emotional connection to a potential artistic idea, but without the skill to bring that expression to life so that it communicates with another, there is no effective artistic expression. How much skill is enough? What are the variables? Experience, intelligence, inspiration, insight, vision, empathy, understanding, desire... All of these affect and are channeled through the skill set of the artist. As Brian and others have said, substance alone is not enough nor is technical skill without substance.

Faye Creel

Late with your input on this blog or not, this is great understanding for all artists. We establish what is best in our art world, just like we do for everything in life.

Balance is the name of the game! Well written article, and we should all strive to become what we want for our art experiences.

Thanks for sharing!

It seems that much of this discussion comes from the tension between representational and non-representational work. Does "skill" equate primarily with excellent draftsmanship? How are the skills of abstact artists evaluated?

I agree with some of the comments saying that Post-Modernism has had a damaging influence on art, but in my limited exposure (as someone who started creating visual art at age 50, four years ago), there seems to be a strong tide against the whole "skills don't matter" mindset. Many younger artists and art students are eagerly pursuing "old master" skills and using them to express contemporary ideas.

Another idea in the thread is the concept of emotional versus intellectual appreciation. I think this centers on an arbitrary and artificial separation. IMHO, aesthetic appreciation doesn't separate the two approaches. As humans, some of our reactions--to color or form--are seemingly hard-wired. For example, when viewing realist, figurative work, it's not necessary to have knowledge of art history or anatomy to know when a depiction of the human body is a little "off."

That said, I don't think there's really any such thing as an "ignorant" viewer of art. Even among art-educated, experienced patrons, reaction to work is subjective; you appreciate ("like") it or you don't.

Brian Sherwin
What I find interesting is the 'market should belong to us' mentality that comes out during debates like this. Looking over the comments I see examples of that coming from both sides, if you will. Again, the market for art is very, very wide. You can't box the art market in-- nor can you contain art in general. Art finds a way-- as does the art market.

As for the idea of viewers being "ignorant"-- ever notice that it is often said by individuals who think that viewers should 'see' art in a specific way... most often in a way that places their art before others. Thanks for locking in on that Wayson.

Donald, you may have been late-- but you made some great points. Thanks!

Ashley Marchment
Van Gogh; a humble story: I was never interested drawing or painting, because at school I was 'not artistic.' I have always believed that one either is, or is not an artist; one is born with, or without it.

I attended my first art class in my 50's in order to give 'relationship' support to my artist girlfriend. I hated it and, after a year, was about to give up when I came upon Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain. There are two Van Gogh sketches in her book, done two years apart. The first, The Carpenter, was to my mind, infantile, extremely poor, and at about my own low level of competency. Van Gogh's drawing on the facing page, 'Woman Mourning,' was amazing. I noticed that the two sketches were done only two years apart, and I told myself that he was not a 'natural' artist. Some one had taught him.

I vowed that if Van Gogh could improve so significantly in two years, then so could I. One month later I was introduced to contour drawing, purely as a de-stressing exercise, because I was getting so uptight about my artistic ineptitude. Suddenly, (One evening) I became a fantastic artist. (In my mind that is)

Later, I found a new art class, and my teacher moved me from watercolour to H2Oil. She believed in complete freedom, and let me be very loose. Halfway through a painting she would turn it upside down or sideways and make me turn what I had done into a different subject. This is where she taught me the techniques of painting and visualisation. Today, many years later, I love painting, and consider myself a very good artist. (My 'reasonably-high-priced' sales bear out my belief) I wish I had been taught well at school, instead of being told to rather join the science class.

Ken Weintrub
Why is this even a debate among serious artists? Would writers claim that correct spelling and grammar is all that is required for a successful novel or short story?

john smith
I think a writer would say that although its not 'all' that is important, grammar and spelling are very, very important. Without them you cannot express yourself properly, and readers would find it difficult to know what you are trying to say and so too with painting.

Ken Weintrub
John, I agree. But, as Brian Sherwood said in the article, "some view mastery of technical skills-- specifically from an academic standpoint-- as the end-all-be-all of what makes a 'good' painting." It is to that "some" that I'm speaking. If all one is saying is "look how skilled I am at applying a medium to a surface" that's fine for them and the people who buy their work. But let's not pretend that there is anything creative, expressive, or artistic about mere technical alacrity. Shouldn't we look for more before we call it "art?"

jack white
Ken art is art even if no one likes it. When my daughter was 3 or 4 she drew horses, that resembled a dog I praised her art. I was not an artist at the time, but we put up everything she did and when company came I showed off her art.

I sold my first panting for $10. I called it art. It went to Peru so I was immediately an International artist. (smile)

Lucky for most of us our first work is called art even though we still have miles and miles to put on our brushes.

There is no board of review to tell us we are making art. The crude drawing done thousands of years ago in the caves is called art today.

I think God there was no one to tell me I was not making art when I started. Somehow enough people thought the "stuff" I made was good enough to buy. I earned a great living my first year as an artist back in 1970. In five years I was earning unthinkable amounts of money. The art was really poorly done, but people continue to purchase all I could produce. Looking back it was nice I had no group telling me I had more work to do before I could call my stuff art.
Even little grandmothers who dabble are still making art.

Ken Weintrub
Hi Jack, it's hard for me to express nuance when writing and I certainly did not mean to say that something was or was not art. I would not discourage children, little grandmothers, or new artists and I don't kick stray dogs. I am trying to say that we should seek more than mere technique even though for some this seems to be the only goal. For me, I would rather hear a musician play with feeling and miss a few notes than have a mechanically perfect performance that is just that and nothing more.
I think your own letter proves my point in some ways. When you say your art was poorly done I assume you mean poor in terms of technical skill; but it probably had an appeal that went far beyond competent craftsmanship and I believe it is this which we should have as a goal.

Ken Weintrub
And are you the same Jack White who writes about marketing art? I have "The Mystery of Making It" and appreciate it very much...

Brian Sherwin
Ken's concern-- at least what I take from it-- is the fact that some highly skilled-- from an academic standpoint-- artists are very quick to suggest that art that is not on the same 'level' of skill is... well... not art. OR the skilled artist will imply that the artist who does not focus on those same skills is merely an "amateur". Do correct me if I'm wrong Ken.

I fall into the anything can be art crowd-- I don't think a specific skill set makes one an artist over others. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the artist who demands to be placed above others due to skill has a few insecurities to work out. That said-- there is 'good' art and 'bad' art... but even with that it boils down to the opinion of the viewer.

My four year old daughter tells me that she is an artist after painting with kiddy paints-- who am I to disagree with her. I'm just her father-- art has more authority than me.

jack white
Ken, I am the Jack White who wrote the marketing books.
I'm 79 and am still trying to learn more about painting and marketing.
I may have told this story on FASO. I did life sized portrait of Ray Kroc (McDonald's founder) He told me, "Jack when you are green you are growing, when you get ripe you start to rot."
I think it's all art only some learn faster and have more natural skills. Others like me just plod along, making mistakes, falling down and getting back up.
We met a woman in Sedona doing plein air. When I said, "I'm Jack White." She shook her head and asked, "You are not the Jack White?"
So in your case I guess I'm the Jack White.

Delilah Smith
I am sorry but I do not agree with you.You must be able to build a bridge between your creative mind and your art and that bridge is skill. It is a simple learned process of practice and creative habit.

I do agree that the creative happiness of painting should not be stopped because you feel you do not have a skill set. There is only one way to get it paint on!

john smith
What Delilah says makes complete and utter sense to me!

People will learn skills on their own naturally. Do something 100 times and you get better.

The painter does not have to take up the academic tradition. It does not mean the artist has to be a representational painter either.

All of you saying "SKILL, SKILL, SKILL!" are representational painters supporting you way of working. You way is not the only way.

How arrogant to think that only you deserve to be called an artist!!!!

john smith
Aren't you a little too protective of your beliefs?
Are you so sure you are right? Perhaps if you had more skills you would not be so protective of what you do or stand for. What makes you think all those who believe in skills are representational artists? Do Abstract or even great conceptual artists not have skills? A little presumptuous are you not.

Brian Sherwin
Santiago, skill is needed. I'm not suggesting that one direction is above the other with this article. I think both are needed-- skill and the ability to free oneself from what he or she has learned. Raw talent alone is great -- but if an artist does not go beyond that he or she may never expand visually. Adhering strictly to the academic tradition can also box an artist in.

Follow either strictly and you will likely create paintings that don't make the powerful connection they could have had with viewers otherwise. True, there are exceptions-- there are always exceptions.

The us versus them mentality does nothing for art -- art is beyond petty arguments among artists.

Brian Sherwin
With that in mind -- I will say that artists can develop skills in an unorthodox way. Do something so many times within the context of a dedicated studio practice and an artist is bound to get better at whatever process he or she is exploring. So yes -- in that sense I don't think formal training is the end all, be all of the practice of art. It is an option-- and likely an option that an artist should consider-- but it is not the only option.

The clash between representational and non-representational artists will never be won by one side or the other. It is a battle fought on two very different battlegrounds. At the end of the day-- viewers don't care. They just want to see 'great' art from all sides.

john smith
Brian, here I agree with you completely, and even though it is a no-win debate, it has been an interesting one, and one that will no doubt be discussed again and again....and again...

Donald Fox
Often there is criticism and some prejudice against art schools, especially at the university level. I understand that since within any discipline there can be personality clashes and disagreement that comes from previous mindsets that often have nothing to do with the subject studied. That's not my point, though. A really good design course focuses on visual problems, whether 2-D or 3-D, and includes problems related to both abstract and representational interpretation. There isn't a schism here between the two. They are simply different ways of addressing visual problems related to space, proportion, size and shape, color, direction, weight, emotional response, etc. - in short, all those basic principles of design. Many design texts will even expand visual expression to include finer distinctions among approaches: , representational, realistic, abstract, non-objective, non-representational, biomorphic, geometric, and so on. Painters of whatever stripe do need understanding and skill in handling the language and medium of their choice. I don't know if you'd agree, Brian, but I think the antagonism between so-called abstract and so-called representational painters has roots more in art criticism (Academics and Ruskin vis-a-vis the modernists) than among artists themselves.

Brian Sherwin
Any more thoughts on this topic? I'm re-visiting topics of interest.

stephen abela
this is a great discussion!
instead of saying - yes you need technical skill or you don't... i would ask how would you define technical skill in art? would that not depend on what your definition of skill: a means to an end (that end being a painting)- and a defintion of what the end or painting was? if it was...
making a likeness,
making an sensible impression.(impressionist)
expressing your feelings.

why does making an picture which can be done so much more effectively by a camera in paint some how art? and is the definition of 'skill' not 'a means'(to an end)..and if so what is the end in the case of a painting? beauty? expression..again why does paint make this so..? maybe the real issue here is painting is just a 'means' without an end -and a skilled painter applies his skill to creating a likeness which can be done so much better by other means..if not what is the end then..

In music, it's like technical skills in classical orchestra (note-reading) versus improvisation (Jazz and blues).

Nice topic )

John Fronza
I once spoke with a curator of a museum in Florida years ago and mentioned how much I admired the work of a certain artist in the community. His comment: "Oh yes, he is a really good technician." But he said it in a way that was; "Oh yes, he is a really good technician, but that is all he is."

Rob Adams
I enjoyed the article and have written much about similar subjects. One thing I keep coming back to is that skill is not necessarily important in how it effects the canvas but in how the gaining of it effected the artist. Skill is only a tool and part of any skill is to know when to and when not to use it. Or as art is a suite of multiple related skills which to bring to bear on a particular problem. Any art about making art is dull, whether in a cheesy art renewal painting, an empty display of skill for its own sake or a lazy conceptual heap of junk.


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