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Knowledge is Key

by Keith Bond on 3/18/2009 9:30:04 AM

This Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Find out how you can be a guest author.

While in college art classes, there was a student who had the attitude that the fundamental Ďrulesí of art were a hindrance and should be broken or even avoided. He would often cite well known artists who broke away from traditional painting and did things their own way. What he failed to acknowledge or understand is that to successfully break the rules, you must first have a solid understanding of the rules. The better you understands the fundamentals, the better you will know when and how to successfully deviate from them to support your expression. Some of you may disagree with me. Please read on and reserve judgment until after I have presented my case. If you still disagree just remember - Iím right and youíre wrong! :) 

I truly believe that if the fundamentals of art were better taught and understood, the quality of art would improve dramatically. I believe that this holds true no matter the genre or style. Be it realism, abstract expressionism, cubism, etc., etc., etc. 

Unfortunately, many would be and professional artists alike subscribe to the notion that was held by the art student I knew. They argue that the artist needs to be free to express oneself. So called rules get in the way. I couldnít disagree more. I feel that the rules are liberating and enable me to be free in my expression. 

Why would I want to reinvent the wheel if I wanted to design a sleek new hybrid car? I would use all the cumulative knowledge of the past, and then using my intellect and imagination create something new to fit my purpose and vision. I would throw out old parameter and constraints. I would experiment and find new solutions. I could only do this if I knew why and how the parameters and constraints work in the first place (I donít-Iím not very mechanical). This holds true with art.

This also holds true with the artists cited by the student.  I admit that I havenít studied very many of the artists who began the abstract, cubist or other avant garde movements. However, the truly gifted ones that I have studied were traditionally trained artists. They learned the fundamentals, yet they took what they knew and manipulated it to fit their vision. They often broke the rules, but they knew how and when it was appropriate. 

Too many of the artists today who emulate their work do not know a thing about the fundamentals that make great art. To be fair, I will also pick on the realists and impressionists of today. It is too easy to just Ďpaint a pretty pictureí and have no foundation to build it on. Again, too many artists do not understand the fundamental principles of art. Let me reiterate, to successfully break the rules, you must have a thorough understanding of the rules.

Could you imagine a young music student refusing to learn scales, chords, harmony or other aspects of music theory so that he or she could be free to express his or herself? Quite the contrary. The musician who can successfully use accidentals or dissonance in music knows and understands music theory. The musician who understands theory knows how to manipulate the textures, moods, rhythms, harmonies, colors, etc to convey his or her intent. Knowledge is key to freedom of expression.

Knowledge does not come all at once. Neither can it be incorporated into your art all at once. I speak from experience. Each time when I hit a plateau or otherwise feel that my art is not what I feel it could be, I try to learn what things are holding me back. Sometimes it takes a while and is frustrating. However, I inevitably discover that what is lacking is a thorough understanding of certain principles of art. As I immerse myself in study and then begin to incorporate what I am learning, I find that I can better express myself with my art. I begin to improve.

I would encourage you to make the study of the fundamentals of art a life-long pursuit. I donít care if you paint realism or abstract expressionism or anything else. Noone has ever suffered from gaining too much knowledge. It may take a while to learn how to use that knowledge and incorporate it into your work, but that is part of the fun of it. You owe it to yourself and to those who view your artwork.  


Keith Bond


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K. Henderson
via web
Well said Keith. I'm constantly learning or re-learning things I've forgotten. And I was taught that you have to know the rules before you know which ones you want to break.Thanks for the article

Kathy Mann
via web

Most of my art instruction has come from books. Would you have any favorites which illustrate the art fundamentals you referred to?

Just found this newsletter via Twitter a couple days ago. Have really appreciated the information and insight here! Thanks.

Kathy Mann

william duckett
via web
Ignorance is bliss,or so they say I tend to agree with you,too many people are breaking the rules with out knowing what they are or how many countless hours of study or much less experimentationhas been put forth in a concentrated effort to learn those rules.Wonderful article,thank you too many! Ha! shortguy


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