Lessons from the Masters

May 15, 2019

 

 

If anyone can teach us how to prepare to be an artist, it would be the icons of art history. Aside from the art of perseverance, what can the greatest artists of all time teach us? This is a short list of my impressions.

 

1. Never Stop Making Art. Artists teach us to put ourselves on the line. Consider that Picasso, Monet, El Greco and Gaughin, among countless other artists, endured scathing criticism during their lifetimes. The very moment you create something, you open yourself up to critique. Whether you ask for it or not, art criticism can be a hard pill to swallow. Be Brave - Make Art.

 

2. Ignore Trends - Be Yourself. Create you own art by ignoring artistic trends and the fetters of society. By bucking expectations the pioneering artists created a unique and revolutionary body of work.

 

3. Master the BasicsHenri Matisse believed that in order to achieve personal expression, artists must learn the basics of artmaking-composition, line, and light -and be well-versed in the masters techniques before being expressive. 

 

4. Embrase Imperfection. We live in a society obsessed with perfection. But artists teach us that mistakes are the pathways to discovery. Willem De Kooning didn't shy away from failure. In fact, he believed "that serious art was doomed to fall short of its potential," as art historian Robert Storr has explained. Perhaps surprisingly, the concept motivated de Kooning's work. "Failure ought to take your whole life, active life," the painter once said. Often, he would rework canvases over and over again, letting mistakes guide his next composition.

 

5. Studio = SanctuaryAgnes Martin, the legendary mimimalist painter, reflecting her commitment to and respect for the work said "You must clean and arrange your studio in a way that will forward a quiet state of mind," she explained. "This cautious care of atmosphere is really needed to show respect for the work."

 

6. Support Systems are Crucial. The creative process can be unpredictable and offers no guaranteed product. You have to find the resilience in yourself and your support systems to continue. Van Gogh had his brother Theo, Georgia O'Keeffe had Alfred Stieglitz. 

 

 

7. Make Art About Your Life: Louise Bourgeois maintained that art and life were one. "Art is not about art. Art is about life, and that sums it up," she declared. Her insistence that her art was a daily exorcism of her experiences, traumas, and inner turmoil, set her apart from most of her peers early in her career. 

 

8. Creativity, Eccentric or Weird. Many artists are classified by society as "weird" or "eccentric." I'm not sure if people confuse eccentricity with creativity, but I like Einstein's insight that "great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."

 

9. Never Give Up. Of the most valuable paintings in the world, eight were created by Van Gogh, who sold a solitary painting during his lifetime. Not that we want to wait a century to be paid or recognized but have hope is the moral of this tale.

 

Sadly, many of history's most famous artists died before their work was ever celebrated. What can we learn from this? You need to market your work today, creating a physical and digital footprint that will last forever.

 

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