What IS Art?

The Artist
This has been a very revealing week for me.
Earlier, while reading posts to the Portrait Painters LinkedIn site, I found out some artists trace their work, then paint. I suppose it’s okay as long as the client understands the process. Somehow I have a feeling that I am part of a group of artist whose entries that are based on tried-and-true artistic tradition are competing with those who use projectors or worse – they print out the work on canvas and paint over it!!

“The Discovery” by Norman Rockwell

When this reality hit me, I felt like the boy in Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Discovery.” The truth absolutely shattered my fairytale expectations. Is it really unrealistic to expect an artist to draw his or her artwork? I’m not talking about someone who draws their original layout and then stencils to a final surface or uses a projector to enlarge it for a large-scale mural. The concept is theirs.  Tracing photos is hard to call original. Though I can’t seem to wrap my arms around the practice, I suppose it’s okay as long as the client understands the process.

The Art
Then, bringing up Rockwell’s work refreshed my memory of another revelation. I ran into a woman who said Norman Rockwell was not an artist, he was just an illustrator. Now, this cut me to the quick since that was my artistic thrust at the time. I was young and impressionable, but I asked myself, “Isn’t all art illustration?”  It illustrates places, people, vocation, moods, fantasy, aspirations, social issues.  The list is endless. I’ve heard people like to make such comments to impress others about their knowledge of art. Sure, I wouldn’t want to be remembered for just the painted logo on a van I did, but illustrative art can be very complex and demand high artist skills. Rockwell’s imagination and skill are seen above.

No one questions calling the sculptor an artist. Why, even hair stylists are called artists today. Maybe the word “artist” has lost some of its meaning. If a person renders a creation in or on stone, metal, paper, canvas or whatever, they’re an artist. If they copied a work or photograph, they’re a copyist. How good of an artist they are can depend on the viewer and the artwork. But if Reader’s Digest wanted to use “The Scream” by Edvard Munch for their cover would you have to call Munch an illustrator?

I would love to hear from critics and artists – is copying art? Is Illustration art?

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When Do You Dump the Method Books?

Michael Peterson Going to State!

I lie in bed fighting off the bronchitis that followed my case of flu and suddenly the phone rang. It was Michael calling to tell me he placed a rating of #1 at the KSHAA District Competition at Winfield, KS. I wish I could have been there. He said he was rather nervous, but he pulled through with a fine performance of Chopin’s E flat Nocturne. It may be a bit overdone, the piece, but he wanted to do it and he learned it well, so I figured experience is sometimes more valuable than running with the strategy for trophies. So Michael encountered his first judge. I await to read the comments. We both prepare for the next level.

Love vs Tradition (and Method books)

Michael came to me two years ago. The shy, soft-spoken young man whose mannerisms try to hide a good intellect and the uncommon sensitivity rarely seen today almost hid his love for music. It took me a few months to see the awe and joy on his face created by the mystical sound of a deceptive cadence. As a beginning piano student, I was determined to get him to read and play the grand staff notation and grow in hands-together coördination, but his love for music and the drive to move on made me finally abandon the method books. When is it wise to set aside the “normal” curriculum?

The more experienced teacher will be sensitive to cues of boredom and frustration and quickly adjust materials to keep interest up. This is common and I did as much when I showed my grandson some level 3 jazz to bribe him to continue lessons. (We should probably explore teachers’ motives in the future). Michael, however, was wanting to play classical and specifically Mozart’s Alla Turka with less than just one year of lessons. So I decided to only use original versions and went with the following:

Hanon                  selected exercises, arpeggios and interval runs

Chopin                 A minor waltz

Joplin                   Maple Leaf Rag

Clementi              Sonatina in G major

Mozart                 Alla Turka Rondo

Burgmueller       Ballade

Bach                       Musette in D major

Beethoven           C sharp min (Moonlight) Sonata, 1st mov.

Bach                        Invention in F major

Rachmaninoff     Op 3. No 2 (C sharp min Prelude)

Chopin                   Op 9 No 2 (E flat Nocturne)

So after he did one movement of Clementi, I let him play the original Mozart and he did it well. He played it with the Maple Leaf Rag for the studio recital and did just fantastic. He is a senior this year, so you see we were up against the clock, so to speak, and he wanted to try at least one competition. So in addition to some lessons in improvisation, drills in sight-reading a lot of technique and theory, and a couple of fun songs (Super Mario’s soundtrack music), I’d say he’s building a well-rounded repertoire and still maintaining his love and interest in music in spite of the lessons in Common Chords and Harmonizing a Melody. If I had more time, maybe some Schubert or Debussy and more Baroque…..

I am interested to hear from other teachers who had to throw out the method books very early and really customize the lesson plan.