An envelope arrived in the mail a month or so ago. I didn’t recognize the name on the return address, M. Kunin. Opening it, I realized who it was from: my father had jokingly written the name of the former governor of Vermont on the return address. Inside was a letter from 1985. In it, Governor Madeleine Kunin wrote to thank six-year-old John Herreid for his contribution to a display of children’s artwork at the state capital. She concluded with “I hope you will continue to express yourself by writing down your thoughts and by creating works of art.”
I have to admit that whatever art or story it was that was sent to the capital has been long since forgotten—I can’t remember what it may have been. But I did remember the letter, though I hadn’t known that my father saved it all these years. I remember feeling really proud of myself at the time, and wanting to spend more time than ever in working on my art.
Encouragement, both from parents and from admired figures, can be an immense boost for kids. I’ve read many testimonials from various authors and artists who cite things such as a note from a favorite author as being instrumental in starting them down the path to a career in art…. CONTINUE READING
I’ve recently returned to drawing, and I’ve been attending a weekly drawing workshop. It’s starting to feel like my old drawing muscles are coming back. Here’s a dump of some recent sketches:
I got a cheap brush pen and have been using it to sketch. Here’s a 20 minute sketch of St. Edith Stein. (With red crayon background.)
I’m also teaching art to my kids, and this is a 10 minute demo sketch drawing from a photo of Charles Darwin. Continue reading
My daughter and oldest son have very different takes on this portrait by Raphael.
A while back I was asked for some thoughts on art, beauty, and God. A few of those comments made their way into this nice article on beauty by Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick in Our Sunday Visitor. I’ve written here before about art and developing an enthusiasm for it, and in a general way, about introducing children to it. As I was reading the OSV article, some more concrete examples came to mind about introducing children to art.
A general principle that my wife and I have tried to follow with our children: introduce art with them, not at them. By this I mean: don’t turn on some music, a movie, or toss a book of paintings at them and leave the room. Sit down with them, watch things, listen, and look. Discuss. If they are uninterested, don’t push it. If they show an interest in some good art, cultivate that interest and find ways they can engage with it.
I don’t kid myself about my children’s native artistic taste: they are just as likely to want to watch or read something that has little to no artistic merit as they are to want to watch something good. But if introduced to great art with enthusiasm, they pick up on it pretty quickly… CONTINUE READING
Over the past week I watched Roger Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters”. It is a refreshing look at objective standards of artistic beauty, why beauty is important to humanity, the corrosive societal effects that occur when we reject the beautiful in favor of the purely functional, and how making art into a subjective experience that relies on the conceptual rather than the perceptual devalues artistic talent.
You should watch it. It’s very good.
But here’s a bit of a “however”. When Scruton does get around to showing some current art that he does like (sculpture and architecture), it’s all of the sort that is consciously attempting to recreate an earlier era. Sure—that kind of art is objectively better than whatever Damien Hirst has decided to show up with, and requires a great deal of skill and training. But much of that sort of thing ends up coming off as a recreation of a specific time, and thereby appearing artificial. For sculpture and painting, many of the new artistic traditionalists being promoted by organizations like the Art Renewal Center tend to produce work that looks like it came from the 19th century academic school of painting, a very specific and rather rigid system that Impressionism was largely a reaction to. In architecture, many of the new traditionalists are also more interested in designing buildings that are in a pretty static mode.
This isn’t to knock the traditional methods and the learning of them. I’m just asking what we’re doing with those skills. I’ve benefited greatly from learning traditional artistic anatomy, figure drawing, and composition—from a school I found through the Art Renewal Center. Yet, I remember having a conversation with one of my (very traditional) art teachers where he lamented that many of the new traditional painters were content with producing what he called “warm-up studies” (academic nudes mostly) without going further to use that talent to tell stories or interpret the world around them.
Maybe this is part of a new tradition taking traditional art and rebooting it to the standards of a hundred and fifty years ago. But if that’s the case, I hope it starts developing into something more interesting, organic, and fresh than it is at present.
If you’ve ever been part of any subset of society that shares similar end goals, you often find that for some people—maybe even yourself at times—the method that gets you to the end goal can become an end in itself if you let it. As a designer and artist, I see it among people who swear upon certain specific grid systems or interpretations of the golden ratio. As a Catholic, you find it among people to adhere to specific spiritual practices: charismatics or traditionalists or advocates for Divine Mercy, etc. Adhering to a particular method is of paramount importance, and anyone who doesn’t see the brilliance of that method is doing it all wrong.
Why is this? I think it’s because we all trust personal experience more than anything else. Our personal experience tells us that this method works for us, hence it is valid. The other methods—many of which we may have tried, many other which remain abstract in our minds—do not work as well. But leaning too hard on our own personal experience can lead us to forget that other people don’t necessarily have the same minds, personalities, work habits, or spirituality that we do. What works as a method for us might not for someone else. They have their own personal experiences.
That’s when we should remember the end goal. Is it beautiful design or artwork? Is it sanctity? Is it healthy habits? If someone’s method is working toward that end goal, that’s all that should matter. In fact, trying to get someone to embrace a method they aren’t suited to may end up damaging their ability to achieve the end goal.
Another thing that can happen if you’ve become a method purist is to elevate that method to actually represent your end goal. Then if you end up failing to follow the method to the letter, you’ve failed in your faith, or gotten sloppy in your work, or fallen off the wagon health-wise. Not so—reexamine your actual goals.
This doesn’t mean that methods should be downplayed or abandoned. I’ve found many great methods for working, praying, drawing, designing by reading books or articles by people who are enthusiastic evangelizers for their favored method. But at the same time I think it’s important not to feel hurt when a method that works for you ends up not working for someone you’re trying to help, or if you hear someone saying that one of your favorite methods didn’t work for them.
Here’s to achieving goals!