Friday, September 17, 2010
Art Instruction Books
Photo: A wonderful group of students at a rehabilitation center beginning to learn watercolors.
Now that I’m back in New York, I decided to look through my bookshelves and was alarmed by the magnitude of my neglected collection of art instruction books. I suspect that I’m not the only person on the planet to own a large number of these books. I also suspect I’m not the only person guilty of reading through an art instruction book once or twice, trying a few tips, and then putting it on the bookshelf to collect dust for eternity. I don’t even want to think about how much money I spent on these books!
When I go to the bookstore I’m amazed at how many of these books exist! How do these authors convince a publishing house that they have something new and different worth publishing? Hmmm… this thought led me to reread the introductions of my books to see. Here’s a sampling:
Creative Discoveries in Watermedia by Pat Dews. Introduction statement: “Techniques are methods of rendering artistic works, procedures used to translate your ideas into finished paintings. Being familiar with a variety of techniques makes it easier to represent your ideas. This book includes many techniques for starting and finishing successful paintings, as well as how to generate excitement, create new surfaces, correct mistakes, crop creatively and much more.”
Master Disaster: Five Ways to Rescue Desperate Watercolors by Susan Webb Tregay. Introduction statement: “There are two reasons that this book is different from others on watercolor painting. First, I have learned that the detailed planning of a painting is not always desirable. Flexibility, rather than the perfect plan, is what makes finishing a painting possible. This book will allow you the freedom to be motivated by spontaneous washes of color and flashes of inspiration… Second, I am not writing this to teach you how to paint like me. My purpose is to teach you how to finish your own paintings in your own style. You will learn how to paint like yourself – only better.”
A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art by Dan McCaw. Introduction statement: “My goal in writing this book is to provide you with a map leading you toward the treasure that lies within you – your individuality, your own voice.”
Watercolor: A New Beginning by Ann K. Lindsay. Introduction statement: “This book is the result of my quest to find a way of teaching watercolor that would work for everyone, that would let anyone experience painting as an enjoyable, playful, and magical part of his or her life. It also came from my own growing understanding that making art is an intuitive process, yet as far as I had seen, it had always been taught from a rational point of view. Increasingly, this just didn’t make sense. I began to feel that teaching techniques, rules, principles, and theories first was simply not appropriate and, more often than not, shut down a person’s own creative process.”
How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself: Experimental Techniques for Achieving Realist Effects by Nita Engle. Introduction statement: “Rather than teach you the basics of composition, color theory, and the like – information you can readily find elsewhere – I will tell you how I discovered my own identity in painting, how I found out why I do what I do, and help you find your own answers so you can turn the techniques I present to your own use.”
Color and Light for the Watercolor Painter: How to Get the Effects You Want Every Time by Christopher Schink. Introductory statement: “Most of the painters I encounter in my classes have developed enough skill in color mixing to produce a great variety of the colors they desire. Their problem is not technique; where they have difficulty is in deciding where, when, and how to use their mixtures, and most importantly, in understanding why certain choices work or do not work. In this book I have attempted to provide answers to these problems, but not necessarily the infallibly right answers, and certainly not the only answers.”
Creative Watercolor Workshops: Challenge Your Artistic Boundaries With 25 Fund Painting Exercises by Mark E. Mehaffey. Introduction statement: “Why write another book about painting? The answer is simple: I am a teacher. I have ideas that I believe will help artists. But this book is designed to get you to think about what you want to accomplish rather than to just follow along. This book will help you paint like you, not like me.”
And so on…
In rereading these lofty goals I can see why I was enticed to purchase these books and it’s true that I learned something from each one. BUT, it can be confusing to try to learn and adhere to this myriad of approaches to creating art. In the balance, were all these books helpful or confusing? Did they help me learn to paint like “me” but only better or did they lead me to imitate? Did they influence my aesthetic sensibility to the point of conformity?
I must ponder these questions and, as I do so, I think I’ll head to the bookstore and find another book!
What do you think?