The artistic masterpieces of every age have consistent underlying principles that emerge regardless of stylistic differences. By studying these artistic principles and their applications, we can appreciate the unique qualities embodied in the masterpieces of the ages. This in turn can help us recognize historical innovations in drawing and painting, and suggest to us ways in which these innovations can be used in contemporary art.
New art movements based upon artistic reactions to prior traditions have been responsible for much of the innovation in the art world. However, in the cultural climate that exists today this pattern of receiving an artistic heritage and either building on it or reacting against it has been broken. Many contemporary artists acknowledge no relationship at all to the art of the past. This failure to acknowledge what is, in fact, our common art heritage is, in my opinion, a major weakness of much current art.
In our arts climate, historical education and art training are often considered antithetical to genius. Rising artists are frequently expected to tap their knowledge directly from the ether, disconnected from history and labor. However, when the instincts of the individual are elevated above education, the artist can become stuck in a perpetual adolescence where his passion outstrips his ability to perform. A far more powerful art form is created when artists seek to first master the craft of art and then use it to express their individuality. As the British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds said in 1767, “Rules are not the fetters of genius, they are the fetters of men with no genius.”
Only by rebuilding our knowledge base can art once again become the combination of brilliant technical achievement and unique self-expression that defined the great art of the past. I was first introduced to this concept when studying with Myron Barnstone at Barnstone Studios. I was astonished to find that art had a language and a continuity of ideas that flowed throughout art history. Throughout high school and art school, I was expected to create original work before ever learning the basic skills. After several frustrating years of trying to express myself without the proper tools, I decided to learn directly from artists. I found atelier training to be the most challenging and rewarding approach to education. This is why I choose to train my students in this method.
The atelier movement attempts to rebuild the links between masterpieces of the past and our artistic future. As such, it sets a different course than the one prescribed by the arts establishment of the modern era. By reinvigorating arts education, we can give the next generation of artists the tools that have been lost or discarded over the last one hundred and fifty years. This book was written with the aim of reintroducing basic or fundamental principles of art. The principles laid out in this book, when studied in both successful works of art and through exploratory exercises, will hone one’s powers of observation, cultivate awareness of visual subtleties, foster discipline of both eye and hand, and build the skill and technique required to create strong, successful artwork of any style or genre.