Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Degas, and Picasso; we all know, at least indirectly, the famous paintings of the past. Painting has proved one of the primary stepping-stones upon which Western civilization has attempted to climb the ladder to Heaven. Painting remained basically the same for hundreds of years, until the 20th century hit with its many wars, transforming painting forever. Painting in America then embraced the abstract expressionism of Germany and entered an entirely new phase of expression based on the desperate need to find God. The whole world cried out with one broken wail for God, and in doing so reflected the disharmony of the war on the canvas. This is the power and purpose of painting: to reveal the soul of a people.
La Soupe by Pablo Picasso. Image in the Public Domain
This horror and despair defined modern painting; we now live amidst the contemporary movement of painting, which has stepped one step further. As a whole, we have lost form altogether. Now, the “art world” has no idea how to define painting, or create a common ground for us all to walk on. (If you want proof, check out MoMa’s exhibit “what is painting?”) Once, painting was a two dimensional image created with paints on a canvas. Today, painting could be done with food, mud, or something far more disgusting, on anything you like. In some ways this is wonderful and freeing. You can paint with anything on anything (for cheap art students like me this is marvelous)! But please note the origins of this movement: the despair of life without belief in God. With God, we can embrace the freedom provided to us through the contemporary movement, but we ought to do so in harmony with the tradition. So take up that old t-shirt and create a painting with fabric, watercolor, and glitter if you like, but don’t follow Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and claim that the idea is irrelevant and the soul doesn’t matter.
Let your painting be a prayer for peace and harmony, but don’t follow the early expressionist and despair of an answer. The artists of the past have taught us that we all can paint- all we need is a prayer.
As busy moms, teachers, and whatever other role we fill besides artist, it can prove very difficult to embrace painting amidst our busy schedules. We understandably ask, “how can painting fit into real life?” I believe this is the wrong question. Art is fundamentally personal and real. It breaks into our real lives, sometimes like a sunami and other times like a breeze, but always waltzing in to transform our real lives. If art isn’t affecting our real lives, then why are we making it? Put great art up on your wall so you can experience it every day and let it seep into your soul. Paint a painting, even one stroke a week, and let it dance through your days. It will. You do not have to paint every day or every week, sometimes just seeing something as beautiful is every bit as valuable. To view art as separate is, in my opinion, a great crime. I can think of nothing more deeply rooted to our humanity and reality than the force of creation. Can you?
Ok, so I need to get practical I suppose. Here are some tips that I hope will help you explore painting further. But first, let me just state the obvious: all painting is the embodiment of an idea. Whether you know that idea is somewhat irrelevant, more often than not you have a different idea than the painting itself. Begin with love and let the embodied idea transform you. Ok, here’s my list:
:: Work from your own original photos. Be sure to take many photos of the scene you wish to paint. One photo to paint from will never be adequate.
:: Keep a sketch journal. This does not have to be for sketching. It is just a place to write down things that inspire you. Next time you stare at a blank canvas just pull this out and get inspired! I fill mine with random things like magazine clippings, notes, garbage, leaves, etc.
:: Start small. Any craft store has little mini canvases of varying sizes. These make for perfect one hour paintings.
:: If you have a projector, project the image you want to paint onto a blank canvas. Then draw the projected image onto the canvas. This is commonly done among artists to save time.
:: Use oils. They stay wet for weeks, so you can leave the painting and come back later to work and it will be exactly as you left it. If you want it to dry quicker just mix some medium in.
:: Create a collaborative work with the kids. There are tons of different way you could do this. My favorite is to set up a canvas for about a week and let the kids work on it whenever they want. Just do layer after layer and see what happens!
:: Pray first. Are you painting a flower, your dog, your kid? Love them first, then paint. The strokes will reveal your heart.
Bio: Katerina Kern is both a teacher and a student, and hopes she always will be. She enjoys good wine, T.S. Elliot, Italy, and long walks on the beach. Much to her chagrin, she is a shameless extrovert, so feel free to post your response to her blog post below or email her at katiejkern (at) yahoo (dot) com.
This part is a member of our 31 Days of Playing with the Arts Series