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Painting- "Catching Some Light"
"Catching Some Light"

Raising (or Lowering) the Bar

15 November 2004 — A kid draws a circle, inserts a couple of dots and a squiggly dash. Mom and Dad go wow. More drawings result and a bar of accomplishment is set. Time passes. Lots of loopy circle faces are drawn. Maybe animals with big eyes and crooked sticks for limbs and blocky houses with lollypop trees. No pressure. Only the kick of making marks with a pencil or crayon.

School Days

If the child has continued to be fascinated with picture making, it's now time to raise the bar. If the kid gets lucky and has a good art teacher or the parents take more than a passing interest, new plateaus are discovered. Paint, color, "shading" and possibly working from life, drawing real things or scenes, can be some of the possibilities. And like those adjustable basketball hoops that can be raised as the kid grows taller, the artistic bar grows higher as grade school and middle school give way to high school and beyond.

And it's about now that a tough decision arises for any young person
interested in pursuing art beyond regular school parameters. The options are to go on to art school and continue chasing your star or to get real, get a job and paint in your spare time.

And while the bar has been raised considerably since our aspiring artist drew loopy lines on construction paper, the height of the bar has been decided by either a sensitive teacher or a parent, each of whom consider art an important option of self expression.

Getting Serious

Both formal art school and a disciplined program of self education can make you a good artist. Neither is better or worse but, like two roads that lead to the same destination, each offers a different experience. Supposing art school feels like the right choice. Writing from experience, art school will immediately raise the bar to formidable new heights. Dizzying worlds of color, sophisticated drawing concepts, light and shadow, composition, pattern and movement, not to mention classes full of talented peers, all of which can jolt your confidence with a douse of reality and for the first time in your artistic life force you to hustle to clear the bar.

A self taught individual, on the other hand, usually exhibits a self reliance sometimes lacking in formally trained artists, who tend to hang on to group-think attitudes and "ism's" longer than most loners. But be prepared for lots of trial and error experiences - many probably bypassed if attending art school - but in the bargain, know that your fashioning an approach that will be uniquely your own. And when combined with an awareness of current exhibits at museums and galleries, reading lots of books and taking a class or workshop when needed, you can most likely carve out just as valid an artistic niche.

Being There

You're now grown up and doing it. And wether a full or spare time practitioner, painting continues to hold a place in you heart. The bar has been raised enough times that you've taken on the responsibility of asking "how high?". This may also be the point where you ponder the question "or how low?"

Let's say tones, modeling and a sense of realism captivate your interest. You can take or leave exciting color orchestrations, but just got to have structural solidity. So you lower the bar, accepting your limitations as a colorist, and zero in on your major preoccupation. The lesson is; whatever the priority, if you cut loose the excess baggage of wanting it all, you can probably achieve a focus and maturity you may not have imagined possible.

Charles Dunn writes in "Conversations In Paint" that "fulfillment of type" plays a big part in our success as painters." Quoting Dunn, "A chipped cup at a pricey five star restaurant can make for a less fulfilling dining experience than a couple of burgers at a smooth running fast food joint."

So to with painting pictures. A primitive artist making no bones about errors in proportion or perspective and, not expecting sophistication, can be enchanting with their results. A seasoned professional, by contrast, can strive for masterly ideals, miss the mark and leave the viewer feeling let down.

So remember, whatever your background, setting the bar of accomplishment at a realistic level might well determine your lifetime achievements as an artist.

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