Tricks vs truth
I taught a workshop in New Smyrna recently, there's a post on it a while back, and I mentioned the use of tricks in painting. I like to teach the fundamentals of painting that lead to your personal truth, your own way to paint and not just the tricks of the trade. Once in a while I would do a thing while I was painting that I would identify as a "trick". So, what is a trick and what is the truth in painting? By my thinking a trick is another way of saying mannerist or a mannerism, which is defined by Merriam Webster as "an excessive or self-conscious use of a distinctive style in art". But, you might say, "Well, isn't that what separates one artist from another?". The answer is yes. But any idiosyncratic painting methodology can get in it's own way when the painting starts becoming more about the "look" and less about the idea. And, most especially, when you are borrowing someone elses tricks because they "look cool". How do you know when you are using a trick and not painting truthfully? It's simply when you are doing something excessively because you saw someone else do it. Now don't get me wrong, this is how we learn stuff but when your work is so heavily influenced by another artist that someone says, "Y'know, that sure reminds me of....fill in the artist". I'm going to use an artist that I admire as an example of a mannerist influence over many, many artists. And I know from reading an interview with this guy, that he was not happy about the volumes of people who were borrowing heavily from him.
Malcolm Liepke busted onto the illustration scene back in the late 70's or early 80's. I know because I would wait for my Communication Arts Illustration annual every year like a dog waiting for dinner just to see who was new and hot and what they did. Particularly the ones that really stood out and were consistent yet evolving. We were coming out of the tight era of over rendered illustrations and here's this guy who shakes up the scene with his loose, wet, warm, tonal, dark, Degas and golden era of illustration influenced compositions. Yum F-in Yum. I could lick this guys paintings. He was so successful with this style that he eventually moved into fine art and he's been selling his stuff for big bucks at Arcadia Gallery in New York since Reagan was president. As he should, he is the originator of his style.
What happened to him, unfortunately, was that his stuff was so seductive that artists started borrowing his stuff and calling it their own stuff. I have always wanted to do a visual explanation about this, showing the line of artists who are ripping him off, the ones who are ripping them off and the others who are ripping off them, on down the line, but I don't want to get sued. But if you look at this work, you will start to see his bastard children everywhere. Using his palette, using his scenes, his edges, his patterns, his red nosed models. These artists are not painting their truth, they are just borrowing anothers and so it becomes a trick. It's not honest work... happens all the time and in many different ways by many different artists... heck, I used to do it. Some day I'll post my old illustration style (you would seriously not know it was mine and the guy I was borrowing from) it took my seeing my work in an illustration annual next to the guy I was ripping off to realize what the heck I was doing. I'm not proud but from that moment on I went about finding my own voice.
If you are wondering if you are doing tricks ask yourself if you are repeatedly looking at another artists work to help you solve a problem. Are you being overly influenced by anothers work? Time to put those books aside and get some new influence or better yet, master the fundamentals and put in your hours so that your voice can come shining through.