The above question from a student arrived in my in-box this morning.
How do I answer that question? How can I know what motivates that student to want to paint in the first place?
I know why I paint. I paint because it gives me the opportunity to express my personal vision. The process of applying colour to a flat surface enables me to explore, to discover, to share my view of the world.
Is that why this student paints?
Or are sales or gallery exposure or some other commercial consideration the motivator?
And what of the student’s painting knowledge and skill base? Does the student have a sound grasp of the elements and principles of painting, an appreciation of composition, an understanding of colour, an awareness of value, and so on?
I have found this question is usually asked by the student who is struggling to take on board and apply some of the basics and is seeking some sort of short cut to success or, alternatively, by the student who can’t be bothered to learn the basics at all.
These people seem to believe that “abstract” painting is the style they should adopt but, lacking the courage to say so, are looking to me to steer them in that direction so that their daubs might have some degree of justification.
For anyone seeking to hide behind the term “abstract expressionism” or “self-expressionism” as a way of covering up for their lack of knowledge, skill or application I remind them of the words of the creator and master of abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky:
"Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colours, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential."
This is usually enough to persuade them to knuckle down, to learn the fundamentals and to work - the sure and certain way of eventually finding their own style.
There is another, humorous quotation that I was tempted to use on one occasion but before I could, the student walked out telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about. It is from Fran would like to share it with you now:
"Very few people possess true artistic ability. It is therefore both unseemly and unproductive to irritate the situation by making an effort. If you have a burning, restless urge to paint, simply eat something sweet and the feeling will pass,"