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Can you throw away something you never had?


Mum its ‘not hip’ to use technique in painting

My daughter said to me recently, ‘Mum technique in painting is not considered important these days, so throw them away they do not help painting today. Techniques  were the foundation  and of all painting of the past, technique is obsolete, it is time to let go’.

Yes, that’s fine but what she forgets is that she and I both have those techniques well and truly entrenched  in our psyche and anything we do to break with them can only a reaction against those learned techniques.   It is impossible to create something new in isolation to our learned experience, just as it is to throw something away if you have never had it.

In other words, you need to have those techniques under your belt in order to throw them away.   The techniques include all methods and skills pertaining to application of paint, composition, perspective and colour.    Learning the rules is the only way someone truly has  license to break rules.   By learning the rules one can anticipate the consequences  of breaking the rules and understand why those rules exist in the first place.   As a result of flaunting the rules we see in Western Art History some radical departures and a dramatic re-invigoration of art tradition in all  forms although here we are talking about painting. .

This is very apparent with the evolution of the work of Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso 1881-1973. Born in Malaga, Spain. Picasso is considered to be one of the most influential painter in Western Art History his legacy continues today.

Picasso’s revolutionary innovative styles came out of all his modification and elimination of his foundational training.

While, he had no intention of becoming an abstract painter and was dedicated to the pursuit of perfecting his beloved traditionalist training in art school to become a painter like Velesques and Rembrandt, it was however, his very early training by his art teacher father who taught him to draw using geometric shapes and add-ons that was the primary technique that made his work to revolutionary. See Les Demoiselle d’Avignon 1907

These shifts and evolution in style do not happen overnight and is was not necessarily straight forward and clean cut nor definitive.    In Picasso’s case this shift took  roughly 11 years .( from the time  he painted Science and Charity at 15 years and then painted Les Demoiselle d’Avignon at the age of 26).

Time and practice of techniques are both important  ingredients of change and  in my experience there is no substitute.

However, it is empowering and liberating to  throw those techniques away knowing how far to break with the technique before it all turns to one big disaster or arrives at something new and innovative.

Sometimes it can be frustrating and  when it all seems to go pear shaped , and become a disaster, my suggestion it is to walk to the door of the studio, away from the painting, or turn the painting to  the wall and leave it for a week then revisit it and see with new eyes the possibilities or not.   Dream about it, ponder the process of breaking with the techniques,  where it seems to work and where it does not and why that is the case.    Pick out some parts that you really like and ask yourself how that was produced.

For me there have been many instances were a painting  ‘has not worked in the ‘whole’, but there may be tiny parts that do and what I have noticed these parts contain basic simple technique with no flourish or ‘extra brush stroke’.    Analysis of your paintings is a valuable part of learning but this can only happen if you are versed in technique in the first place.

In any case, if you have the knowledge and experience there is no need to fear the consequences of experimenting.  Enjoy the process and treat each painting as a step towards the next and that way you will surprise yourself as to how far you have come.  Remember a painting is a result of something that happens between your head , your hands and your heart.   . Seek the knowledge, experience the knowledge so you can then choose to keep it or throw it away.

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Pablo Picasso-Science and Charity 1896-1897 – Picasso’s Beloved Traditional Beginnings

Les Demoiselle d’Avignon 1907, Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso: Beloved Traditional Training evolving over time to Abstract. He painted Science and Charity at 15 years old and Les Demoiselle d’Avignon at 26 years old.

See more about Science and Charity here. See more about Les Demoiselle d’Avignon at MOMA



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