Nov 11, 2007

Encourage or Discourage Young Artists?

In every issue of Wildlife Art magazine there is an article about a successful or up-and-coming wildlife artist which talks about how they got where they are today. Sadly, nearly every one of them I read about seems to have been discouraged from pursuing art at some point in their lives. No matter how talented and enthusiastic the young artist was there was always someone, often an art teacher, counselor, or parent, who strongly discouraged any notion the child may have had about being an artist when s/he grew up. Why is this?

I myself, despite having a father who was very artistic, was strongly discouraged by both parents from even thinking about becoming an artist. It was so thoroughly knocked from my brain as a child that after years of struggling in college to decide on a major I never even considered art an option. Now I look back and so often wonder why.

I just don't understand why every non-artist (and many artists) are so quick to tell you that doing art for a living is "impossible" and a sure path to homelessness and despair.

Yes, I understand it is often a difficult road, but there are many paths in life that are difficult. Being a doctor, for example, is actually quite difficult. Medical school is extremely difficult, takes many, many years, costs a fortune, and leaves the graduate stressed and in an enormous amount of debt. Then, of course, s/he has to survive internship, also quite difficult. But do parents discourage their child from dreaming of being a doctor? No! What "good" parent wouldn't prefer their child pursue a career as a doctor instead of an artist? Very few, I'd imagine.

Why? I'm not sure. But I'd imagine it's because they believe all doctors are rich, and all artists are poor. Yeah, maybe, on average there are more doctors earning good salaries than artists. But I have known doctors who struggle financially, and there are many artists who are doing quite well.

But it's more than about money. For some reason in this country having your child grow up to be a doctor is something to brag about. Having your child grow up to be an artist is something to be ashamed of and deny.

I finally graduated from college with a degree in Business Administration. Six months after graduation I decided there was no way this was the life for me. I quit my job and started painting full time. One day my father asked me what he was supposed to tell people I do for a living now. I told him to tell them I'm an artist. He visibly cringed and replied that he couldn't possibly do that. He'd have to make up something up because it would be too embarrassing to tell people his daughter was an artist.

But it wasn't just my father. My mother also discouraged me, not because she was embarrassed by the idea of having a daughter as an artist but because she really believed, for some reason, that no one buys art. How could I possibly make a living when no one would ever buy one of my paintings?

And, of course, there were art teachers. It seems every art teacher in school believed that all artists were either starving or teaching, so unless I wanted to teach, I shouldn't bother to pursue art.

Yet, every issue of Wildlife Art magazine has stories of artists who have managed to "make it" to some degree in the art world. And this is just wildlife art. I'm sure there are many more landscape, still life, and portrait artists, among others, who are doing OK for themselves in the art world. So every time I read the story of some artist who made it despite discouragements I have to wonder how different things would have been had they listened. And then I wonder how many more artists there are out there who actually did listen to the discouragements and are now working in some dead-end job they hate, the world deprived of their works, they deprived of their dreams.

So if you are a teacher, counselor, parent, or just a concerned friend, and you know someone with dreams of becoming an artist, please do not discourage them. Let them try and find out for themselves one way or another. You may think you are saving them from disappointment but you may actually be destroying a dream that could have come true and now, because of you, never will.

Nov 5, 2007

Art Book Recommendation: Brushwork Essentials

This is a great book by an amazing artist whose work I really admire, Brushwork Essentials by Mark Christopher Weber. Not only is this book full of beautiful images of his work, it also offers sound instruction on brushwork techniques. He covers a lot of stuff, from brush anatomy to painting light and shadow. He focuses on oil paints but his instructions should apply equally well to acrylics. This is a must-have for beginners but more advanced painters could still learn a few things. And even if you learned nothing new from it I'd recommend it just to have so many nice samples of his artwork to study and admire.

If you haven't already done so please visit his website to view samples of his extraordinary work.

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