Posts Tagged ‘portrait painting’

Can Painting be Taught?

January 25, 2012

Young Art Student in the Studio

In earlier posts, I have highlighted the work of a ninth-grade student whose parents have hired my services to assist her in preparing a portfolio for application to a magnet school for the arts.

In my two-plus decades as an educator (over 90% of it teaching academic subjects), I have encountered less than five truly “exceptional” art students, geniuses.  This is one of them, and she is in the ninth grade.  I sincerely doubt that I will ever encounter another one so young with this level of skill and intelligence.

I recall Woody Allen’s remarks at the beginning of his film “Husbands and Wives.”  Playing the role of a college professor of writing, he said:  “You can’t teach writing.  You expose students to good work and hope it inspires them.  Some can write, others will never learn.”

Without trying to discuss the particulars of my pedagogy, I just want to point out that I really do not know how to teach skill to an art student.  Like the Woody Allen sentiment, I find myself drawing extensively from art history to show students models of the kind of art they are  pursuing, and hope it somehow rubs off.  As I watch a student work, I often make corrections, sometimes demonstrating ways to improve on a particular technique.

The picture posted here is of my student closing in on the finish of an oil portrait.  She chose a painting by Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun that we projected onto a giant screen in my darkened classroom.  Then, with a broad brush loaded with turpentine-thinned paint, she blocked in the composition, using neither pencil or charcoal, and very rapidly built up this oil portrait, mixing most of her colors from pure pigments, avoiding neutrals on her palette.  Burnt umber is her only neutral.  She uses no black.  She has no “flesh” or “light flesh” or “blush” colors–everything she mixes herself, with very little re-direction from me.

There is a large part of me that is deeply satisfied knowing that I am putting a part of myself into the next generation of artists.  At the same time, I remind myself that over 90% of this girl’s work is coming from herself–I feel that I am doing very, very little as I stand and observe her in action, every now and then offering a correction, a modification, an improvement (I hope!).  But for the most part, I am watching a young genius develop, and it gives me boundless pleasure.

Thanks for reading.