The Essence of Painting: Notes from the Atelier
The following Blog is compiled and edited from recollections and notes from Charles Miano’s classes. His teaching revolves around fundamental universal principles and can be very helpful for artist studies wherever they may live. Much of what is written, of course, represents the viewpoint and opinions of the artist and is in no way intended as dogma. What follows is an open approach to learning that expresses a sincere intention to get at the the Essence of Painting.
On the Art of Growing
Part 2 of 3
My modest background — coming from a blue-collar, second-generation immigrant family — has shaped my views on education, and opportunity, in particular. On a personal level, I have learned — sometimes “the hard way” — many valuable lessons about the importance of keeping a simple eye on lifestyle and enjoying the natural and uncomplicated fruits of one’s labor. This has influenced the underlying philosophy of the blossoming art school that we’ve created here at Southern Atelier, which distinguishes it in a very fundamental and unique way.
Our school encourages art students to become less secular in spirit, mindset and focus — to let go of often unfulfilling desires for wealth and fame.The superficial end goal, once achieved, has the potential to rob an artist from the true joy that can be had in the continual process, rather than in the temporary enjoyment of transitory plaudits. It is the journey that brings lasting contentment. The work — the act of doing — is as important as the achievement. As Lao Tzu said, “He that acts for fame and thus loses his own nature is not a man of learning”.
Atelier students learn to use their art as a means of expression — not merely expression of “thyself”, but of a greater truth. The determined art student lifts his head and heart in unity to something higher, and larger than self, the way of nature. Through single-pointed concentration and focused direction they can become a conduit of expression of the great oneness inherent in the universe. Not in a rigid or inflexible manner but in an adaptable and dynamic one.
So, how does a student of painting grow? First they must fully commit themselves to a pattern or “way” of training and discipline not only of technique but of character and scholarship. Focused concentration and directed practice based on acquired knowledge and natures principles provide a solid foundation upon which to build. One can nurture real growth through constancy. As Leonardo da Vinci so aptly put it, “Constancy does not begin but is that which perseveres.”
The artist’s ultimate yet ongoing aim is to acquire ability and adeptness to the point of spontaneous action or naturalness- regardless of the time that might take. Students of art can face challenges and break through barriers by exercising humility and patience. As Ingres said, on one’s knees we can recognize that only nature can be both our language and teacher; thus an artist can work under the discipline or the inspiration of a genius which surpasses him.
In addition to skill, at Southern Atelier we encourage inner cultivation by seeking production without possession, action without self assertion, development without domination. Central to this process of inner cultivation is the idea of non-striving. I’ve encountered students on either extremes: ambitious and competitive (comparing themselves to others, seeking immediate results),or slouching and self-deprecating (hard on themselves, incapable of recognizing any improvement) — to the exact same end: neither accepts that it takes time to learn the language of the brush. Both dispositions lead to great frustration and hinder real growth.
A real master is not dependent on the flattery of others for confidence. A real master is not discouraged if another doesn’t find their work appealing. Never will a real master be lost in these cycles of artifice and emptiness. They realize their true goal, that of finding the center where artistic truth is realized. A true artist accepts this truth as the supreme description of life, not in an absolutist sense but in a benevolent relishing of the natural. The artist’s confidence, self worth and contentment will remain in balance after being built up slowly with the acquisition of skill through the unconscious as well as the conscious non-striving intelligence. That is to say, to practice without meddling, without forcing, without artifice is effortless effort. With true reason we never stop practicing the work we were meant to do — we only let go of our attachment to the results.