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 1 of 3

Self Portrait by Jean Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Self Portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique-Ingres.

“Approach the study of art only on your knees.” – Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). These words by Ingres may seem far removed from a number of today’s fine art institutions. Inculcated into the minds of many art students, amorously accepting a role as born with a gift for painting and eager to invest this world with talent, is a notion that achieving fame, wealth and eminence is the true mark of an artist’s success, a belief that to be happy as a painter requires the recognition of the masses by distinguishing oneself on the merit of one’s own unique gifts.

The idea that money and or notoriety represents success and should be the motivation for ones aesthetic exploration is not unique to painting. It happens to be the driving force behind almost any field in today’s culture. The question arises: Does this in itself bring fulfillment to a painter? Honest students of painting may also wonder: How can one grow as a student of art and painting? How can a sincere individual find lasting contentment as an artist?

Art students may want to take some time to ponder these questions and honestly examine the root of our deepest intentions. Challenge ourselves, what is my impulse? Only then can we begin the long journey of finding answers to these questions and grow as determined students of painting, art and life.

 

A hand scroll, such as the one here by artist Xia Gui, were stored in wooden boxes and only viewed by others when the artist wished to unroll it and share it with intimate acquaintances.

A hand scroll, such as the one here by artist Xia Gui, were stored in wooden boxes and only viewed by others when the artist wished to unroll it and share it with intimate acquaintances. Click image to view larger.

It is common in our society to refer to various painters and artists as “professionals.” This is an interesting label. No doubt it comes from the notion that it is how a particular person makes their living and that one is successful or has merit based on ones financial income. Countless artists throughout history have done that, myself included. I, however, regard that notion as a byproduct of something else, perhaps more esoteric. I often refer to the ancients and masters of the past to find truth in a living art. Knowledge of the past after all is an ornament to the mind and can inform our views.

Fishermen, by the eccentric hermit Wu Zhen.

Fishermen, by the eccentric hermit Wu Zhen. Click image to view larger.

Let’s take, for example, the inspired scholar painters of the cultures of the ancient Far East and China, where painters were poets, philosophers, monks and even hermits. The idea of art as a “profession” was virtually absent, particularly with the early Literati painters of the late Song and Yuan dynasties. Influenced by earlier times, for them, art indeed was a life. Many chose to spend their whole lives developing and mastering their skill rather than pursue government careers.

This was primarily true of Zen-influenced painters, who prized nothing but meditation. One was considered useless as a “blocked flute through which no breath could pass” if one did not live one’s art in harmony with the rhythms of his life. Through a mastery of skill, one achieved the purpose of communicating sensitivity toward the human condition, depicting the life of man and nature, objects and virtues, as well as revealing their inner character.

The intention of the painters was to seek the way or the order of nature. Essentially, when one ponders this, one settles on the fact that the practice of true painting is indeed not a profession connected to monetary entrapments but an extension of the art of living. At its deepest level, painting can be the pursuit of the underlying reality of all things.

Poet on a Mountaintop by Shen Zhou of the Ming dynasty, who renounced his life of official service to live as a recluse in monastic contemplation of the natural world around him.

Poet on a Mountaintop by Shen Zhou of the Ming dynasty, who renounced his life of official service to live as a recluse in monastic contemplation of the natural world around him.

Testimonials

“Charlie Miano and Southern Atelier have produced one of the best classical art programs in the country … The Atelier’s dedication to excellence and intensive instruction provides students an ideal environment to fully develop their skills. The school represents a fresh new wave of art instruction …”

— Robert Liberace


“Charlie Miano is a visionary. He is building a school for his community with a passion that is rare, and a generosity for his students that is even more scarce. With his skills, Charlie is tapping into a vitality within the community of students.

He is building a comprehensive program with expertise, practice, and deep understanding. Charlie is helping to reawaken interest in the fundamental visual arts, the appreciation of aesthetic beauty, and the quality of vision by transcending craftsmanship.

The Southern Atelier is emerging as a premier institution for higher learning, atelier training, and the reestablishment of legitimacy in studying from direct observation, working from life. It is the kind of school that we all should embrace.”

— Dan Thompson


“Mr. Charles Miano’s teachings are beautifully balanced in every sense of the word. During his lessons East meets West, the intellectual counterparts the emotional, and the effort and hard work that he demands of his students is also presented with the need to let things develop naturally. It is a refreshing and daring methodology that challenges most, if not all, art schools’ curriculums by providing real, honest and unselfish instruction to students with serious intentions in art.”

— Joe Oliva Ganoza


“I believe that my instruction in drawing and painting has been of the highest quality, which is the direct result of Charlie Miano’s commitment to excellence in art education. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to become a professional artist; and because of the opportunity that I have had to study at the Southern Atelier, that dream is becoming a reality.”

— Nancy Fazio


“I have been astounded at the number of people who are moving to Florida and specifically looking for a professional classical art program… there is no doubt that the Southern Atelier has become a major school for the arts…”

— Kerry Vosler

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