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
“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.
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.
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.