In an artwork, to what degree may technique determine your end result at the cost of your own creative contribution?
Last week, I spent a few days with two old friends. Sort of, like an artist in residence. We enjoyed the Saturday afternoon painting together as adults and kids. Acrylic on canvas. Clearly, for inexperienced amateur painters, not so easy. So, gradually, we came on the topic of painting technique. And, to demonstrate the impact of painting technique on the end result of a painting, I suggested to watch a Bob Ross video on YouTube.
Yes, Bob Ross! Why not!
Anyway, it was an interesting experience. For my friends, but also for myself. Three instances were of particular interest.
Paint like a child
First of all, the youngest child, a girl of nine years old, finished first, almost even before the rest of us had really started. No hesitations. Just pick the colors you like and start painting. Spontaneous and with a short attention span. Finished in like ten minutes or so. Without painting technique, without even the slightest notion of technique. Just do it, take the brush, dip it in the paint and draw as if your brush were a pencil – not aiming at any effect from technique, what so ever. The effect – if any – came from the image and the colors. That’s all. Spontaneous expression in the moment of creation!
Second, we sort-of binge watched three The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross videos is a row. And something funny happened. My friend, who never heard of Bob Ross, was totally, utterly impressed while watching the first video. “What an artist! How can someone create such impactful imagery with so limited brush movement.” Next, we watched a second video. Suddenly, my friend said “hey, he did the same thing in the first video“. Ha ha. And, you guessed it, we watched a third video. Then, it was totally clear to my friend, that Bob Ross “always does the exact same tricks“. Yes, he does, well, he did. Eleven years long, over 400 episodes.
In three episodes of Bob Ross, my friend went from ‘totally blown away‘ to ‘hey, that’s remarkable‘ to ‘what a cheat!’
Third, when watching the first video, my other friend, somewhat familiar with Bob Ross said “Hey, I already saw this particular episode“. Long time ago. Now, he realized, it wasn’t this particular episode he saw. Rather, he now understood, that all episodes are the same, or at most slight variations on exactly the same tricks.
Even what Bob Ross says is the same every time. It’s almost autistic. Among other quotes, Bob Ross happens to be famous for …
- “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”
- “You can do anything you want. This is your world.”
- “There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.”
- “We want happy paintings. Happy paintings. If you want sad things, watch the news.”
And my personal favorite: “Let’s beat the devil out of it!” when beating his paintbrush dry at one of the poles of his easel.
Maybe, his most characteristic quote is:
- “I really believe that if you practice enough, you could paint The Mona Lisa with a two-inch brush.”
Watching the three Bob Ross videos, and reminding this last quote, made me think about the value of painting techniques. To be honest, so far, I never really valued painting technique the way I should have. Bob Ross’ paintings are maybe the perfect example of how technique can determine the end result of your artistic effort.
I underestimated the importance of technique in art.
That is what I personally learned from Bob Ross. From now on, I will focus much more on technique.
One observation, though, I already made the last few days. For many artists, the end result of their artworks is almost 100% determined by the technique they use. To be honest, there is little or no personal creativity in what they do. It is all technique.
The problem with that is that your art then becomes totally interchangeable with work of other artists who lean on the same technique. This phenomenon, sadly, is very dominant in abstract painting. For example, there are nowadays many ‘Gerhard Richter clones’ creating abstract artworks that are all in the same style as his 1994 painting Abstraktes Bild (809-4). This painting heavily leans on the technique of scraping or gliding paint with a broad scraper or plank over the canvas.
There is a risk of leaning too much on technique in art.
So, in an artwork, to what degree may technique determining your end result at the cost of your own creative contribution? Sometimes, and maybe often, technique gives the end result a specific end-result-determining effect, that you could never achieve without that technique. Is that okay?
I guess – as always in art, and in life – the trick is to find the right balance! That will be an important aspect of the quest for my artistic voice in the next months and maybe years to come …