You are only 16, but I get the idea you want to become an artist and by that I think you mean painting and maybe sculpture (I think in other countries, France for example, ‘artist’ is a general term covering all the arts, including literature).
Well, you will have to teach yourself, even if you attend a college you should just consider it a block of time in which to make your own discoveries. ‘Art’ schools teach presentation skills: think of a concept and then package it – a shark in formaldehyde. Academic – the received opinion.
Art has to be representational (I claim in the AR Manifesto that what makes us human is the ability to imitate and to make patterns by representing one thing with another. I love painting; I think there is nothing more exciting than representing something with 3 or 4 dimensions by something on a picture plane that is limited to 2 dimensions. In ‘Art’ school they teach next to nothing of basic skills, though I think there is now life drawing. One of the ‘Brit Artists’ told me recently that I was bourgeois to assume that an artist needs skill. You see how extreme this ‘Art’ school dogma has become. Neither do ‘Art’ schools teach history of art. I say this on the basis that if they did we wouldn’t be stuck with an ‘Art’ school formula.
I mean: are they serious? Don’t they worry they will get found out for telling lies? They have never looked at Titian!
It’s all this mistaken idea that an artist should express himself; an artist should tell the truth and for this he needs to be humble. Which brings me back to you. You need to draw. Everything is based on drawing. You can sketch from life; you can copy the drawings of others. Drawing involves the transmission of spirit or feelings from eye to hand. It is a training in concentration. People who really can draw do it without even needing to look at the page. The Chinese artists who painted with ink and brushes looked again and again at their subject and concentrated it down to its epitome, its sign of itself, by keeping it in mind and then painting spontaneously back home and away from the subject. It is spontaneity which keeps your drawing alive.
You may not have the talent to become a great artist, but you will find this out if you are truthful. And you will learn so much in the attempt. You will start to see things as they are. Good luck! Prince Charles has a drawing school. Check it out and let me know (http://www.princesdrawingschool.org They have drawing workshops for 10 – 18 year olds).
The Manifesto distinguishes between the artist and the art lover. The artist must tell the truth. It is the responsibility of the art lover to absorb themselves in the work, to discriminate and recognize the truth when they see it. Of course the artist is also an art lover.
We can talk about painting later when you feel you have made headway in your drawing. But do remember when looking through the galleries that the technique of oil painting which began in Flanders with the van Eyke brothers attained its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries. After that it was more or less lost, though the great English painter Gainsborough had it. You need to go to the galleries as often as possible. Focus on one group of paintings at a time. Get art books – you can order them from the library, but it’s great to have your own. (I recommend Madlyn Kahr, 17th Century Dutch Painting).
Most galleries are free. And, although you will have to pay, there is a special exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art until May 24th of drawings by one of the greatest drawers of all time – Watteau – they are concentrated down to a few lines. The Wallace Collection has a small exhibition of some of his paintings which is free.
The subject matter is not the important thing; that will come as you learn and understand ideas. Remember, there is no progress in art: one truth is no more true than another.
Keep reading the Manifesto and come to our next reading.