I never thought about the steps in the journey to becoming an artist until I purchased the DVD Nuts and Bolts by American artist Quang Ho. It's a wonderful DVD for artists of any medium - loaded with his personal philosophies as well as solid foundation information. But having mentioned the DVD, before I continue I should give my definition of "artist". I am most comfortable describing myself as a painter - a "want to be artist"- although the term artist is what people seem to want to use, so I do as well. But I really feel that artist status is what I am hoping to achieve, but achieving that "status" must be assigned to me by others. I hope eventually to create representational pieces that are interesting and unique - the artist. So, that said, let's get back to Quang Ho - and I paraphrase his words freely.
He breaks the learning into Level One, Level Two and Level Three - simplistically (being an old ski instructor) it somewhat lines up with Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels. The Level One " artist" is trying to learn the skills required to work with their chosen medium. They paint , as they must, to try to reproduce as accurately as possible, the reference they are using. They see objects as objects ( as tree, as rock) and paint them as they see or think they see ( we all have fixed ideas - sky as blue, grass as green etc. ) those objects. It's what one must do to achieve skill and confidence with the medium and tools. Many will stay at that Level because it satisfies their reason for painting and they lack the interest or resources ( particularly time) to change- and that's great. They enjoy their painting - they say its "relaxing".
But with time, those wanting to advance will begin to question. They consider the ideas of others, try new approaches and supplies ( different brushes, surfaces, etc.) . It is a period of experimentation - an essential ingredient to growth. They learn to simplify, to now see the objects as simple spots of colour ( correct hue, value and saturation) that are applied in relationship to spots around them and that add up to the illusion of the object in its environment. They thirst for learning the fundamentals - study colour, composition, etc. They swing through periods of emotional highs and lows and often think art is not for them. They make a lot of bad paintings often not realizing that the bad ones are probably helping them to grow more than the "successes" because they have tried something new. They are in Level Two . Painting is no longer fun and relaxing but a serious challenge - and challenge is what sucks one in and makes it worth doing.
With more time and lots and lots of miles of canvas, study and thoughtful critique of their work and the work of others they enter the Third Level - they become an artist. They are confident with the skills required for their craft. They become tools to express with. Painting becomes intuitive. They self-critique accurately . They know who they are and what they want to express. They express themselves, their world and their personality in their work. They have their style (their signature if you will) and it is correct ( their work reads) , interesting and unique. They are few and far between.
I never thought about my learning or tried to explain some of the challenges and frustrations I faced until I placed myself into this learning context. So, where am I now? Probably somewhere in Level Two - still learning and experimenting, still highs and lows - but every now and again I think I have produced a piece that is intuitive, quickly done, with no corrections and am content to call it finished - no matter what anyone else thinks of it. What a high! At other times I grade my work as Level One or early level Two and know how much I still need to grow.
This concept of the Levels of Learning helped me to understand what I have been going through these past eight years, and that it is simply part of the ride, and I think it helps me when I work with others ( empathy I guess).