Get Your Facts First and Then Set Yourself Free

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Alaskan Lupine and Wildflowers Painted on Location en plein aire – Watercolor on Arches

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” – Mark Twain

When I was in college, abstract expressionism was still a rage in much of the country.  I love it.  I love looking at good, abstract expressionistic work–like that of Hans Hofman–and I love DOING it.  Painting expressionistically just FEELS good.  Swish, Swipe, Splat!!!! Ah, BRAVURA FEELS good.  Yet, it frustrated me that few–if any got my drift.

Not long after college, I was in an art show; and I overheard these young boys [about 12-years-old] giggling about my work.  One said, she might as well paint the whole thing black and call it night.  That comment caused me to think.  While abstract expressionism is a wonderful cathartic, I am not sure that it actually communicates–at least not to many.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I am not entering the debate as to whether art has to communicate–I am just saying that it made me wonder if I was doing what I wanted to do. It also made me wonder if I really could draw things and paint things more realistically or if I was just trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

I began what has become my lifelong quest to satisfy both needs–my need for an expressionistic cathasis and my need to communicate to at least a few. This boils down to my need to be technically good enough that I can paint or draw something anyway that I want–without limitations.

Having taught for many, many years, my philoshopy has been that all art students should learn the technique of making things appear real–and then they should move beyond to making art.  Otherwise, we, as artists, might fall into the sham of abstracting images simply because we cannot draw them.  Abstraction is good–it is great; yet, the artist should have a full arsenal of tools–a complete visual vocabulary–so that he/she can pick exactly the correct amount of abstraction or realism that is needed relevant to the situation.

As Mark Twain has advised us, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” – Mark Twain

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