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are you painting to impress or to express

Are you making art to impress or to express ?

Once in a while you stumble upon a book where reading is almost like listening to your own voice, only more elegantly formulated and without an accent:)

I recently read Nick Meglin “Drawing from within” and found it one of the best book on drawing I had ever read.

It is not a book that teaches techniques and how to’s because as the author says : “The drawing surface has been and always will be where the artist’s real education takes place. So if it’s learning you’re after, close this book and open to the pages that will really teach you what you want to know.  Your own sketchbook.

This is a belief I strongly share. If you want to learn how to get better at drawing and painting, reading books and taking classes will help but what will ultimately make the most difference is the time you spend practicing.

Another passage in the book resonated with me. Nick Meglin writes: “Earlier we discussed that a valuable choice to make is selecting “express” over“impress.”The former deals with your individual statement, the latter deals with drawing for others, a poor substitute for personal satisfaction. But it isn’t an easy choice to make.”

I can see that in the past I have made some paintings to impress. From other artists, I often see beautiful paintings and drawings that are showing an evident display of impressive technical skills. Often these are works that are based on pictures or life models and where the artist try to be very detailed and as close to reality as possible. This always struck me as a double edged sword: The more skilled you become, the closer to a picture or reality your work becomes , the less of you I can see in your work. In theory, a group of highly skilled realistic artists drawing the same person would end up with very similar drawings.

life drawing in north vancouver

So maybe it is our “flaws” or distortions  that are making us unique, they are our emotional reaction to what we see. They show what is important to us, what we chose to edit out and what we chose to keep, what we chose to accentuate and what we chose to omit. After all, isn’t our own interpretation, vision or reaction to the world what adds value to what an artist is sharing ?

I see how painting or drawing to “impress” can be tempting, it is a sure way to get a positive reaction from viewers. It is easy to understand, not controversial and will probably look good on a wall. “Oh my gosh, this is a painting and not a picture!” is usually seen as a very positive compliment, but then why making a painting that will look like a picture? Is a work of art more interesting when it reproduces or when it interprets reality?

I value self expression in art for many reasons, including the selfish fact that it is more satisfactory for me to make art this way. I also hope it is more satisfactory for the viewers. I am always amazed that in our life drawing group  18 artists drawing the same model end up with 18 very different drawings. They might not all be totally accurate drawings but it is almost magical to see 18 different visions and interpretations of the same subject being so unique.

So are you making art to impress or to express?

I would love to read your thoughts in the comments !

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