- I am Parisian.
- I am a French artist.
- I speak French in interviews.
- I speak to Monsieur covertly.
- I can understand the nuances of advanced needlework techniques (École Lesage).
- I can understand the nuances of advanced haute couture techniques (École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne).
- I can understand the nuances in art history lectures (Ecole du Louvre).
- I have meaningful conversations in French, such as when competing in French equitation clubs.
- I have French marques in: broderie; couture; prêt-à-porter; equitation.
It was in Juliette Aristides’s book (I reviewed the day before yesterday) that first introduced me to the teaching principles of the classical atelier. Before that, I never knew there were set, foundational skills taught to students in a formal studio. I had always assumed that as every student approaches art/sees the world differently—and thus pedagogy would be tailored to each student.
Initially intrigued by the idea of studying at a formal atelier, I still find it truly an irresistible notion—the idea of a manageable, gradual progression of skills in a program carefully designed to minimise every beginner’s biggest fear—the fear of failure. At a classical studio, no one expects you to complete a large painting on the first day; some ateliers don’t even expect you to hold a paint brush until you have first completed a foundational year in drawing.
In researching the well-known ateliers as a prospective student, I began to recognise a pattern—many of the alumni go right back to the studio, either as faculty or founder of their own school—and simply regurgitate the very methods they were taught. Some ateliers are run more like businesses than the notion of an “artistic monastery.” Many modern studios have become at best artist factories—pumping out proficient artists at impressive speed via the same cookie-cutter methods.
Naturally, the atelier is a perfectly respectable place to study classical drawing and painting. Taking the effort to become classically trained is far better than settling for the kind of unrealistic art that dominates the art world today. And even if they swear by the same methods, no two artists can have the exact same approach to art, or to teaching for that matter. It’s the nature of art itself.
I’m even fairly certain that there are more ateliers with customized curricula than vice-versa. So, why no formal studio for me? I refuse to allow limitations to be placed on myself, at least at the beginning. I refuse to place limitations on my beliefs of what I am capable of. At the beginning of my art journey, I don’t want to be told that I should spend a year walking before I can run.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore the idea of spending years and years on a single, seemingly insignificant skill. It’s not a matter of impatience. I just don’t want any mental limitations on myself of any kind.
Like all aspiring artists, I aspire to someday create my own unique visual language. Thus, my reasoning is that I must form my artistry myself. I may learn from the experience of others, but I must see my artistic journey more like a treasure hunt than a singular, well-trodden path.
And so here is my step-by-step guide on how I plan to teach myself the skill I wish to grasp most in this world—
1. Learn the basics and clarify doubts.
Teach myself the basics, and use online resources to answer any specific questions I have. I don’t need to enroll in a studio program to learn how to properly hold a pencil, or how to mix flesh tones—that’s what the internet is for. I want to see all the different approaches to art, and judge for myself what works for me.
2. Join a school with no set program.
Guruculums were the first schools, pre-dating the classical atelier by thousands of years. The word “curriculum” comes from the Sanskrit “guruculum”, which means “self-teach” (literal translation: “a guru pond” meant to be dipped into and explored by oneself—a guru is there as a guide, like water is there when one is swimming. A guru is not there to “teach” anything.) To improve my skill as an artist, I will find such a school with no set program, where I will be free to explore and experiment different techniques, receiving critique and feedback in the process.
3. Learn from other artists.
“Those who can’t do, teach.” Rather than find art teachers, I will find artists passionate about classical drawing and painting, and learn from their experience.
4. Show my work.
Lastly, one must receive critique from the general public. After having completed the previous steps, I will publish my work, which will help me to stay motivated and continuously improve.
Et voilà. There you have it. I begin tomorrow. Because nothing worth doing is easy, and why walk when you can fly?
À tout, M. // vendredi le 2 août 2019, 23h30, Madras, Inde
I spent the next decade… learning from as many artists as I could, piecing together fragments of lost knowledge… I was on a treasure hunt.Juliette Aristides, “Lessons in Classical Painting”
The author first became friends with her sketchbook in high school—it was a “means to engage with the world”, and she took her sketchbook “everywhere.” (To have this kind of relationship with my sketchbook, is my primary goal in life at the moment.) Initially, Aristides struggled in drawing, but she “worked through the night… relentlessly curious to learn” all that she could about “artistic seeing” (which I also believe is an important skill for any human being, as
There is a correlation between the act of seeing, the arts (in every form), and a life worth living. The same habits and skills required to become an artist are also needed to become a fully realised person.
In her struggle as a beginner artist, Aristides discovered that she was on a path paved by so many that came before her; she was “not alone, but part of a long tradition.” After her first art teacher claimed he “wouldn’t let her paint the back of his garage”, she let that setback become her momentum, and she spent the next decade traveling to studios, learning from as many artists as she could, (also a future goal of mine) “piecing together fragments of lost knowledge about the historical practice of making art.” She was on a treasure hunt, and the clues were hidden in the memories of a few scattered individuals who still followed the tradition. She “awoke to a deep sense of calling” as she and artists like her “sought to reconnect with and save what was disappearing.”
An artist’s main gift appears to be curiosity, a love of investigating and marveling at the world.
And a studio is a kind of “artistic monastery,”
…a haven from the tumult of the world, for the study and creation of art.
The images of an artistic monastery and treasure hunt are vivid in my mind, as it is my personal belief that an artist’s life should be as simple as possible, so that their art may be complex.
Even in her dedication page the author quotes Giovan Paolo Lomazzo, “Painting is one of the highest means that God chose… to make man participate in all the most beautiful and best of what he had ever created.” But despite the long tradition of art-making,
There is no such thing as a flawless step-by-step system that results in a perfect product. Personal struggle, talent, inspiration, and passion, when combined with hard work, create a unique outcome.
No matter how dedicated and prepared you are, when making art, you are stepping into the wilderness. From this uncertainty comes some of the joy and wonder of art. It is human, imperfect, and filled with mystery.
An artist must be comfortable with the nature of wilderness.
We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.Henry James, “The Middle Years”
This book is a record of the areas which can be influenced—foundational painting skills, progressing much as how you would be taught in a formal studio: from starting with a flat, abstracted black-and-white painting (values), to a focus on form, to a limited palette (temperature), to full colour.
It’s worth noting that at a formal atelier you spend at least a year on drawing, therefore the author’s previous books are worth a read— “Classical Drawing Atelier” and “Lessons in Classical Drawing”.
A painting education may have a starting date, but there is no natural ending. The branches of artistic knowledge take several lifetimes to explore.
Indeed, Winston Churchill famously wrote, “When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so to get to the bottom of the subject.”
Any teacher may only provide an introduction in a process of lifelong education.
How you choose to apply your training, and what you add to the world through your art will be your gift to others. As Henry James once said, “A tradition is kept alive only by something added to it.”
In the end, the journey is one of self-education.
À tout, M. // mercredi le 31 juillet 2019, 20h49, Madras, Inde