Thursday, June 3, 2010

I have the Secrets

I have a bookshelves full of secrets. Well, I just told you about them, so I guess the cat is out of the bag. It is no longer a secret.
And NO! you can't borrow them! Get your own!
The secrets of the art masters have never really been a hidden thing. Most of the great artists either wrote extensively about their craft, or their students wrote about the teachings of their master.
Now to most of those folks that call themselves artists these days, this knowledge is definitely a secret.  Even the "world famous" artist David Hockney wrote a book on the "secrets of the masters".

Just to put it plainly, he is an idiot! Do not buy this book!. Don't even check it out of the library. In fact, print out this blog after you are finished reading it, burn the paper and bury it in your yard. He has little, to no idea, what he is talking about. Look up some of his paintings online and let me know if you think you should listen to him. 
I really don't want to talk about it anymore. Others have discussed his ridiculous ideas at length and done so quite eloquently.
Click here to read a good article on the subject.

I want to talk about books you should read. Books about painting, and in almost every case, books written by the best artists in the history of art.
My teacher, Paul Ingbretson, had an extensive list of books for us to read while we were studying. He got that list from his teacher Gammell, who got it from his. Surprisingly, most of these books have few if any pictures. They contain quotes, anecdotes and stories about painting and the training needed to become a painter. They contain the "secret", and this secret has little to do with what special medium Vermeer painted with or the type of brushes used by Sargent. These books contain the thoughts of the great artist. The best of which instruct us on the technical, the philosophical and the emotional aspects of the craft of painting.

I love buying books. Most artist do.
Of course, now you just have to read them all. I have tried putting them under my pillow at night to see if I would absorb the information by osmosis, but it seems you actually have to read them cover to cover to get the full effect. Probably more than once.Also, most of them have not been written in recent history. The best are written around the late 1800s and early 1900s.
So, I will begin by posting a few of the books off my list, and try to have links to Amazon, now that I have that fancy new function.

First I will recommend a book that got it all started for me. It was the book written by R. H. Ives Gammell. He wrote a few wonderful books, but Twilight of Painting, is a life changer. It lays out the history of art in terms of the instruction and craft leading up to the present (well, the one that existed in the 40s when he wrote it). This book sealed the deal for me, that I had to get some real training.
It is probably best purchased from the Art Renewal Center. You can see it here.
My library has a copy, so you might want to check yours as well.

The next book is by Leonardo. It reads surprising well for a book so old. There are some odd things to wade through, but some of these discussions are the invention of some of the most important ideas of painting. It is very interesting to read.

Next is a book by Kenyon Cox . You should read all of his books, but the best is Classical Point of View. It is a bit idealistic and sentimental- but so am I.
I also loved Concerning Painting and Artist and Public. Cox is an Ohioan and studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy way back when it offered some of the best training in the country.

This next one, I have to admit is a very tough read, but is has some great information. I just suggest you wade through, not worrying if it is over your head. You may need a dictionary occasionally, but you will get the gist of it. A few years after reading it, you may in the middle of a painting, something will pop in your gray matter, and you will finally understant what Joshua Reynolds was saying. Paul Ingbretson said that reading chapter 11 of this book will prevent the artist from filing for chapter 11. Each chapter was a lecture, given to the students of the Royal Academy.

The Painter in Oil by Daniel Parkhurst covers everything from choosing your materials, technical information and some theoretical stuff as well. He was a student of William Bouguereau and the book should be required reading. I was struggling to find this one a few years ago, but it luckily has recently been republished.

Finally I will suggest a book I have mentioned on this blog before. Landscape Painting by Birge Harrison. How can you not listen to guy named Birge? It is the best book on the subject and reads like poetry. I was looking for a copy of this one as well a few years ago. It was going for $300. I discovered the library had a copy, and I scanned the whole book and turned it into an editable file, added color illustration. It was a lot of painstaking work.
Well, about 3 months later I discovered that someone reprinted and that it was on Amazon for $20. I almost cried, but wasted time aside, you should get it for your collection. A must read if you want to paint outside.

Well, that should keep you busy for awhile. Let me know what you think of these books when you read them. Once you get started you will notice that a lot of the painters are saying the same thing, just each in his or her own way.
Also, if you are reading this blog David Hockney, and I am sure you are, you definitely should start reading  these books.


Sandra Galda said...

Hi, love your blog! I am glad you posted this list of books.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

It is a big list, I will try to get them listed on here.

Chris said...

Thanks for your recommendations.

I have downloaded some of these old out-of-copyright books, printed and bound my own copies - over a dozen so far. Not as good as an original, but it allows me to access these resources. I have also bought a couple of others.

I have found the Parkhurst book to be the most useful for me so far, but the others seem to be full of good information waiting for me to arrive at a point where I will understand it.

Looking forward to more of your book recommendations when you get a chance to share.

As for David Hockney, I personally think he has done some interesting art, and some not so, and been very successful at it. I have not read his book, but wonder how many who take a dump on him have read it themselves. I did see some of his tv show based on the book (a long time ago), and read another book about him in which he discusses his ideas in relation to this - I didn't get the impression he was saying these artists couldn't draw / paint, he seemed to be more focused on trying to explain (as well as I remember these things!) why there was a sudden change in drawing / painting styles with respect to perspective etc. Whether this "change" actually occurred is another issue of which I know little.

Anonymous said...

He may write an interesting book, and may create "art" that makes a great college dorm room poster, but I would not call what he does, art.