Saturday, September 29, 2012

Solomon’s Book, Day 3

The Value of the Book Today
(We're finishing a discussion of: The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing by Solomon Solomon, first published in 1911, new intro by James Gurney)

Even a century ago, Solomon regretted the disappearance of the workmanlike skills of the Renaissance masters. The problem, he said, stemmed from the overuse of opaque pigments, the  fashion for impressionism, and the proliferation of art exhibitions. He also lamented the disservice of teachers who gave aesthetic advice alone without also sharing practical information.

Regrettably, few academic masters committed their knowledge to the printed word. Those who did, such as Harold Speed,  Daniel Parkhurst, and John Collier,  have bestowed to posterity valuable links in a chain leading back to a tradition of high accomplishment. With today’s resurgence of interest in academic realism, Solomon’s book has emerged as a valuable contribution to our understanding of French and British academic practices.

The value of Oil Painting and Drawing to today’s art student comes in part from Solomon’s ability to synthesize in practical terms the artistic currents swirling around him at the dawn of the twentieth century. He encouraged students to cultivate an open mind, and he expressed his appreciation for a wide range of older masters. “An old mansion can have many windows letting in the light,” he said. True enough. But as he shows us in this book, the mansion must first be built on a foundation of good craftsmanship.


Keith Parker said...

That's very interesting. How did you first discover Solomon Solomon? It sounds like you two share some similar views on art.

James Gurney said...

Keith, I found Solomon's book in about 1984 in the vast catacombs of the Vassar College Art Library. The book had a big impact on me in my formative phases, not only for technique, but also outlook as you say. I admired the way he was open to the virtues of a variety of ways of painting, and how he used his inspiration from the old masters guide his own work.

I only wish the art market in his day had encouraged him to keep painting his wonderful mythological and Biblical scenes, which unfortunately fell out of favor in his later career.

Amber said...

James, looking at his palette I'm wondering what "stiff" white and "soft" white is, exactly? Is it really about viscosity, or is it perhaps about opacity?

James Gurney said...

Amber, it's more about viscosity. You can get stiff white by squeezing a dab of white on blotter paper to suck out some of the oil.

Amber said...

Thank you for the reply James! This is the first I've heard of setting up ones palette by color as well as viscosity!

Anonymous said...

James, how would you compare the Solomon book to the Speed book? Which one would you put into the hands of a starting painter, or which order?

James Gurney said...

Anonymous, great question. I think of them as complementary. Both have good nuts and bolts information on drawing and painting, including monochrome painting, which is a good bridge between them.

Speed's text focuses more on general aesthetics and thoughts on the current art scene. Solomon's book focuses more on the old masters, like having a master painter take you on a walk through the National Gallery. I only wish Solomon gave more examples of his own drawings and his own work. But his text is clear and accessible and a bit more broad-minded than Speed's.