Friday, April 3, 2015

Harold Speed, "Drawing" / Preface and Intro

Today is Friday, the first gathering of the GJ Book Club. Each week we'll be looking at a new chapter of Harold Speed's classic The Practice and Science of Drawing (Dover Art Instruction), starting with the Preface and Introduction.

The following numbered paragraphs combine citations of key points in italics, followed by a few of my own remarks. Your thoughts are most welcome in the comment section of this blog. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

1. "The Practice and Science of Drawing"

Baked into the title is the classic dilemma of art instruction. Do you teach the practice or the science? The technique or the theory? The methods or the principles? The hand skills or the thinking behind them? Harold Speed aims to address both. Note: earliest editions of the book reverse the order thus: "The Science and Practice of Drawing."

Pages from J.D. Harding's "Lessons on Art

2. "...the drawing masters of our grandmothers and still dearly loved by a large number of people. No good can come of such methods, for there are no short cuts to excellence."

Speed is probably referring to the drawing manuals of J.D. Harding (1798–1863), such as "On Drawing Trees and Nature." Harding's how-to-draw books were immensely popular throughout the 19th century. Typically his books present the student with a series of drawing lessons, beginning with geometric solids, and graduating to commonplace forms like buckets or stairs or rocks. It's kind of a recipe for drawing, but not a bad one for beginners, in my opinion. I think Speed wants his students to dig beyond these drawing formulas. He proposes to achieve it by examining more fundamental principles. He's also interested in the student acquiring the "artistic" sensibilities of rhythm and unity, regardless of the forms he or she is drawing.

3. ".... having passed through the course of training in two of our chief schools of art..."

The two schools he is alluding to are the Royal College of Art (where he started out in architecture) and the Royal Academy Schools. He also won a traveling scholarship to Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. Source: Burlington.

4. "the long uphill road that separates mechanically accurate drawing and artistically accurate drawing."

The academic education one would have found in the 1890s in England and continental Europe might have seemed superficially similar. Students worked from the cast and from the model in both traditions, but there were differences. According Speed, the English school was more concerned with observationally accurate drawings, while the French schools were more "interpretive" or "artistic."

Does anyone know at which ateliers in France or Europe Mr. Speed studied, and what the prevailing sensibilities were in those schools? Also, does anyone know which teachers he would have had at the Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy? Maybe one of our atelier experts can explain more about the specific differences between the English and French schools in the 1890s.

5. To many in this country modern art is still a closed book.

Modernism's assault on the ramparts of art-thinking was far along in 1917, when Speed's book was published. Europe was torn by the Great War. Russia was in the midst of its revolution. The Edwardian world, with all its assumptions about the nature and purposes of art, was collapsing like an ornate marble edifice. Speed, it seems, is trying to examine his assumptions about art and to remain open-minded.

Contents of Speed's 1936 book What is the Good of Art?

By 1936, when he wrote is much lesser-known book "What is the Good of Art?," The world of art around him must have seemed to have gone completely off the rails. "We have no tradition to guide us," he says in Drawing, almost in desperation.

Speed's later books were even more philosophical, as if he was trying to work out an understanding of modernism that he could reconcile with his academic training. The 20th century illustrator and book author Andrew Loomis went through a similar evolution in his books as he went from "Fun With A Pencil" to "The Eye of the Painter." Loomis's earliest books are basic and practical, and as time went by, his books grappled more and more with serious and philosophical topics.

6. Where formerly the artistic food at the disposal of the student was restricted to the few pictures in his vicinity and some prints of others, not there is scarcely a picture of note in the world that is not known to the average student....It is no wonder that a period of artistic indigestion is upon us."

Wow, what would he make of the massive availability of art on the Internet?

7. The position of art to-day is like that of a river...

As I understand his whole metaphor, he's saying that we can't discard history and start all over again, nor can one pretend to be naive and see like a child again.


8. The real matter of art lies above and beyond the scope of teaching.

Speed is aware of the blood-draining effect of too much cold analysis. He recognizes the mystery of intuition, and the idea that in a good painting, a higher power seems to flow through an artist. With a tip of the hat to the infinite, he wants to proceed to the practical matters of the book. But he gives us this introduction to provide an aesthetic context to the material that follows. Encompassed in this section of the book is his search for a definition of Art.

9. Variety of definitions of art

Speed summarizes several classic definitions of art, and ends up favoring that of Leo Tolstoy. I also love Tolstoy's definition, which hinges on the artist intentionally transmitting a felt emotion to the viewer. The great thing about that definition is the way it includes virtually every form of art, including music, painting, dance, and storytelling, but it excludes things like wallpaper or architect's blueprints.

If you would like to read the full text of Tolstoy's famous essay, it's available on, and it's a good read, despite his bashing of opera at the beginning.

10. Each art has certain emotions belonging to the particular sense impressions connected with it.

Speed introduces his notion of "rhythm," for want of a better word, to encapsulate the abstract visual power of painting and drawing. He's talking about the effect of the design of the picture, apart from the representational subject matter. Speed was influenced by the English art critic Walter Pater (1839-1898), who said, "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music." Speed points out that the abstract power of painting contains qualities that are unique to our visual life, and perhaps distinct from other art forms that appeal to other senses.

11. There seems to be a common centre in our human life.

Speed speaks to the universal human emotions and experience expressed in art.

12. The visible world is to the artist, as it were, a wonderful garment, at time revealing to him the Beyond, the Inner Truth there is in all things.

This notion goes all the way back to Plato, and can be found in the writings of the American Transcendentalists. I recommend, for example, Asher B. Durand's essay "Letters on Landscape Painting," which presents similar ideas about landscape painting.

13. Beauty is a state of mind.

Speed regards beauty not so much as a particular arrangement of proportions or a particular kind of object, but rather a state of mind in the observer which allows him or her to find rhythm in anything. He criticize artists "whose vision doesn't penetrate beyond the narrow limits of the commonplace."

Thus, finding beauty in the subject is not the same as altering it to meet some ideal formula. Instead, the artist must cultivate the feeling in the heart, and use the tools of the trade to put that feeling on canvas — while still painting the subject accurately.

14. Art for art's sake or art for subject's sake?

The former is the guiding idea of the Aestheticism, which was in full swing in the opening years of the 20th century. Speed strikes a reasonable middle course between the two classic art theories. He faults paintings that calls attention to surface technique, and he also dismisses the other extreme: artists so caught up in their subject matter that they create only "painted symbols."

15. It also serves to disturb the 'copying theory.'

Speed ends his introductory essay with an admonition to his readers not to fall into the common pitfall among academic students of his time, and perhaps now, to copy the outer surface of things, while missing the more elusive qualities of life and rhythm.
I invite you to add your comments, as much as possible keyed to the numbers.

Harold Speed "Drawing"
Next week: Chapter 2: "Drawing"
The Practice and Science of Drawing is available as an inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, You can also get the book fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle. Or you can read it online in a free edition. Finally, there's a Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
There will be additional discussions and postings related to the GJ Book Club on:
GJ Book Club Facebook page  organized by Keita Hopkinson
Pinterest page by Carolyn Kasper. Thanks for moderating those.
Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club
Overview of the blog series
Chapter 1: Preface and Introduction
Chapter 2: Drawing
Chapter 3: Vision
Chapter 4: Line Drawing
Chapter 5: Mass Drawing
Chapter 6: Academic and Conventional
Chapter 7: The Study of Drawing
Chapter 8: Line Drawing, Practical
Chapter 9: Mass Drawing
Chapter 10: Rhythm
Chapter 11: Variety of Lines
Chapter 12: Curved Lines
Chapter 13: Variety of Mass
Chapter 14: Unity of Mass
Chapter 15: Balance
Chapter 16: Proportion
Chapter 17: Portrait Drawing
Chapter 18: Visual Memory
Chapter 19: Procedure
Chapter 20: Materials


Vladimir Venkov said...

Just to let you know James - Allen Morris's Facebook page doesn't work for me. I think it's gone.

Journeyman said...

Like so many books it depends on what your back ground is in art and were you want to go with your own art.
Recently I gave this book to one of the participants at the life drawing I attend, she gave it back the next week with some very uncomplimentary comments about Mr Speed and his attitude to art!

For me it’s my Desert Island book, if I could only save one of my books on art instruction this would be it.

Anonymous said...

Do you by any chance know of any sources for plaster of paris statues / busts for studying drawing?

I've looked everywhere I could. You'd think it'd be much easier to find given mass-manufacturing and industry.

Perhaps there's not so much of a demand.

But I'd like to try studying from male/female busts (heads) as well as fuller figurines.

Jared Cullum said...

Hi Robert- Just throwing this out there:
1. Do you have a local art school or a art community center? They may have some and if you ask they might let you sketch.
Those things are pretty expensive. There's a shop I found here:
and Blick also carries them.

Unknown said...

Because we have Vivaldi, is there no place for punk rock? That is how I think about the Modern Art aspect. I don't see it as an assault (no. 5), though some of the practitioners may have. As a middle school art teacher, I have large number of students for whom the most elementary would be an overwhelming challenge. For students like that, perhaps a Kandinsky-esque painting would be a more realistic goal to explore color mixing and demonstrate composition skills. Perhaps an experimentation with acrylic techniques would provide an experience that enhances their appreciation of a Norman Rockwell or Velasquez when they see one, having experienced the types of brushwork they used.

Julie Douglas said...

I smiled when I saw this, as I'm reading this book myslef at the moment - and finding that when I'm explaining something about it to a student, I can't help but use terribly proper language, don't y'know..!! Thanks for the post. I found his references to photography interesting - his hopes that it would prove the differences between photographic colour-recording and the potential capturing of some kind of higher soul essance within painting. While many won't agree with his thoughts, I appreciate having the opportunity to read them. And surely all artists become more phylosophical as they get older and experience more (more within their own practice as well as the wider world of art and meaning)?

James Gurney said...

Well put, Andy, and I agree that we can and should be ready to embrace creatives as diverse as Vivaldi and punk rock, especially since nowadays so many forms of art can coexist rather happily. I was trying to imagine how it must have been for someone in Speed's day, when realism was so powerfully challenged. It was an assault in the sense of toppling careers of realist/mythological painters such as Herbert Draper. Speed's career wasn't too affected since he was a portrait painter, one of the career havens for realist painters throughout the 20th century.

Unknown said...

Thank you for starting this book club!

4. "the long uphill road that separates mechanically accurate drawing and artistically accurate drawing."

This is the first passage I underlined, and it really hit home. I think it gets to the heart of what is needed to become a "successful" artist -- someone who interprets reality visually to communicate something revelatory and true. And while many artists may be capable of achieving this, it can be tempting/easy to settle for work that is simply "mechanically accurate." The "hey, look what I can do!" mentality. Pursuing artistic accuracy beyond mechanical accuracy requires checking the ego at the door, which can be a struggle.

Jared Cullum said...

6 | I kept thinking the same thing when he would mention the international availability of art at the time. Now- whole museums are uploading high resolution images so you can even zoom in on a Rembrandt painting's brush stroke. Fascinating!

In the introduction, I enjoyed the brief mention of talent as a discussion. I take in his separation, which I could be wrong, of talent and genius is to say everyone has the propensity for talent. I have thought about that often, getting started on art later and it is an ever present issue for me as I teach kids. That is to say, whether talent matters or exists.
I find the kids I teach either feel they don't have talent and never will so they quit before they start or sometimes, even worse, they have a natural inclination and then they don't feel like they have to learn anything so they don't work for it and struggle to grow. I mean, ultimately it doesn't matter, I suppose. There's no substitute for hard work (except maybe those Harding books, ;) kidding) but I find it fascinating that it is such a button for the kids I teach.

9 | I also enjoyed his breakdown of a definition of Art. The Morris definition of "Art is the expression of pleasure in work." reminded me of Robert Henri's book the Art Spirit where he talks about how everyone is an artist at what they do if they do it well. (unless I'm remembering it wrong. I can't find my copy to reference directly)

I also particularly enjoyed the Tolstoy quote about art and the transmission of feeling. I tell the kids I teach that we're not just drawing cartoons, we're imbuing the page with life, experience and emotion that connects us to everyone through the things what makes us human.

Vladimir Venkov said...

2. "...the drawing masters of our grandmothers and still dearly loved by a large number of people. No good can come of such methods, for there are no short cuts to excellence."
I think for beginner artist such methods are essential as the alphabet is essential for any person who want to put their thoughts down in writing. It is up to the teacher and the approach they choose to introduce these main principles to the students.

James Gurney said...

2. Vladimir, I totally agree. When I was about 6 years old, my grandmother had one of those step by step books, and it was there I learned that a round wagon wheel was really an ellipse! Wowsa. It wasn't a shortcut so much as a glimpse of wha was possible.

4. Carolyn, Glad that line caught you, too, and that you underlined it! I don't usually underline in my books unless they're paperbacks. But it's fun to see what I underlined back when I was 18—and the kind of things that concerned me (for example I assumed we would all be wearing virtual reality headsets by now).

6. Jared, great points. The availability of art on the web seems to be a mixed blessing, for me at least. I have to keep myself from just harvesting images and putting them into folders. My time is really better spent by doing little copies of them, and for that, I'm really grateful to have such fine repros to look at.

Jared Cullum said...

Art-Squirrels! I know exactly what you mean. I do the same with squirreling away images. Especially with the major museums releasing catalogues and hundreds on hundreds of art-books. I scroll through like "I need... all of these." and just collect.
For me, even though I do love to zoom in on beautiful works of art, I get more practical meat out of good old fashioned over-sized art books and artist-catalogs from the libraries.

Wirt said...

I like the comments about Speed and Loomis' change of attitude over their careers as mentioned under ..5- modern art that both of their writings moved away from the technical and more toward the philosophical.

The pattern of interests moving from the concrete to the esoteric seems to conform with the "Dreyfus Model" of skills acquisition.

I think a mistake some students may make is that they pick up a later, more philosophical book by a writer, think art is all about attitude and pithy maxims, and try to skip technique.

John Fleck said...

6. The phrase "artistic indigestion" will certainly stay with me!

9. I also responded the most to Tolstoy's definition. It reminds me of a wonderful teacher of mine talking about capturing or transmitting (or transposing) the "effect" of a subject or scene via an artistic statement. I think at the time I took it to mean the effect of light and dark or something more technical, but now I understand it more to mean the feeling it gives you.

I like Speed's insistence on rhythm being a part of a definition of art, as when I am not drawing or painting, I can often be found playing the drums.

Leslie Rego said...

Jared, what do you mean by artist catalogues? Do you mean the catalogues produced from a one artist show?

2. I must admit that I learned a lot from J.D. Harding's On Drawing Trees and Nature! It opened and schooled my eyes to natural forms. I read it greedily. I felt I was half way there once I understood the essential qualities of the natural world. Next was to imbue the forms with feeling which was easier to achieve as the forms became easier to see and draw and the hand became more free.

Mike Garvey said...

I like how he brings up the idea of "mainstream" art in 7. The position of art to-day is like that of a river... I recently read an article about Post Modernism fizzling out. I'll post a link if I can find it again. I'm curious if people have an opinion on what the current mainstream of art is. I suppose like Andrew's comment it's pretty diverse these days to describe as one unified movement anymore.

Melle Ferre said...

1. And 4. I very much appreciate all the comments and the book club!

I read this recently and it really reverberated with me:

After all, What is it specifically that determines whether something is copying vs artistic? I think this idea of Apollonian vs Dionysion starts to get at that. And maybe one is more appropriate than another at certain times, or for an individual. I suspect both forms can hold feeling for the artist, whether the viewer engages with the work or not. But I think it is possible for the work to show a lack of engagement by the artist whether the form is right or loose. Whether the viewer sees that or not maybe depends on their level of engagement in looking. Clearly there are examples of very "talented" (skilled?) painters who have "sold out" and who are not artistically engaged, yet who have had commercial success and some very artistically engaged and innovative artists who are commercial failures in their lifetime ( we won't see their work if it is never successful, right?). It's a dialogue between artist and viewer which the Tolstoy definition gets at.

It's very telling how the educators here are discussing self-judging and how it interferes with progress. I think the best advice anyone could receive is Van Gogh's: if you hear a voice that says you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and the voice will be silenced. I am becoming aware that drawing has intimidated me and that intimidation has been a barrier. So glad we are tackling this subject together!!

Jared Cullum said...

Leslie- sorry, I meant to say exhibition catalogues. I'm not sure the correct word for if but books like "Andrew Wyeth: Looking out looking in."

Tom Hart said...

I've enjoyed trying to place Speed's thoughts, as best I can, in the context of his times and his own art education. (Like James, I'd be interested in knowing what his European atelier education was like.) I see Speed as standing on a huge pendulum, which was swinging from a strict, literal recording of nature to a more expressionistic/impressionistic/artistic/personal sensibility. He clearly already saw the pitfalls of thet pendulum swinging to the extreme. Fortunately (imho) that pendulum has begun the swing back back from the the outer limits of anything-goes. But switching analogies, there's plenty of room for both punk rock and Vivaldi in the world. What's important is that either is done with integrity (and the understanding that most people won't appreciate both).

Tom Hart said...

And I should have credited Andrew Wales for the Vivaldi/punk rock analogy!

Rich said...

10. I don't like punk! From a musical point of view. Sociology is a different matter.
Punk to me is a degenerate art; "Entartete Kunst": although I won't forbid as Adolf Hitler did:-)

I do enjoy all kinds of Jazz, African Music, Indian Music, and of course I enjoy Vivaldi.
Rhythm & Blues as well, to come back to Speed's analogy of "rhythmic drawing".
Mr. Speed imo was ahead, and at the time dropping back of / constrained by his times.

Lots to be explored in this valuable book. I ordered it a week ago with Amazon, the employees of which are presently on strike here in Germany;

Will have to wait and see...

Unknown said...

It seems to me that Speed is trying to get artists in training to appreciate what drawing is really all about and to steer them away from potential pitfalls. One of which is getting hung up on mechanical accuracy at the expense of artistic expression. I Think this is a common pitfall even today. There are a lot of technically skilled draftsmen out there that produce really true to life and realistic pictures, but their work isn't expressive. It doesn't really say anything to the viewer. He also mentions the opposite extreme in trying so hard to be expressive but lacking in the skills necessary to adequately express their feelings about their subject. Sort of like someone who cannot play an instrument picking one up and trying to express themselves with it. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is where the art is.

Carol Berning said...

In response to Point 1: I made this comment on the day that you announced this wonderful exploration, but I think it's appropriate for today's discussion: I'm a retired teacher who spent 38 years teaching language arts. During those 38 years, the teaching of formal grammar waxed and waned, came in and out of popularity. I always felt the teaching of formal grammar was a necessity. Although one can write creatively without knowing the definition for a participial phrase, having the language to discuss style, form, and usage is so important. And so it is with art. Speed gives us the language of drawing so that we can employ and analyze--understand the creation of form.

Allen Garns said...

Thanks for doing this Mr Gurney and for your good comments at the beginning of the discussion. I’m interested in copying vs the spirit or emotion. Some of the most moving paintings and drawings are based on technical skill. Maybe I should say they are based on wonderful observation. The artist was simply trying to give an honest record of what he saw, However, he/she employed principles of painting such as losing edges, exaggerating shape, modulating color, using abstract elements like line, the list could go on. These principles were used not to be novel or flambouyant, they just wanted to faithfully portray what they saw as truth. I’m thinking of Titian, El Greco, Corot, Lennart Anderson, Andrew Wyeth. Everything I’ve read and know (I studied for a few wonderful but short weeks with Anderson) about these artists indicates that they were just working to get it right. And in the struggle, the spirit comes through. They were’nt copying for sure, but their main interest was honest conveyance of what they saw and felt. But to convey what they felt, they had to rely on every tool (and maybe even tricks) they had in their toolbox. Anyway, those are just some random thoughts to the chapters and the great comments here.

Kevin: Agreed. But instead of finding “a place in the middle” (sounds a little too passive), I see it more as a dynamic tension between the two. Maybe an all out war at times.

Carol: yes. Having the language to express what you want!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post and book. It is my first time going through the book and currently enjoying the theories and concepts it poses.

Thanks for providing insight and background not available in the book as it helps put the content in context and better understand the author's viewpoints.

As someone still struggling to learn the fundamentals of technique, point 4 really strikes a chord. Improving technique is important of course, but it also important to remember that one must be careful about focusing on technical accuracy at the expense of energy and expression.

Something I found impacting in the book but not mentioned in the post is the notion that talent and genius are 2 separate qualities. Talent is the how and genius is the why. The artist has control over the how but not necessarily over the why and the point of building skill is to be able to convey message/expression/feeling. I have noticed - from limited personal experience - that people who see technique as an ends rather than a means tend to be the ones most prone to quit. Anyone else witnessed something similar?

James Gurney said...

13, 15. Allen and Kevin, I think you perfectly express what Speed is getting at. It's not a matter of "accurate and dull" versus "altered and expressive." I think Speed is saying that accurate, sensitive observation by a feeling artist creates a result that has incredible emotional power. Nothing wrong with caricature and distortion, but even within the realm of academically precise work, there are some works that are alive and some that are not.

Metatabi and Jared, Sorry I forgot to highlight his discussion of talent and genius.

Sorry I'm not getting feedback to everyone, but I'm reading and appreciating what you're all saying.

अर्जुन said...

3, 4. Speed didn't "study" on the continent.

Two summary, and illustrated, articles on Speed ~

The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, available on Google-Books, contains the article, The Art of Mr. Harold Speed by Austin Chester
The Studio, Volume 15, also available on Google-Books, contains the article, The Work of Harold Speed by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.)

helena said...

13. beauty to me is about empathy, especially in drawing people. When you really seeing the person you draw, you start noticing things... it hit me when i did my first portrait drawing session - the sitter didn't appear very interesting... but this feeling completely disappeared when i started drawing her - an interesting curve of the brow, such beautiful but tired eyes, all those small but important things - and it was so exhilarating!

and this feeling brings the Tolstoy's quote home - are you able to convey this feeling to other people, in the medium of your choice - i think this is where the technique has an important role...

Crooner Dean said...

I'm thrilled by the book choice and forum discussion format! Thanks James and all! I stumbled on Speed's book while searching for drawing and painting books on the site to read on my smartphone.

Regarding the shortcuts of the drawing masters of our grandmothers, it seems to me there are so many people who feel shut out of music or art, because they never were able to get the basics, and assume the actual doing is forever limited to the special few, and they remain somewhat regretful spectators.
An art teacher in my high school saw my interest in art, and challenged me that if I took a copy of the Betty Edwards book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain home over the summer and did many of the exercises he would let me into the advanced class the following year...well, the 'tricks' I picked up really did feel like tricks, but they gave me entry into better representational drawing, and that led to my forays into abstracted works(one childlike linoleum print that looked like a stick figure) having more artistic merit or weight, given my portfolio. The tricks opened up a lot of doors, and I'm ever grateful for them where ever I find them. Thanks for your blog, books and how-to tips, James. I always look forward to trying new (or old) tricks that are offered.

rock995 said...

I've always liked the Speed book. You have given it a new perspective and this is a lot of interesting fun. Don't know how to thank you for the time you have put into this JG.

James Gurney said...

Helena, I thing empathy is a great word for it. That's why I like to talk to a model a bit before I draw them to see what's characteristic for them. I have a hard time drawing someone whose voice I've never heard or who I haven't seen acting naturally in their normal life.

3,4 अर्जुन, thanks for the names of those magazine articles, to which I've added links at the end of the post. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he had a scholarship to travel through Europe. He spent six weeks in Paris, and went to Brussels, Naples, Florence, Rome, Venice, and Capri, sketching from nature all the way (in Capri alone he made more than 50 studies for pictures). I like to think of such a traveling scholarship as a form of study, even if it wasn't formally as an enrolled student working under a master.

Rock995 and Dean, you're welcome! Glad you're getting a lot out of it.

sfox said...

The link to the Studio article doesn't work. :-(

I happen to have that volume of The Studio. It's interesting that, looking at the reproductions, his drawings are quite superior to his paintings, which are pretty standard issue Late Victorian, with a dollop of Waterhouse. But to be featured in The Studio at age 26 is pretty darn impressive. "He has lost, happily,none of his youthful enthusiasms, but has learned to keep them under control..."

Thank you for doing this book club!

Alison said...

While not the same as 3D models, I have been practicing figure drawing by looking at online images of Greek and Roman statues. It has been a good exercise.

Elena Jardiniz said...

I've been nibbling my way through the book during my lunch breaks - not easy in a loud lunch room! What's struck me the most so far is his discussion of line vs form - and his idea that we like lines because when we feel a form we are aware of the edges, and it takes training to perceive and try to reproduce these volumes in masses of tone or color. We actually do not see a form at all if we can't see its edges - this has been proven by researchers showing a subject a bold graphic, then moving it to match the eye's jittering - when the eye can't see the edges, the shape vanishes. Curious.

Elena Jardiniz said...

The best life drawing teacher I ever had loved helping us SEE, and he told us we must draw as realistically as we could for his class so he'd be sure we were learning what he was trying to teach - to understand and really be aware of the structure of the animal we were drawing, because once we could see a human, with the weight shifts, muscle masses, real shapes, we'd also see other animals more clearly. The thing is that drawing what we really see, and not what we think we see, is quite difficult and very zen. Is it 'art'? It can be, it depends on both the artist and the viewer though.

Elena Jardiniz said...

Being taught art during the era of "free expression" was extremely frustrating. You can't play music well if you can't tune your instrument or reliably get the notes you want out nor can you make visual art if you are fighting to learn your craft at the same time. I've found over the years that writing a lot, even posts, has honed my thinking and I know drawing, and painting, what I see in front of me hones my ability to visualize what I see in my art more clearly too. Drafting is a technical skill, true, but what you DO with that skill is the art.

seadit said...

Great insights and discussion! Thank you all. I think one of the greatest, if not greatest results of the Internet is the ability to connect and communicate. Yeah, I know, duh, but I think it's often taken for granted. Just acknowledging my gratitude.

I'd also like to acknowledge and thank all of you who teach, have taught and yet will teach. Paid or not, where would we be without those willing and wanting to teach?! Art makes life better, whatever your definition, and creativity always wins the day as far as I'm concerned. Without creativity I just don't see vision.

As for the book, I think most have already shared or mentioned the things that jumped out to me. What has been interesting though is to read and digest this so many years down the road from when I last seriously studied art but tabled it for a career in graphic design, only to rededicate myself to it in my early 50s. In doing so I've found myself asking the question why. Why start now? What do I hope to accomplish? I would answer with a slight modification to Speed's definition of art: 'expression of feeling'. We do what we do to express ourselves and what we see or feel (Ch. 2). My memory these days just isn't what it used to be, nor my desire to argue or prove something so subjective, but I am content that if someone is enriched, inspired, edified or otherwise moved by something we've created, isn't that enough?

I don't know that I will ever reach the status of artist or master at this point, or even create something acceptable as art, but that's not what drives me. I'm driven by a yearning and desire so deep that I can't ignore it. Where it takes me doesn't matter so much as the journey.

Looking forward to more comments and insights from you all and others!

Artillory said...

1- It seems the true essence of the dilemma is that art can demand every single one of our faculties and that even though we have found ways to categorize and simplify what must or can be learned, we ultimately must come to grips with how much we plan to tackle in our pursuit of expression through visual art. To be fluent alone is not enough; as satisfying for some as it can be.
2- Students especially seemed to think the master just knows shortcuts therefore if said shortcuts are to be shared, the student will benefit and can continue from that point on. However I feel Speed is pointing out, correctly, that shortcuts are a master's hindsight only after experience, for which a student cannot bypass the tradition of learning this discipline in order to achieve mastery.
3-no comment
4-Accuracy in drawing is a worthy skill to achieve, but accuracy alone will not create great art without a more human touch that connects to our flaws as well as our outstanding sensibilities, things that can go beyond mere accuracy. For if accuracy alone is the goal, then photography has all draftsman beaten. But we know it takes more than a camera to make a great photograph, so to we know there is more to drawing than accuracy alone. It's a good start much like expecting your camera to work when you release the shutter. I think we give much credit to the labor of hand drawn realism or accurate drawing simply because it is not as easy to achieve, or everyone would be able to with little effort. It is surely to be applauded, but it is not the end of the road, as Speed suggests, it might even be a separate road, if I understood the metaphor.
5- no comment
6- I very often think about how technology has completely changed not only art instruction but art inspiration for the artists and artistic cultural exchange. In my own short lifespan I have seen popular forms of art travel from one generation to the next, one continent to another and back again, very heavily influencing one another, which now is happening at an ever faster rate. It's akin to crossing a fast moving river, so easy to get swept up the currents if you don't have a steady place to tread.
7- Interesting how Speed uses a river as well, but he is using it in the linear sense of time and flow of ideas in a linear progression. I wonder how we would think of the vast delta of our modern art heritage on the global scale it is, seemingly progressing not linearly as one might expect, but laterally, creating tributaries in wider and wider fan across cultures worldwide.

Artillory said...

8- This search for a true definition of art started in school for me at Art Center, one thing that was always on my mind and made me curious as to what others thought. Here I was trying to learn the baby steps, but at the same time trying to make a giant leap to catch up with what my teachers really wanted me to know. But alas, there are no shortcuts...
9- Tolstoy was the closest to my heart, but I was summarize it in my own words as art is about connection with another human being, even just one. Without such connection is just practice and self reflection, going too deep and you touch no one but yourself. If that is the goal, then why bother with creating externally, a piece of art, since your mind will always contain the very best imagery only you will ever know? Why? To share with another human being what it is you see inside, however far off or close to the mark you get with a drawing or painting.
10- To me, this is the most beautiful aspect of art, or drawing in this case, to see and feel the rhythm of what was certainly a force in both the subject, but also of the authoring artist, who sensed it and recorded their interpretation of it.
11-I agree with Speed on looking for the universal, not because it is right, but simply because it feels good to be part of something larger than oneself. That's something likely to be preferential, so it may not apply to all equally.
12- I was once told by an onlooker watching me take photos of a telephone poles with their large transformers and jumble of wiring, "Why are you taking a picture of something so ordinary?" My response with a good moment to reflect was, "It is the job of the artist to make the ordinary, extra-ordinary". He laughed and walked away shaking his head. So this passage I felt a close connection to, and understood that artist in particular have to train to see, truly, to see beauty others cannot or will not, so as to share with them that kind of vision. At the very least, that's is what we are attempting more and more as we grow.
13- I could not agree more with Speed, not because of my successes with having a vision and creating "beauty" but more because of when I used the same formula without a vision and failed time after time to do the same.
14- I like how Speed is after a wholistic achievement in art, not ignoring nor addressing just the fringes, which lays the easier path of least resistance. Those camps are filled with shared common experiences which cultivate ideology and dogma, ideas that an artist on a individual journey cannot relate to as easily.The unity of all things seems to be where Speed is going to take us, a place to start.
15- I started with copying my favorite comics and cartoons and that practice lead to portraits copied from photography, by high school I realized that this could not be the end and that there was certainly more, more that could be expressed or achieved in communicating with an audience, that copying alone could never reach. Getting into art school only revealed that I had just started my journey which I realized would take the rest of my life. I was very excited about where I was about to tread.

Tom Hart said...

James - Is the understanding that we'll be discussing the next chapter (numbered chapter II - Drawing) starting next Friday? The plan is a chapter a week, right?

James Gurney said...

Tom, yes, next Friday we'll be talking about Chapter 2: "Drawing," page 31.

Sesco said...

10. I admit to an inability to understand how to translate an emotion I feel in viewing a scene onto a 2D substrate that generates a similar emotion in subsequent viewers. God, the complexity of it all! Every being with differing rods and cones in their eyeballs skew the communication of the emotional impact of color; the diverse 'natures' of male and female, of young and old, the innocent and the experienced, skew the communication of the emotional impact of composition. It is easy for me to understand how to convey emotion with Music. I have written songs that make people laugh, and songs that make people cry, in almost every instance of their performance. I hate to coronate Music in this fashion compared to painting, but it suggests to me that we have yet to uncover, or unlock, a painting style that communicates emotion every bit as well as Music. It is interesting that I received from my Netflix que a documentary on the life of Ansel Adams during the time I am reading Speed's book. They proclaimed Adams an 'artist', but I wondered how much of an artist he would have been without the Yosemite. There were other photographers out and about in Yosemite while Adams was there, but he fiddled with a filter and realized a photograph that came closer to communicating his sense of awe. Had he lived in Nebraska, or Cleveland, I wonder how artistically his work would have been received. I've painted entry doors. I've painted a scene at night with the moonlight coming through threatening clouds and landing on water in the distance. I forced the former, got lucky with the reference photo for the latter. I've sold both, but the comments are generated from the latter composition. Did I communicate something, or did the composition itself DO the communicating? I remember reading another painter's philosophy, and I've adopted it: Paint to please yourself, then go on to the next one, giving no thought to how the public judges your work. This flies in the face of asking 'what do I want to communicate with this painting? prior to starting. I wish I could understand about creating mood, communicating emotion, but I just find scenes that resonate with me, I paint them, either realistically or stylistically, and offer them to a public that is passing by, like a colorful lure passing by a row of bass underwater, and occasionally someone begins to resonate also when they see my painting.

Michael Pianta said...

Interesting read so far. One thing that kept occurring to me was the similarity (and difference) between Speed and Kandinsky. In "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" Kandinsky expresses very similar ideas with regards to the fundamentally expressive aspects of art, and even the idea that music is somehow a more "pure" art, and that painting should strive to be somehow like music. They both criticize "Art for Art's Sake" thinking, and they both feel that too many artists merely copy, unthinkingly, exactly what they are seeing.

And yet they still manage to reach quite different conclusions.

The other thing that struck me, is how different the current attitude regarding "art" - that is, the definition of art - and art's functions are. I was recalling my aesthetics class in college in which we spent a good deal of time going over different definitions and theories of art. The comments Speed makes in this area (9. and subsequently) would not have gotten him very far in that class. The prevailing idea was either an Arthur Danto-ish concept of art as whatever art institutions say it is or a generally post-modern nihilism that the whole topic was pointless and unsolvable. Speed on the other hand makes a number of assumptions - including for example, the assumption that communication is even possible - that are if not completely rejected and passe at least suspect, under post-modern theory.

Not that Speed should have anticipated any of that. I'm in no way criticizing him. But I just think it's interesting to reflect on how much things have changed in relatively short order.

Lindsay Gravina said...

8. I find this really interesting. I think we all have felt like our creations are things that come to us rather than us coming to them, which is something I find both frightening and exciting. This is probably the biggest mystery of all in creating art. Harold Speed is very good at putting complex feelings into words, and that's one of the best things about this book.

Unknown said...

Regarding this introduction, I found that the moment Speed starts to prove his art definition by mixing instinct driven attitudes with those same attitudes but this time driven by feelings and emotions quite touching. Specially because he paints a context where we all share of the same harmony, wich is in the human nature.

Also, I think he emphasizes the importance of the technique in painting when he affirms that the artist might CONSCIOUSLY alter the appearance of his subject based on some idealistic formula with the intention to express that deeper truth that is not printed in the commonplace symbol of the subject.

I would like to kindly thank you for those book club posts, very enlightening.