Thursday, August 22, 2019

Paint Technique: Bravura vs. Patience

Painting Atelier in the École des Beaux Arts
American mural painter Edwin Blashfield (1848-1936) recalled that when he was an art student in Paris, all the students on Léon Bonnat's atelier wanted to use a lot of paint and to make sure their paintings looked vigorous and not labored.

Leon Bonnat, Roman Girl at a Fountain
One day Monsieur Bonnat arrived to survey the student work, he said: "Gentlemen, why do you use so much paint? You are only tripping yourselves up. I do not use a great quantity of paint for its own sake, but because my temperament is such that I can get my effect better in that way."

The comments quenched the students' enthusiasm for obsessing with thick paint and technique in general. According to Bonnat, the technique didn't matter so much as effort and patience.

Bonnat said: "It has often been told us that Michelangelo said, 'Genius is eternal patience,' and there is no doubt that Michelangelo was an expert in the definition of genius if ever a man was. Thomas Carlyle, too, defined genius as a 'transcending capacity for taking trouble.'"

"Students may remember then, when they wish to work vigorously and powerfully, and when they disdain what they call labored painting — may remember, I say, that two of the most rugged and original personalities that ever existed, the one in literature, the other in art, have averred that patience — careful, painstaking patience — is the crowning virtue which shall furnish the basis to the brilliant and captivating vigor which is so desirable an achievement."

"And do not mistake my intention. I am with the student. I sympathize in his wish. The skillful manipulation of pigment is a capacity to be struggled for and to be proud of when obtained; it makes the surface of the canvas attract at once. But if the canvas is to be made vital-looking and lastingly solid as well as attractive, behind and under the lively manipulation of pigment there must be construction and knowledge, the fruit of hard work."

Edwin Blashfield, Trumpets of Missouri
"Idolatry of mere dexterity is peculiarly dangerous in America because it assails us along the lines of the least resistance. Dexterousness comes naturally to the American, and in its favor he is sometimes only too ready to suppress hard thinking, which is the one invaluable kind of hard work and discipline in any profession. Technical excellence is at its very best only a means to an end, and art stands for something much finer, greater, and deeper than even the very skilfullest and most brilliant handling of one’s tools." 
Read more:
Wikipedia on Edwin Blashfield (1848-1936) and Léon Bonnat (1833-1922) 


Thom Rozendaal said...

Even today among beginning artists I see on social media, there are some who use a far too thick application of paint as a sort of 'gimmick', just to distinguish themselves from others while the abundance of texture sometimes takes away from the image, creating highlights and shadows where there shouldn't be any. Aside from that it just seems like a waste of paint in general if the same can be accomplished with a more controlled layer of paint.

Rich said...

Genius anyone?

Interesting treatise: From what Bonnat said, I'd conclude that a latent genius keeps on sleeping in any human being: With the said amount of perseverance and patience it might manifest.

CerverGirl said...

You show so many paintings here in your blog and in your books that I am sure I would not otherwise see. Thank you for taking the time to teach and share.

Dave Lebow said...

Great post !
I remember in Norman Rockwell’s book called
How I Paint A Picture he said “Genius is taking infinite pains”.
Makes sense as he labored so hard on a picture.

Dave Lebow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Virginia Fhinn said...

Thanks for this post, it comes at an auspicious moment when I'm struggling with - you guessed it - applying too much/not enough paint. It's good to hear that one shouldn't apply more paint for paint's sake. My instructor is always encouraging me to be less fussy, but sometimes I indulge my habit and allow myself to be fussy. Hard to find a balance, but I know the balance is there somewhere. Have you ever drywalled a corner? It's good to be fussy, but there comes a point where you have to let it go.

I recently saw a display of some Group of 7 (Canadian) paintings, and I finally "got it". Seeing the paintings in print or on screen is completely Un-inspiring, but in person they really come alive because of the impasto, and others for a vibrancy that doesn't come across in print. I'm always bummed out that my favorite of the Group of 7, Tom Thomson, died young in a mysterious drowning in a lake in Ontario.

Greg said...

Best post in a while. Made me happy

My Pen Name said...

Great post I had never heard of Bashfield before, but WOW! ordered his book.

Mr. Wood said...

Wow great post. Love those insights, and what a great definition of genius!

Excited to see Edwin Bashfield mentioned. I first came across his name when researching old dollar bill artwork. He did some amazing etchings for some of the most impressive artwork the dollar has seen, in my opinion. Also he did a mural here in Atlanta at an old church, I still need to pay a visit.