This is Lavey Village, Switzerland. Charming, ain't it? Couldn't get much more perfect than this. Everywhere you looked was a painting waiting to happen. Inspiration in everything- Landscape, architecture, people, animals. I'm never happier than when I'm in Europe surrounded with other artists. But I think that my happiness has not as much to do with the landscape- though let's admit, that definitely adds to it- but more the atmosphere of having people who think like me, who want the same things I want, and who are willing to do anything that they have to do in order to get it. There's a sense of professionalism, camaraderie, and uplifting of minds that happens when a group of people like that get together.
I focused on what I had to do, why I was there and I worked my butt off. I was motivated every morning to get out of bed and go paint. I almost always had a plan for what I wanted to accomplish that day or week. I threw out all of my insecurities and just painted my heart out. I experimented with new techniques that I was forced into such as having no access to any solvents and trying to work around that, as well as techniques that were suggested by the other artists. Since everyone had a slightly different background in their education, everyone had a slightly different way of doing things. Though it all was under the same umbrella of academic thought. So I tried all sorts of new things like toning my canvas with a color that I would normally have not tried before, and using bigger brushes than normal. Some of the techniques I liked and immediately incorporated into my work. Some I quickly realized were not for me. But the fact that all this new information was so readily available was exciting and enchanting and encouraging. I was swept up in it all.
We had regular lectures from visiting philosophers and professional artists which were enlightening.
Of course the lecture given by Roger Scruton and the symposium afterward with him, Dr Hubert Burda, Dr John Adamson, Jacob Burda, and Alan Lawson were mind blowing. I was reeling for days afterward trying to digest all of the information. And if you haven't already, go to DigiQualia.com to watch both videos. But the things that I came home thinking about over and over again were the practical things I had learned out in the field and from other artists, not the theories about what art is and the future of it.
After Zacheriah Kramer's lecture on limited palette I was completely rethinking how I use color which prompted me to paint a house the next day with only four colors. My idea of color theory radically changed in one hour. Though I don't think that I'll pare down my palette permanently, it was a good exercise in how much someone with a masterful hand can accomplish if they know their tools well enough. The hope is that we all can know our tools well enough to use them to their full potential. That takes years of work though. Every time I think I have this art thing kind of under control there's always something else that comes up that needs to be mastered. It's constantly a quest which is exciting and intimidating. I was forced to see how much I still have to learn with all of the different discussions, presentations, and demonstrations that we had.
I was high on the environment with everybody and everything encouraging me to keep going, but that made me think about home and the environment here and my seeming lack of motivation. I’ll get back to that in a minute. One morning I went out drawing with Andreas Birath, the director of the Florence Academy of Art in Sweden. I quickly gained a great respect for him, as a painter and as someone who constantly thinks about painting and teaching, and someone who is very humble. He related a story to another student, Amy, and I that day: the Russian hockey team a few years back was the best in the world. Not just by a little bit, but by a lot. Every single day they practiced at least 5 hours a day. And every person on the team both on and off the ice put forth 100% every single time. They won the world championship easily, but that didn't stop them from working harder, perfecting their techniques, and always pushing for more. All day, every day. If there was even one person putting in 95% instead of 100% then they were stealing away time and energy from the rest of the team. That person would immediately be weeded out because the team didn't want to be dragged down by people who weren't as committed as they were.
I asked Andreas how to weed out people like that in the studio. He said to get rid of them, though I don’t know that’s the best answer. I would like to try and encourage people to make the sacrifices it takes to reach their goals more than dismiss them entirely. Though I think at some point if that person doesn’t come around to the groups collective thought then they are doing more damage than good. But I liked the idea of everyone putting forth their greatest effort in order to achieve their highest aspirations. I don't know if you've ever been in a situation like this, but there is a very tangible feeling in the atmosphere. It's encouraging. And if you are not adding to the atmosphere then you are stealing from the others who are.
This is why I felt it so important to teach more and add more to the studio. I need to take steps to add to the atmosphere that I'd like to be a part of. Ryan has been trying to tell me for years that I need to be an example to the newer students, but I'm sorry to say I'm a slow learner. However, I finally get it, and I want to be someone who helps boost the school to it's full potential. We all have the potential to be amazing artists, but we all need to help each other in order to achieve our goals. This little community that we've created for ourselves is pretty amazing given our surroundings. But we can and need to do more.
I don’t know if you guys have ever felt this, but for a long time I was concerned that I didn't really have what it takes to be a great artist. I felt that I didn't have enough passion, enough drive to accomplish the skill level that I need to have in order to achieve the goals I have for myself. I felt like I would get distracted too easily. I still do, to be honest. I lack the discipline I really need, though it's something I'm constantly working on. I recently read an article that eased my fears and made me believe that this is where I belong:
by James Clear
The Myth of Passion and Motivation
One day while I was working out in the gym, there was a coach visiting who had worked with thousands of athletes over his long career, including some nationally-ranked athletes and Olympians.
I had just finished my workout when I asked him, “What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else. What do the really successful people do that most people don’t?”
He briefly mentioned the things that you might expect. Genetics. Luck. Talent.
But then he said something I wasn’t expecting.
“At some point,” he said, “it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again.”
That piece of advice surprised me because it’s a different way of thinking about work ethic.
Most of the time people talk about getting motivated and “amped up” to work on their goals. Whether it’s business or sports or art, you will commonly hear people say things like, “it all comes down to having enough passion.”
As a result, I think many people get depressed when they lose focus or motivation because they think that successful people have some unstoppable passion and willpower that they seem to be missing. But that’s exactly the opposite of what this coach was saying.
Instead, he was saying that really successful people feel the same boredom and the same lack of motivation that everyone else feels. They don’t have some magic pill that makes them feel ready and inspired every day. But the difference is that the people who stick with their goals don’t let their emotions determine their actions. Top performers still find a way to show up, to work through the boredom, and to embrace the daily practice that is required to achieve their goals.
According to him, it’s this ability to do the work when it’s not easy that separates the top performers from everyone else. That’s the difference between professionals and amateurs.
I think that because we all go home every night, places that are extremely comfortable for us, it's easy to get bored and distracted. Most of us haven't removed ourselves to places where our sole reason to be there is to learn more about our trade. When you're in a place like that your mindset is completely different. You tell yourself that this is it. You have nothing to do than improve your skills. It's quite luxurious despite how much money it usually takes to put yourself in that sort of situation. I've been fortunate enough to experience that three times in my life. Every time I'm able to get more out of the experience than the time before. This last time really amped me up. I hounded Ryan over email about how I didn't want to come home because it felt lifeless and uninspiring here. This is one of the emails I sent in annoyance:
People stay up late to talk art, work together to figure certain problems out, encourage each other in moments of doubt, etc. that we just don't get at home. Sure, part of it is the logistics of it all. Almost everyone here is under the same roof, eat the same meals at the same time, drink wine together, or whatever else that we don't have in Utah. But I still see no reason why we can't have late night chats. Why we all have to be separate from one another when we should all be working together for a common goal.
I can't feel artistically dead anymore. I need to feel inspired in order to create pieces that I feel are truly worth creating. I can't rely on my surroundings to dictate inspiration because it won't come from Utah. So I have to create it.
It was after this email that Ryan and I started to talk extensively about how we can change things here in order to keep the motivation and encourage everyone around us.
Despite the CAS being in “Art City” a lot of our supposed ideas that we teach at this school are pretty radical in the art community here. Though we, as a group, prove that there is a want and a need for this education here. What we make of the school here will only help to magnify the school in Paris where it ultimately belongs. Let's all help each other. Let's all share ideas. Let's all be awesome friends. In the Ecole des Beaux Arts there was a definite ranking system that they held to. We've joked several times about it in this school with the Massier and the Rapine, but I don't actually want that sort of atmosphere in here. I am no better than anyone else in this room who works as hard for what they say they want. I'm trying to be more open to critiques from everyone, not just Ryan because everyone has a different point of view. I can learn from all of you even though I'm close to the end of my formal education here. You all have something to offer.
The future of representational art is high according to certain philosophers, publishers, and painters. Everyone in the art community on both sides of modernism and representationalism is feeling the shift. Though work that we call silly and thoughtless is still claiming millions of dollars at auctions, work that we hail as good art is catching up. The collectors will start to change their preferences and it's entirely possible that we could see contemporary representational artists making millions, consistently, their own lifetime. Work is finally being created that people can and should relate to. Though the road ahead is long and rocky, I'm in it for the long haul. I truly want to change the world, but I can't do it alone, obviously. We are stronger as a group. I have fought against this idea for a while because I didn't want to be tied to anyone else or a school of thought. I wanted to be me and make my own name for myself. Be little miss independent. But I've recently changed my thought about this. Groups that think alike are able to have more of a voice because they are able to focus each other and lift each other up to their full potential. I want people to know where I come from and when they think of me they think of all of my friends or vice versa. The masters of the 19th century were constantly talking to and critiquing each other. Sharing ideas and techniques. I got a taste of that in Switzerland and it was amazing. I don't want to lose that because now I'm home. We can and should create an atmosphere of openness, acceptance, and ultimately producing great work. People will start to listen once we have the work to back up our claims.
After having the experiences we had in Switzerland, Brock, Ryan and I traveled north to Paris. At every turn opulence abounded. Our minds were blown. The first night we went to see the Eiffel Tower. We were all taken aback by the realization of where we were. The history that occurred in that city is rich and everywhere you look that history is reflected in the culture. We visited Shane Wolf while we were there and he mentioned that the Parisians seem to hold themselves different because the surroundings they’ve been brought up in. The museums are amazingly accessible and hold some of the world’s best masterpieces in their walls. Bouguereau, Corot, Friant, Morot, Bonnat, Gerome, and countless other masters were waiting for us to come converse with them. Being able to be 2 inches away from this Bouguereau and seeing just how deep his mastery ran was life changing. I was swept up in this painting and felt like I was the only person in the museum while I was looking at it. I just wanted to sit and stare all day long- all month long, really. Copying from the master’s paintings became obvious to further our own educations and the educations of students. Then true mastery can be achieved in our own work as we apply the lessons that the masters teach us. The CAS can be bigger and better than what we are right now. I truly believe that Ryan’s big idea for the school will change the entire art community and bring high culture to general society. But we’ve got to start somewhere. Whether you attend the CAS or are just a friend, we as a group need band together and make it happen.
For whatever reason I have had the goal of being one of the best artists in the world for as long as I can remember. Every thing that I’ve done in my life has been to take steps toward this goal. Now I’ve achieved more than I thought I’d be able to on a technical level, and my goals have expanded. I want to be a part of a culture that brings back values that I feel have been compromised in the 20th Century. The idea is that if I create paintings of beautiful, universal subjects that enrich, uplift, and engage society the viewers will hopefully want more of that in their lives. I want to help strengthen values such as love, respect, honesty, faithfulness, beauty, and education.