Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why Frazetta?

Let me elaborate on my specific reasons for choosing Frazetta as my teacher. First, I believe figurative painting is the best possible way to learn the true discipline of painting so that you can see whether you're doing it right or wrong. Not just figurative, but classical figurative painting. If you indulge yourself in modernism then you can't tell if you're getting things right or not - nobody can say whether the distortions or weird color choices are because you don't know what you're doing or because of the modernism. For learning purposes I believe it's of paramount importance to paint realistically, and that the human figure is the center of the artistic universe. I also believe Frazetta is the figurative painter who best appeals to today's viewers AND who used a fast method allowing paintings to be completed in one sitting (important to me). The painters of antiquity did some pretty dull subjects and took way too long to finish a piece - each layer of glaze taking days or even weeks to fully dry!

The most important thing my delvings into stopmotion have taught me is that it's vitally important I be able to finish a project within a week or so. If not, I not only lose interest in it (which implies a rather passive state) but the project in fact can become complete anathema - so that I can't stand the very sight of it or to think about it for long periods of time. Then it can be months before that aversion fades and I can again try to work up interest in the project. This is why I've always been able to complete drawings that take a day or maybe 2 days, but not projects that take more than a week, unless I can somehow trick myself into maintaining or artificially re-invigorating my flagging interest. It's important to know yourself and not try to fight against your natural tendencies but to instead use them.

Classical figurative painting is the center of the artistic universe

This is true in several senses. Those modern artists who achieved greatness about a hundred years ago were all classically trained - they spent years drawing from anatomical plasters and then drawing models from life with an emphasis on developing great facility in lighting and shadows before they detoured into the more abstract realms. And when they did they had that classical foundation on which to rely - they had internalized the way paint works, the way drawing skills work - and these axioms remained strong and guided them in their seemingly anti-classical endeavors. When they broke the rules of classical figure art they knew they were breaking them, and what's more, they understood the rules they were breaking quite intimately, as opposed to an untrained artist just making random choices with nothing to guide him. How does an artist rebel against classical tradition if he doesn't even know what that tradition is? 

Another sense in which the figure is the center of the artistic world is that when you've thorougly learned the human figure, you can paint pretty well anything with only a little additional training. After all, thanks to evolution, animal anatomy is just human anatomy adjusted in certain ways. Once you really know human anatomy, learning the anatomy of the horse for instance is just a matter of understanding the differences rather than starting from scratch - the horse consists of a ribcage, pelvis, skull and four limbs each with exactly the same joints ours have, it's only the lengths and shapes of those bones that are different. 

Some people will find fault with my statement on technical grounds and say "Ah, but it isn't true that animal anatomy is modified human anatomy - in fact it's the other way around! Humans evolved from a line of animal forms!" Which is indisputably true of course. But as our very late understanding of that very fact demonstrates, humans are a very human-centric species, and it's only natural that we understand the world through a very human-centric lens. Because we're human, we have the innate and inborn ability to tell in an instant if a painted face looks correct or not, where-as there's a lot more leeway on whether an octopus looks correct in all its myriad details or not. We have a hard time in fact telling one octopus from another, but we have no difficulty telling one person from another. So our human barometer is nearly infallible in detecting even minute flaws in painted human figures and faces, thus this should be our learning ground. Because the entire point of the learning experience is to draw and paint things believably, so it's important to draw and paint things we're intimately familiar with so we can tell at a glance if they're correct or not. If you're not doing this, then you're not taking a truly disciplined path to improving your skills. By all means, if you're only interested in painting octopii, then only learn them. But if you want to be a true artist, then your field of endeavor must be the human figure. 

But more than that - when you have a good understanding of proportioning and anatomy of the human body, then many other things click into place as well, like chairs, tables, toilets, cars, doorways, windows etc. All of these things are built to fit the human body. When you know how high the knee is for instance you know how high to make chairs tables and toilets (which are just chairs after all). When you know how tall and how wide the average adult male is you know how to proportion doors and windows to fit them. This also applies to corridors, rooms, the height of ceilings, and on and on. In fact just about everything man-made is proportioned to fit the human body. 

Extending beyond the man-made world, in figurative painting you also learn to paint environments. So figurative art includes at least a primer course in landscape painting. You learn how to integrate figures into an environment and how to use the same light and shadow to tie them together. This is vitally important in other skills such as making sets and lighting them. 

All of this explains why I maintain that if you have a background in clasical figurative art (and by classical I mean realistic) then you've got a really strong foundation from which to tackle other arts (such as stopmotion animation and especially making puppets and sets and props). 

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