Archive for category Author: Juliette Aristides

Lessons in Classical Painting || Juliette Aristides

Juliette begins her introduction to this fascinating and well thought-out book with an apparently massive digression about what seems like a random mail delivery system that involves complete trust in its own efficacy. She relates this to the creative process with the observation: “Painting cannot be called art while the uncomfortable element of faith is absent … artists need to believe in the value and outcome of their work”.

Let’s just stop and think for a moment about the enormity of that statement. My previous nostrum, printed on a card I bought at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, is Edgar Degas’ “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”. Well, yes, completely, obviously, I’ll buy that. But faith? That’s a big thing. What Juliette is saying is that it’s not enough to be faithful to your subject, to convey a meaning to the viewer (which is what Degas tells us). It’s not even enough to have faith in your own ability. You have to have an unshakeable belief (that’s what faith is) that your work is worthwhile and, I think by extension, that it will stand the test of time.

And that, rather conveniently, brings me to the question I thought was going to be the big one at the head of this discussion: what is classical painting? Yes, I know, it’s the Old Masters, the Atelier method, the apprenticeship, all that stuff. Except that it isn’t. There are people today painting in what we might call a Classical style and they didn’t go through all that. Heck, they may not even have suffered for their art (or not much, anyway). A lot of their work is included here and it sits seamlessly alongside luminaries such as Winslow Homer, Antonio Mancini or Laura Teresa Alma-Tadema (me neither, but Juliette is rather good on the wives of bigger male names).

So, let’s have a go at a definition of classical painting. No, it’s not about studios, or style, or materials. Well, it is, but it’s not primarily about that. It’s about that utter sense of self-belief that previous ages found so easy, or at least found an easy mantle to assume, which isn’t quite the same thing. Van Gogh was a Great Artist, but not in his lifetime. He suffered almost certainly from mental illness, but never lost faith in himself as An Artist. His eventual suicide seems to have been more to spare his brother the cost of his upkeep (you really should read Bernadette Murphy’s Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story), rather than any kind of admission of artistic failure.

I’ve known Watson Guptill through several incarnations and I’m massively impressed by the current one as a purveyor of finely-produced, illustrated and authoritative monographs on the philosophy of the practice of painting (this one even has sewn binding, which is a rarity these days). I’d go so far as to say that, when you handle this, you know that it has as much faith in its ability to carry its message as the message itself is telling you to have in yourself as an artist.

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Classical Drawing Atelier || Juliette Aristides

As if you hadn’t already guessed what it does, the subtitle of this thorough and sumptuously produced book is “a contemporary guide to traditional studio practice”.

At once both a study and a practical guide, the author’s immersive approach reproduces exactly the way students would have learnt in former times. Illustrations are a mixture of older and modern works and it’s remarkable how often the only way to tell which is which is by reading the captions. Such an approach can often lead to jarring, even confusing, juxtapositions, but that is not the case here and it’s typical of the care that has gone into the book.

This is, it should be said, entirely about drawing the human figure. While this is somehow not unexpected, it is never stated either in the title or the blurb. As long as you’re aware, you won’t be disappointed. I do think, though, that if this is what you want, the formality of the approach, the thoroughness and attention to detail should delight. It’s quite one of the best books on the subject I’ve seen.

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Lessons in Classical Drawing || Juliette Aristides

This quite scholarly book looks at drawing techniques through Old Master as well as contemporary examples, combined with a selection of specific lessons covering subjects from measured drawing to line work and the human form.

It’s very much a book to read and absorb rather than something to treat as a practical course and therefore probably best suited to someone who already has some facility and is wanting to study the subject in more, indeed considerable, depth. The range of subjects is comprehensive and the quality of both the work and the reproduction is superb, and it is in fact possible to enjoy the book for that alone and to ignore its use as a learning aid.

That the accompanying DVD is filmed in Florence is just the icing on the cake, really.

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