10 November, 2008
Knowledge & Art
For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. Vincent van Gogh
In our last post, we studied the trait of generosity, as exemplified by Vincent van Gogh. How do we make the transition from the world's best known self-taught artist, van Gogh, to the subject of knowledge? Is there a contradiction here? Isn't knowledge the stuff of formal education?
In order to be fair, we may have to ask if art training is necessary. Before we go too far in this, I have to say that I have never found it becoming when someone brags about their lack of letters. I prefer to speak of the merit of someone who excels in spite of their deficit in formal training.
One of my favorite creeds is: "Be, Know, Do". Art is a "doing" activity, and one "is" an artist. By contrast, knowledge is not art. Need an example of the limits of knowledge in art? A highly valued characteristic of good art is the quality of "looseness". Can one even teach "looseness"?
The ultimate "loose" artist, Mr. van Gogh, was as pitiful a student as ever darkened an art academy doorstep. He was dismissed from the Royal Art Academy in Antwerp, where he was disappointed in the pedantic character of the training. My feeling is that if the art environment (art school, for instance) values open marks, then the artist has that much greater chance of being loose.
"Now, if you can forgive someone for immersing himself in pictures, perhaps you will also grant that the love of books is as sacred as that of Rembrandt, indeed, I believe that the two complement each other." VVG
Knowledge and art appreciation fit together hand-in-glove. For me, it is true that the more I learn about art, artists and art impedimenta, the broader my love of it all becomes. I seem to appreciate more and different types of art, and at the same time, paradoxically, I feel that my critical faculties get sharper, too.
The long and short of it is that knowledge is essential to the growth of the artist. Didn't go to art school? Make it up with a lifetime of personal study. Go to museums and galleries. Look at as much notable art as your sore eyes will devour. Read about art, the lives of artists and study art history. Look online at the current world of art.
You say you did go to art school? You're not finished learning, either, Rembrandt. As every true student finds out, learning is a lifelong task that only begins with proper schooling. Thirst for knowledge is the hallmark of the learned.
Many times we have heard that it isn't what you know, it's who you know. I say, know thyself.