Many people take summer vacations. Perhaps you were one of the lucky people afforded this luxury. In choosing a vacation spot, it seems as though I encountered two schools of thought in the process. One practice is to return to the exact location yearly, i.e., on Cape Cod, a lake house in Northern Michigan, or a villa in Tuscany. They return for various reasons: family ties, rich history, unique beauty, or the opportunity to skip the tourist traps and explore the nuances of the place. The second method is to explore new places and visit as many different parts of the world as possible. In both cases, the excitement comes from exploration. Either the unique experience or the subtle differences can excite any traveler. Looking at art can have a similar division of preference. Value is gained both in painting the same subject over and over, discovering a new concept or idea each time in that place, and or finding a completely new arena of thought and material each and every time you approach a new series. Some people prefer to study recognizable objects, while others are explorers who love navigating unknown worlds. Which is your preference, realism or abstraction? And do you have to choose? Neither is right or wrong; sometimes, a mix of both creates a perfect balance.
Life-long learning is a theme we are all familiar with but applying that theme ebbs and flows. I am currently in flow. This summer, I took the opportunity to hone my classic drawing skills. I went outside with my pochade box. A pochade (from French Poche, pocket) is a type of sketch used in painting. I retook a workshop by Tim Wilson at the Lyme Academy in Lyme, Connecticut, to dive deeper into his methods of transferring outdoor sketches into dynamic finished studio works suitable for gallery walls. Connecting with how to take that outdoor world back to the interior of my studio requires both utilization of memory and imagination. Additionally, I returned to the figure and worked in the studio on pencil drawings of the human form studying under Thomas LaPine. Studying a dynamic living human form requires learned simplification of shapes. It is more about learning how to see than how to draw. Once again, I was faced with the same questions I was asked 30 years ago, "Am I a landscape artist, a contemporary artist, or a figure artist?" Once again, I tell myself that this label is not important. What is important is to stay curious.
According to English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) ... "memory and imagination are basically the same things." Creating relevant and contemporary work does not need to exclude the classics but rather can incorporate the old in an entirely new way. Authenticity is aided by skill, not hindered, so while rules and old ways of doing things can and should be challenged, it is impossible to challenge them if you don't know them. Learning new things can be a way of letting go of past ideas, but it can also be a way to invent and build. It is not about what we learn but instead what we do with what we learn.