Tag Archives: Nicolaides

Drawing: A ‘Philosophy’ for Art

In every field of human endeavor there is a specific practice that most directly speaks to the fundamental nature of that field. That practice serves as the philosophical manifestation of its arena—not an academic philosophy, but a lived-in, worked-in philosophy. To study philosophy is to study the core of a thing – the why, how, and what – and every discipline has such a core. Literature has poetry, the pure exploration of language and structure; music has the piano, the most versatile and complete of instruments. Science has research, the pursuit of pure understanding. The visual arts have fine art or gallery art, art that exists for its own sake and which explores the formal and conceptual limits of the field. Within fine art, however, there is an even more specific category that most directly touches on the philosophy of art: drawing.

Traditionally, drawing has often been defined in negative terms, by what it is not—a finished piece, a work using a full range of colors, a complex multi-layered work, etc. The contemporary description is more generous: “Drawing as an art form is principally understood to have an essential quality of directness and transparency: Its great strength is the clarity and simplicity through which the viewer can grasp the artist’s actions, ideas, or emotions.” (Drury/Stryker, Ch. 1) This explanation gets at the heart of what drawing does rather dealing with surface questions of medium and appearance. The emphasis on “clarity and simplicity” is a key aspect in understanding drawing as philosophy.

I would like to suggest here that drawing serves as the necessary base or core for art and is the most direct means of studying the theoretical basis of aesthetic experience. Continue reading

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Nicolaides Quote 7:

“Temperament is merely an incident, just as one banker may be temperamental and another not, while both have the genius for banking. The idea that an artist must be a tragic sort of figure is all wrong. Some artists are like Van Gogh and Gauguin. Some, like Titian and Renoir, are not. Tragedy is caused by a man’s nature and environment and is as irrelevant to painting as it is to other professions. Many young art students react against the prosaic world and feel they must be ‘different.’ They are afraid if they act like other people they will be like other people. The real difference between the artist and the one who is not an artist is not so simple as that.”

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Nicolaides Quote 6:

“I never concern myself with how much talent my students have. I couldn’t say to anyone in the beginning, ‘you have no talent.’ I believe that nature is lavish with talent just as it is with acorns—but not all acorns become oaks. Talent is something that develops, or appears, as you work.”

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Nicolaides Quote 5:

It is much easier to learn how to make a “pretty” picture than it is to learn how to wrestle with and observe reality in all its complexity.

“Any student can command a good technique in a few years and acquire facility with his medium, but this is not what real study consists of. Anyone can learn to paint. Sometimes it seems that the less one is an artist the more easily and quickly one can acquire the superficial qualities of a painter. But craftsmanship in painting is mere virtuosity, a skill that may hide lack of real perception.”  

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Nicolaides Quote 4:

You never stop seeing, learning, and growing.

“Preconceived ideas about things with which you have no real experience have a tendency to defeat the acquiring of real knowledge…Do not allow familiar labels to interfere with fresh impulses. Disregard ideas that are already formulated, or constantly test them by new fresh experiences.” 

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Nicolaides Quote 3:

Most serious artists keep a sketchbook. While there may be some drawings in there, most of the drawings are not “art” but rather a record of a certain kind of mental exercise (namely deep observation of the world or visual thinking). We don’t call piano scales Music or sports drills Football, neither should we call learning to draw making Art. Many students get bogged down when they are learning to draw with how the drawing looks (not whether it is accurate or not, but rather whether or not they could proudly show it off).

“Results are best when they come from the right kind of unself-conscious effort… The time you spend (drawing) only counts if you are having the correct experience… “

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Nicolaides Quote 2:

As an artist who feels much more comfortable in the “safe” realm of theory rather than the frightening world of actually doing, this quote was particularly convicting.

“For an artist, the important thing is not how much he knows, but how much he can do.”

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Nicolaides Quote 1:

Every day for the next week I will post a quote from The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides. My art professor described this book as the Old Testament of drawing (with Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain being the New Testament). I recently started reading through it again and many of his opinions have resonated with my own struggles on the subjects of creativity and the nature/role of the artist. I have selected seven of his most pointed statements.

“There is only one right way to draw and that is a perfectly natural way. It has nothing to do with artifice or technique. It has nothing to do with aesthetics or conception. It has only to do with the act of correct observation, and by that I mean a physical contact with all sorts of objects through all the senses. If a student misses this step and does not practice it for at least his first five years, he has wasted most of his time and must necessarily go back and begin all over again.”

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