Ever since first having access to Max Meldrum’s book The Science of Appearances and being instructed in the craft of painting by his student Alan Martin, I have avoided calling myself an artist, rather seeing what I do as a craft. It is amazing how many people are annoyed by this and seem to be dismissive of the term craft in reference to painting saying “Oh no! You are an artist” inferring that I am putting myself down using this reference.
To be honest, after almost 50 years painting, I use the word craftsman tentatively as I still feel that I am learning my craft and will continue to do so as long as I continue to practise it.
Roger Pulvers, in his excellent book, My Japan a Cultural Memoir published by Balestier Press quotes a Japanese author Shirasu Masako as saying in 1947 “What we need is not artists but artisans. People attempt to create art and fail. If you create something with great skill, it may very well result in art.” His strikes me as a very Japanese attitude with their particular system of National Living Treasures.
The world is full of budding artists. I am regularly approached by passers-by as I paint in the landscape with stories of frustrated desires to paint being put on hold by work commitments, having children or merely a lack of encouragement of family. Many of these people still harbour a need to pick up a brush and have a go and sometimes do but I counsel them to find a good teacher and learn the craft as all of the great painters have done in the past.
Some say that they have tried and failed, believing that just by trying, they should be able to produce something ‘decent’. More often than not, they have been influenced as a child by a relative or family friend who had painted, sometimes having their mother’s painting gear and despairing that their efforts at using this are not to their liking.
Wishing won’t make it happen. Just because one has a violin in the wardrobe that belonged to Uncle Charlie, does not confer any special gift upon you. If you have listened closely to Uncle Charlie play, if he was a competent well-trained violinist and you liked what he did, this may stimulate you to find a teacher and settle in for a lifetime’s work in mastering the technique to the point where, as my teacher has been known to say, “you may be able to produce something half-way decent.”
My aim in teaching has been to impart to my students the desire to observe nature as a painter should, handle the materials and tools correctly, mix up the right tones in the right colours, put them on the canvas in the right place and control the edges just as Alan Martin and Shirley Bourne taught me back in the 1970’s and 80’s. Both of these painters were true treasures of the craft of painting and great teachers, both now somewhat overlooked by the art world but fondly remembered by their students and those who carry their knowledge forward into the future.
9th September 2022
Vale Queen Elizabeth 2