Sunday, March 8, 2009

Harold Speed on Teaching Art

Harold Speed (1872 - 1957) has a very interesting book out, Oil Painting Techniques and Materials, first printed in 1944. He was a successful English oil painter and also an engaging teacher - thoughtful, insightful and with a solid grasp on what a student needs to know to produce good art.

Here is an observation from his book:

"There are two ways of teaching art, one is to teach and the other is not to teach.
  • One is to train the faculties and perceptions that art employs by hard drilling, so that the student may be a thorough master of the means of expression, and have his perceptions trained to accurate observation (The danger of the first system is, that he may become so absorbed in the technical side of his art, which is very engrossing, that he may stifle his native perceptions; the expression of which can alone justify him as an artist.)

  • And the other is to leave the student to the guidance of the intuitive impulse that is impelling him to be an artist, letting him rub along by himself and stumble upon a means suited to his needs. Great artists have been produced by both methods. (And the danger of the second method is that his intuitions may not be sufficiently strong to carry him very far. He may be bursting with artistic matter seeking expression, but inadequacy of means may prevent him producing anything effective.)
I was initially introduced to fine art using the latter method. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I loved it. I would join a group of fellow students at the teacher's studio every Friday morning. We painted subject matter of our choice while listening to classical music and surrounded by his fine paintings on the studio walls. He would give us the answers to our questions, but waited until we asked. I did learn and produced mostly acceptable paintings.

I've come now to the place where I want something more tangible. I want to have strong foundations to my work so that I can answer the how and why questions. I am pleased that Harold Speed saw the value in both types of learning experiences.