Why are some paintings better than others?

First, not all paintings are created equal. Technique doesn’t always make a picture tremendous, nor does following a set of rules. In many cases, in these extraordinary works of art, the artist has broken some aesthetic or compositional “rule,” which only adds more questions than answers. One assumption would be that we only need to stop religiously following the rules to create a great painting. If this is indeed true, then why do so many amateur paintings appear clumsily constructed and poorly painted?

A lot of times, even the experts are unable to explain why.

Learning the rules first

Before we begin breaking the rules, we first need to understand what the rules of painting are. We need to understand the science and chemistry of painting and understand the mechanics of the picture plane. We need to achieve a certain level of mastery to access what I like to call the intangible.

What the heck is the intangible?

We know what it is when we are standing in front of a great work of art, but we cannot describe exactly why and what we are feeling.  It is a presence. This “phenomenon” is what I like to call the intangible.

We know it when we see it.

Learning by sharing

We also need to interact with other artists and not just on social media. Every successful artist throughout history has worked with other artists. It is through the exchange of ideas that extraordinary works of art are born. A “like” means nothing until we understand why.  When we understand why the “who” is “likes” becomes more important, and we begin to see our own artwork through different optics.

Making extraordinary works of art

If our goal is to make extraordinary works of art, then we need to follow in the steps of the masters. We need to develop new ways of working. We need to establish processes to help us achieve our goal.  Who exactly is a master artist is a topic for another day, because not every experienced artist is a master.

Begin by making good pictures

To begin making good pictures, we need to stop working from photographs, even those you take yourself. A picture can sometimes be used as a reference, but a painting should never be a copy of the photograph. A true artist uses a sketchbook. A painter knows how to draw from life and knows how to draw well. Ironically many of these photograph “copyists” do not know how to draw, nor can they copy from real-life subjects. They may appear to be skilled, but they are only proficient at copying photographs. A photograph is two-dimensional. Once you remove the picture from their equation and ask them to work with a three-dimensional subject, they cannot do it.

Maintain a strict adherence the process

The only rule in art that supports a positive outcome in painting is strict adherence to a process in the proper sequence. Here are the steps I have used and taught for decades in the order they need to be done: Sketching, drawing(s), value study(s), colour study(s) and then and only then a final painting. These are the rules you should never break. These are the rules that support the extraordinary art that all artists seek. The only rules we can break as artists are the ones linked to the principles and elements of design.

Great art is achieved through strict adherence to the process.

Quote of the day

“The only valid thing in art is that which cannot be explained. To explain away the mystery of a great painting – if such a feat were possible – would be irreparable harm. If there is no mystery then there is no ‘poetry’, the quality I value above all else in art. What do I mean by ‘poetry’? It is to a painting what life is to man. For me it is a matter of harmony, of rapports, of rhythm and – most important for my own work – of ‘metamorphosis’.”

~ Georges Braque ~

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