Welcome back. This is Lesson 3 in Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth.
The next section of Andrew Loomis’ opening essay focuses on the formula to becoming a great artist. Loomis is quick to point out that the formula is not a matter of finding the perfect technique or acquiring a professional expensive tool-set, but instead a matter of philosophy. He says that good illustrations are actually an expression of the mental self-improvement which has been undertaken by the artist. Consider this quote from Andrew Loomis:
As a student I thought there was a formula of some kind that I would get hold of somewhere, and thereby become an artist. There is a formula, but it has not been in books. It is really plain old courage…
Andrew Loomis is emphasizing that without personal fortitude, the ability to produce compelling art will not manifest. He directly gives us a list of 8 essential characteristics of personal fortitude which are needed:
Artists need to have the courage to:
- stand on our own feet
- forever seek enlightenment
- let go of our established ways
- be not so proud that we fail to learn from our peers
- experiment with our own ideas
- observe reality for ourselves
- keep a “rigid discipline”
- instantiate a ‘growth mindset’
Let us break down the subtleties of each of these points.
First: To stand on our own feet means to Loomis that we must be able to work from the skills we have learned, and not to rely on a series of ‘work-arounds’ in order to achieve our artistic ends. In working through these lessons, you will come to see that Loomis is a specialist in the rules of proper drawing. To know the rules inside and out is to stand on your own feet.
Second: To seek enlightenment means to not guess at how something should be done in regards to art, but to find out the actual way it is done. To execute the phenomena particular to proper representational art is to understand the principles -which are often mathematic- underlying how we represent 3-D reality upon a 2-D plane.
Third: To let go of established ways is fairly self-explanatory. It is the same principle expressed by fiction authors when they talk about ‘killing your darlings’. Once an artist figures out a way he likes to do something, the temptation is to keep ringing that bell. This will produce a stale look to your art, as the range you are working in becomes more of a track than a style. Growth happens when you are uncomfortable, not while you are keeping within your safe-zone.
Fourth: To learn from peers is a hard thing to do, if you are not settled in your personality. This is why Loomis states our personal improvement is upstream of our artistic work. You need to be confident within your own skin, humble and able to take criticism from those peers around you who have something to say. It is of no use to listen to your cheering-squad exclusively. That being said, the inverse is not true either; that is, to only listen to criticism. There are informed criticisms and then there are the wide range of what is best to consider amateur opinion. Take amateur opinion for what it is, but be not too proud to consider well-informed and professional criticism of your art.
Fifth: To experiment with our ideas means to keep ahold of curiosity when you are approaching your artwork, like point 3 above. Experimentation is the opposite of being inflexible, but it doesn’t mean being radical. Many people think they are very open-minded about social norms personally, but are actually very inflexible in a different way; they are intolerant to anyone who also isn’t extremely open. To experiment within a principle is to actually be flexible, and that is to try things without having an end in mind, while not seeking to undo the paradigm which you operate within. To experiment artistically is to go with the flow when handling media, and to facilitate what the television painters used to call “happy accidents”.
Sixth: To observe reality for ourselves is a very subtle point. It means that when a phenomena about reality is explained, as Loomis will do within the range of the following lessons, it is not enough to accept what he states just because he said it. What we must do is integrate the principle Loomis outlines, and then observe it for ourselves in action within the real world. It is part of what Andrew Loomis calls “informed observation”.
Seventh: To keep a ‘rigid discipline’ may seem a curious rule, following rule 5 where Loomis encourages us to be flexible, but this is not so. To be rigid is not universally a bad thing. Many people in popular society have a set of sacredly-held beliefs which they absorbed through common discourse. Unfortunately many of these beliefs are oversimplified nonsense. Rigidity is considered a ‘bad-thing’ for many people, but in fact, being rigid is a paragon when you are considering something like the constitution of structural bolts. Rigidity is not bad, it is a quality which can be applied in certain cases and misapplied in others. Loomis wants us to be rigid in our discipline; that is to establish an impassive routine suited to our goals, and then stick to it. This is a basic point made by all successful people in any range of pursuit, and in those cases, rigidity is a benefit.
Eighth: The growth mindset is a catch phrase which I have borrowed from my author friend David V. Stewart. This phrase is not used by Loomis, but the idea here is identical to David’s. The idea (regardless of what it is called) is the mental attitude of moving toward a higher ideal, while at the same time executing your artwork to the best of your abilities. Take careful note: this is not perfectionism. Perfectionism is actually in opposition to the growth mindset, and it is actually a form of procrastination. The growth mindset declares that you are aiming to complete your work with all of your ability, despite the flaws. When we execute the growth mindset, the flaws are noted and the artist seeks to correct them in the next effort. The growth mindset can be described as: the state of being comfortable, while being within the realm of the uncomfortable. Seek to push yourself to artistic completion and then address the flaws which you know you harbour, and thereby finally overcome them.
Please record the 8 points for personal artistic growth into your notebook, and summarize each below for easier reference. If you are seeking to become a better artist, it is very important for you to integrate all the ideas Andrew Loomis is laying out for us in Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth.
Thank you for reading! I’ll see you next week.