Becoming the Artist YOU Want to Be


One of the most difficult and important things you will ever have to do is to decide just what kind of a artist you want to be. This short article gives what I think is the best advice you could ever get on becoming the artist YOU want to be.

The following excerpt is from a book on painting by Hereward Lester Cooke, former curator of painting at the National Gallery of Art.

“One of the most difficult and important things you will ever have to do is to decide just what kind of a painter you want to be. No two people react in the same way to the world around them. Some derive their satisfaction and pleasure from the marvels of nature; others are interested primarily in human beings, their problems, foibles, dignity, and sorrows; others are fascinated by the play and interplay of color, whether on a peacock’s tail or chance harmonies on a painter’s palette.

It is important that you find where your heart lies, because your art will surely follow. This is an invariable rule of art history: only when a painter is painting what appeals to him, in a way that appeals to him, is there a chance of producing a worthwhile picture... Without advice from  teacher, parent or fellow student, go through the book and mark the pictures which really appeal to you–paintings which you wish you had done. It is vitally important that this choice is yours, and yours alone, and that you are not–unconsciously perhaps–following somebody’s leadership.
Next, decide what subject you would really like to paint if you had a free choice. Some people are naturally drawn to landscapes, others to flowers, abstract shapes, birds, machines, portraits, nudes; the range of subjects is almost infinite. Again, be honest with yourself. You will never be able to alter your instinctive preferences, because these originate deep down in the recesses of your mind and memories and it is fatal for you as an artist to force yourself to paint either a subject, or in a style, which does not come naturally to you. For an artist the road to hell is paved with pictures which are not sincerely felt.
Having made up your mind about the subject and the style, follow your convictions. If you really feel a preference for Corot’s landscapes, for example, don’t let anyone tell you it is out of date or out of style. A good painting is never out of date, and if you follow your convictions without deviation, the world eventually will beat a path to your doorstep. If you climb onto a bandwagon, you will always be painting second hand, and probably second rate, pictures; in the long run, you will probably quit painting altogether. Therefore, have courage of your convictions and paint WHAT and HOW you like. All of the painters whose works are reproduced in this book did just this, in spite of discouragement and varying fortunes.”

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