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Monday, July 11, 2011


In teaching both adults and young people to paint over the years, I've often been amused when, having completed a work, they are amazed that they could have done such an impressive job. Of course they alone, didn't. They had constant help and instruction. Sometimes I've even had student work mistaken for my own. The students are always flattered when I tell them this, and of course, so am I. The point I always try to make under such circumstances is that there is often not that much difference in the quality of work done by amateur as opposed to professional painters. The difference is that the professional can do high-quality work more consistently and in less time. This has been the case ever since the first painting master took on his first apprentice.  Painting is both art and science in varying degrees according to the individual. The more an artist can reduce the art of painting to a science the more productive he becomes and the more consistent he will be in his results. Of course an artist risks in becoming stale and predictable if this search for speed and consistency becomes extreme. The science can crowd out the art. One artist who faced this dilemma was the Venetian painter, Jacopo Robusti.

If you've never heard of him perhaps you know him by his childhood nickname, which he used throughout most of his life--Tintoretto. His father was a dyer. The name means "little dyer." He was born in 1518 which means he came of age during the Mannerist period as the Renaissance was winding down and growing stale for lack of great visionary artists to follow in the footsteps of Michelangelo, Raphael, and the others. It was not for the lack of trying however, and some indeed, had a modest degree of success. One of these was Teziano Vecilli, known as Titian. Tintoretto had the great good fortune to have him as a teacher. There is much to be seen of Titian's color in Tintoretto's work.  In drawing however, Tintoretto took after Michelangelo, who, after all, was still alive during much of Tintoretto's lifetime. A sign in his studio boasted he could draw like Michelangelo and paint like Titian--not a bad combination.

Christ at the Sea of Galilee, 1575, Tintoretto
And in large part, Tintoretto's vanity was not misplaced. And unlike his master, Titian, who had a tendency to belabor his work, endlessly repainting sections and second-guessing his own best judgment, Tintoretto was fast.  He planned his work meticulously then worked his plan expeditiously. He often painted with very large brushes and broad, vigorous strokes that would be the envy of some abstract expressionists today. His Christ at the Sea of Galilee, painted in 1575, is an excellent example of his mature style. Christ walks on water along at the far left, beckoning his apostles to brave the storm as Peter takes a first, dramatic, tentative step out upon the waves. The colors are bold, the strokes sure, the overall effect is riveting. I have often been deprecating of Mannerist painting in the past, and even the work of Tintoretto, but here he excels, pointing the way toward the Baroque, just over the artistic horizon.

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