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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

An Artist's Duty

Learning, perfecting, proclaiming, promoting, and teaching.
I've long been of the opinion that artists have a duty to mankind. Summed up in a nutshell, they should:
learn their art, perfect its craft, proclaim a message, promote their persona, then teach all of the above to everyone who will learn.
All that they should do in roughly that order of precedence. Of course, believing that, and actually achieving it are two different things. Moreover some artists have strengths in some of those areas and not in others. That's certainly the case in my case. Fortunately, while there is, of necessity, a sequence, there's also a degree of simultaneity as the artist grows older and begins to fulfill some of those ideals. Learning art and seeking continuous technical improvement are virtually impossible to separate. Likewise, proclaiming a message and promoting oneself as the messenger go hand in hand. And finally, everyone who teaches also learns in doing so. Thus it becomes an unbroken circle.
The Charles Willson Peale Family, 1771-73, Charles Willson Peale
Surprisingly, very few artists have succeeded equally well in all these endeavors. Those who have are the exception, men such as the early American art patriarch Charles Willson Peale, for instance, who became on of the outstanding artists of his time and place then proceeded to teach his family, sons and daughters alike, everything he knew about art (among other pursuits). The late 19th-century artist/illustrator Howard Pyle is another excellent example. His list of Brandywine associated artists is as broad as it is long.
Howard Pyle, and students, Frank Schoonover and Stanley Arthurs
In the area of architecture, virtually no one stands up to this high bar (or even comes close) better than the eccentric Wisconsin genius, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright's Guggenheim Museum and his Fallingwater have become iconic monuments to that farsighted genius. Today his Taliesin East (Wisconsin) and Taliesin West (Arizona) stand as lasting tribute to his own work, but also his ideals, and the two or three generations of followers he has inspired.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Frank Lloyd Wright, the 20th-century's greatest architect.
In the art of motion picture storytelling, only Steven Spielberg, whom I once named the greatest artist alive today, measures up in all five of the areas mentioned above, in films as diverse as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to Schindler's List. Each and every film he has ever made had an important message, sometimes subtle, sometimes not; while the list of both actors and other filmmakers he has directed or influenced can be equaled by few others in the history of moviemaking. James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Steven Soderbergh, and Quentin Tarantino all point to Spielberg as having taught or influenced them in a significant manner.

Words for every artist.
In the area of photography names such as Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Man Ray, Ansel Adams, and Alfred Eisenstaedt among a host of others, come to mind. All have left behind substantial bodies of groundbreaking work, but also whole libraries of books in which they dispense both message and media manipulations providing an immense library of insights and experiences that would have been forever lost had they not risen to challenge the final, ultimate duty of every artist.

Almost too many photographers to mention.
The sculptor, Auguste Rodin was one of the few such artists who not only mastered the many sculptural media of his time, but produced an impressive body of work in each of them. Many other sculptors down through the centuries have done likewise; many of them, such a Bernini, Donatello, Michelangelo, and others may well be considered to have been superior to the 19th-century Frenchman, but few, if any, have combined their output with a concerted effort to pass on their art to others of their time to such a degree as Rodin. A whole generation of sculptors studied in his workshop. These include Gutzon Borglum, Antoine Bourdelle, Constantin Brancusi, Camille Claudel, Charles Despiau, Malvina Hoffman, Carl Milles, François Pompon, and Clara Westhoff. Rodin also promoted the work of other sculptors, including Aristide Maillol and Ivan Meštrović whom Rodin once called "the greatest phenomenon amongst sculptors." Among sculptors whose work has been strongly influence by Rodin include, Alexander Archipenko, Joseph Bernard, Jacques Lipchitz, Pablo Picasso, Adolfo Wildt, and Henry Moore.

The Thinker from the Gates of Hell, 1917, Auguste Rodin
I hope you'll excuse this little exercise in name-dropping. Some might be taken aback by the number of famous artists not included (and there probably are some who should be here but aren't). However, as mentioned in the beginning, a great many artist have taken their broad experiences and technical expertise to their graves with them, having made little or no attempt during their lifetimes to pass any of it on. Michelangelo comes to mind in this regard, as does Picasso, Pollock, van Gogh, and a distressingly long list of others who selfishly seem to have been more interested in producing art and/or promoting themselves rather than preparing others. And though their influence have often been quite profound, their teachings have been, at best, secondhand. An artist should leave behind far more than an illustrated legacy.


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