“Contemporary artists know less about art materials than any other group of artists in history,” declares Mark Gottsegen, the author of The Painter’s Handbook (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, New York) and a longtime studio-art faculty member at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
by Daniel Grant
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“Contemporary artists know less about art materials than any other group of artists in history,” declares Mark Gottsegen, the author of The Painter’s Handbook (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, New York) and a longtime studio-art faculty member at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Almost their entire training consists of theory and critique, with very little focus on the properties of the materials they use.” Albert Albano, the executive director of the Cleveland-based Intermuseum Conservation Association, noticed this lack of education as well during his regular consultations with artists. To provide answers to the many questions artists have about their materials that could affect the longevity of their art business, and desiring to open the channels of communication among artists, conservators, and art-materials manufacturers, Gottsegen and Albano teamed up with Golden Artist Colors to found the Art Materials Information and Education Network (AMIEN), which will be based in the offices of the Intermuseum Conservation Association, in Cleveland, and accessible to artists nationwide by phone and website (see below).
Although art-supply manufacturers usually have people on staff whose principal responsibility is to answer questions about their products—with some suppliers reporting as many as 10,000 inquiries per year—their point of view is unfortunately that of the particular manufacturer. The websites for a number of art-materials manufacturers attempt to answer some questions and concerns, but they have a scattershot chance of being helpful. “I’m not endorsing any product, and I won’t recommend products by brand names unless they’re unique,” Gottsegen says of the AMIEN, adding that “there may be more than one answer to a question.”
The information that AMIEN provides will be based on three sources: Gottsegen’s own testing of materials, published findings of other researchers, and results from a private laboratory that will be periodically contracted to perform tests on art supplies. The website also has a forum page that will allow artists to share information with one another. “There will be no charge for using AMIEN,” says Gottsegen. “Artists can simply register on the website and get unlimited access to research and available information.” Additionally, AMIEN plans to offer online courses, workshops, art-teacher training, and a dispute-resolution service for artists dissatisfied with a manufacturer’s product, as well as lab testing of specific art materials for manufacturers. Gottsegen notes that there will be nominal fees for these services to cover costs.
The Art Materials Information and Education Network covers a wide range of media, including painting, photography, printmaking, digital imagery, and sculpture, “and if I don’t know the answers immediately, I know how to get them,” says Gottsegen. A benefit of being housed at the Intermuseum Conservation Association, the nation’s oldest regional conservation center, currently serving 44 Midwestern museums, is that “we have a whole range of materials experts on staff,” says Albano.
The immediate goal of AMIEN is to offer information that artists don’t usually receive in their training or learn by trial and error. However, Albano notes that the long-term goal is to “influence the art curriculum at both the undergraduate level and in the graduate programs that conservators take.” Artists, he hopes, will once again be taught about the materials they use, and conservators will hopefully develop “a more flexible approach to artistic experimentation,” he says. “Conservators tend to be the bad-news people, telling artists, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ but the use of new materials has led to artistic innovation. Think of Picasso sticking bits of newspaper onto his canvases in his late Cubist phase, which had a transformative effect on the history of 20th-century art. We want conservators to listen more to artists, to ask ‘What are you trying to do?’ and then provide information that can help artists get what they’re after.”