Art for Thought: Banding Together to Break the Mold

12 Jul 2011

Revue by Everett Shinn, 1908, oil painting, 18 x 24.
Revue by Everett Shinn, 1908, oil painting, 18 x 24. Everett Shinn was one
of the Ashcan School artists or "The Eight," which was led by Robert Henri
and included Arthur B. Davies, William Glackens, Edward Hopper,
Ernest Lawson
, George Luks, Maurice Prendergast, and John French Sloan.
In looking back through art history, there are certain individuals who turned the artistic tide through bold and unconventional ways of approaching painting. Although there were a select few who had the power to do this on their own, most of the artists who changed history did it with other artists by their side. The Hudson River School painters, Russian Itinerants, Italian Macchiaioli, French Impressionists, Ashcan School, and the Modernists are just a few examples of groups who came together with similar aesthetics, philosophies on art, and forward-thinking strategies to change the way painters, patrons, and the public viewed fine art.

Those pioneers are remembered for their courageous approaches and respected by contemporary painters for their willingness to think outside the box and not conform to cultural or societal dictates. In looking at our current artistic landscape, one sees several groups in a similar vein beginning to join forces and take a stance against contemporary ideals. But when I stand back and observe today's art world in the context of what has come before and what's coming, I also see a select few who are doing something very powerful and unique on their own, and speaking volumes through the time and dedication they're investing in their craft. Those individuals will likely find their way to others who have a similar vision and sensibility in the coming years.

Until the time comes for them to join together, what are the criteria for those who wish to stand apart and do something of impact? In a recent interview with California artist Dan McCaw (featured in the September 2011 issue of American Artist), he shared some interesting thoughts on his own work and the path he's taken to find his inner voice. Starting out as a practitioner and teacher of traditional realism in the early 1970s and 1980s, McCaw today paints in a style that seems to bridge the gap between traditional and modern art. One of his main pieces of advice is to not be afraid of frustration or failure as an artist, to keep going when you hit a block until you break through to another level. "Some of my worst days of painting are my best days because I am taking risks outside of my comfort zone and pushing past challenges to find something original."

His other piece of advice is to surround yourself with images and writings of the ones throughout history who took chances and championed new ways of seeing and thinking. When I look at those type of artists—Van Gogh, Vuillard, Henri, Hawthorne, and Klimt to name a few—I notice how they first fought to find a style that was truly their own and then banded together with other like-minded painters to break the mold and change the course of art history. It's encouraging to see the ones who are honing their skills, perfecting their craft, and finding their voice on their own right now; and it will be exciting to see some of the those artists come together to make a collective impact on art in the coming years.


Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist.


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