A. Leroy Gleason Professor of Art Mark Wethli explains "How to Paint a Perfect Painting."
Story posted December 03, 1999
A group gathered recently at a community luncheon to hear A. Leroy Gleason Professor of Art Mark Wethli talk about "How to paint a perfect painting." Instead they learned that the idea of a "masterpiece" being the culmination of an artistís career died out in our culture about a century ago.
An artistís preoccupation is more often the quest itself. "Iím not trying to attain perfection; Iím trying to achieve something every time I go into the studio," Wethli said. "Itís the investigation; itís the struggle; itís the inquiry."
The artist John Graham put into words a description of an artist with which Wethli agrees: The path to becoming an artist consists of apprenticeship to a master, the "confusing path toward oneself" and the synthesis of the two.
Wethli used a drawing he created several years ago to show what is meant by this synthesis. It was drawn at a time when Wethli was studying Asian literature and philosophy, including Japanese rock gardens; he also found himself affected by the work of Cťzanne. Wethli admired the simplicity of Japanese Haiku poetry and wanted to make a drawing that acted in a similar wayóone that would make something remarkable out of something generally considered unremarkable.
The drawing Wethli created is of his sheets and blankets on an empty bed, beneath a window. Wethli was aware of the influence of Haiku on the drawing, but his concentration was focused on creating the details of the roomóbedclothes, window, wall, bed. It was only later that he realized that aspects of the bedclothes resembled the shading of a mountain in one of Cťzanneís paintings, and that the composition of the drawing is similar to that of a rock garden.
"The things I wasnít thinking about turned out to be the things that mattered most," Wethli said.
This synthesis of what has been learned from others artists and what is being learned about oneself, comes out in the artwork by trusting in oneís feelings and instincts, he said. "Maybe thatís as close to perfection as we comeóthe ability to let ourselves go."
Artists often come to be known for skills other than those they recognized in themselves, Wethli said. He gave the example of an artist who dedicated himself to painting historical scenes, but is remembered for his portraits.
"Iím not sure artists always know what their doing," Wethli said. "They become an agent for something in and around themselves."
The discovery of its meaning often comes after creating a painting. Many times, Wethli said, he is attracted to an image, but it unsure why until months later. "I donít think a lot about what it means or what it might mean, Iím responding to proportions, rhythms, shape."
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