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Cecilia Beaux Forum Literature Committee: Paths to Learning – Ways of Developing Artistic Knowledge

The love of learning has always been a powerful motivator for artists. The methods we use to gather knowledge and hone our skills are as diverse and creative as the artwork we produce. For many, the primary drive to create comes from the learning process rather than the finished product – and as artists, we are always learning.

Becoming a skillful painter of portraits presents a unique set of challenges. Portrait artists must be adept at capturing subtle differences of personality yet remain painterly and expressive. This takes study, practice, and learning. The question then becomes: what are the different paths we can take to learn?

Artists’ personal paths to learning are as rich and varied as the individual language of our brushstrokes. For most artists, the learning process begins in childhood through exploration, discovery, and self-expression. Many of us have family members who make art. Others find inspiration from teachers or mentors. One path is through formal art education at a college or university – earning an undergrad art degree or a Master of Fine Arts.

Some artists pursue classical art education at art academies or ateliers or through apprenticeships or residencies. Artist Colleen Barry’s path included study at NYC ateliers. She says, “It has been of great importance to me to learn in a competitive environment with open critique from teachers and friends...I thrive in a learning environment where I am placed next to talented individuals and I can compare certain technical tools with others openly.”

Outside of formal studies, we can enter competitions or submit work for critique. We can attend life drawing groups, artist demos, workshops, or conferences. According to artist Jenna Anderson, “Immersing myself in an art experience, like the PSA conference, uplifts and carries an energy that infuses me in my lone studio work.”

Artists pore over books and magazines, watch online videos, or follow social media of other artists. We spend time behind the easel, painting and drawing, learning from each new piece. We visit museums and study the masters. Artist Jennifer Welty says, “One of the greatest ways to learn to draw and paint is to do as artists of old did – to copy, very accurately, the works of great masters. You learn so much about edges, value, the way objects are composed of simple shapes, composition, and how to mix color. Self-expression will come later.

Ultimately, individual paths to learning painting and portraiture are unique, creative, and ever-evolving. Whether from self or from others, through non-traditional versus formal means, in public or in private – learning simply happens. And though our original motive may have been the process of learning, the product – the artwork – becomes a wonderful reflection of the journey.

How else have you honed your artistic skills?

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