Atelier of Virgil Elliott
Aspire to Inspire
In today’s world, fine art painting and sculpture are more easily overlooked than in former times, due primarily to the prominence of television, movies, electronic communications and social media, which have in great measure usurped the territory once occupied more exclusively by the fine arts, yet interest in the more traditional forms of art continues despite all the competition. I attribute this entirely to the visual quality of the best examples of painting and sculpture, quite aside from critical acclaim or the lack thereof, quite aside from market considerations, publicity, or promotional hype. The best artwork ever done has the power to inspire, all by itself. It needs no support, but only to be seen, to work its magic.
And it should be understood that the passage of time does not diminish the power of great art to move people profoundly. How many of us were inspired to pursue art as our vocation by having seen a great work of art early in life? The tradition is carried on, generation after generation, by this process, driven by the intrinsic appeal of the art itself as the motivating factor. Just as the great art of long ago continues to be a major element in this process, so should the best art created today be instrumental in carrying the torch forward into the future. Every art student and aspiring artist must strive to develop the visual vocabulary, the aesthetic sensibilities and the skills that enable the creation of visually compelling images as the primary goal.
The emphasis in too many educational institutions in the latter half of the Twentieth Century and into the 21st has been on intellectual-sounding rhetoric intended to impress the audience so much that the badness of the art of poorly trained MFA recipients will either go unnoticed or be deemed irrelevant or unimportant. Words have been given precedence over visual quality. This has caused the public to come to regard art as increasingly silly, and everyone is tired of it by now except those who continue to derive undeserved benefit from it. An encouraging sign is the emergence of more traditionally-oriented art academies, ateliers, artists giving private instruction along those lines, and even a few colleges and universities where accomplished artists have managed to land teaching positions. There is evidence of a growing trend in that direction. The reason, again, is the power of inspiration inherent in the best art. Quality with a capital Q, as alluded to by Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, is instantly recognizable, yet it defies verbal definition. It goes beyond words, as does all great visual art. This is what will continue to inspire people to pursue art, to love art, and to create art into the decades and centuries to come; the art itself, not any philosophical treatises written about it or attached to it.
The artist must understand what makes an image visually compelling above all. It’s really more a matter of psychology than philosophy. This knowledge is what sets the great artists apart from everyone else, and what gives their artistic creations its power; the power to inspire. Just as composers of music understand which musical possibilities will stir which kind of emotional responses in the listeners’ sensibilities, so, too, does the Master artist understand which shapes, intervals, patterns, colors and color combinations, subjects, et cetera, will move the viewer in the desired ways.
To create compelling visual imagery, I maintain, is itself an intellectually challenging endeavor worthy of the utmost respect. Enough talk. Let’s create compelling artwork.
Artist Virgil Elliott is the author of Traditional Oil Painting — Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present, published by Random House, and is ranked a Living Master by the Art Renewal Center, where he serves as technical adviser. He is an active member of the ASTM Subcommittee on Artists’ Paints and Materials, and is widely acknowledged as an expert on oil painting materials and techniques. Virgil has taught art for the last 35 years, privately and in various institutions. His primary focus throughout his long life, however, has always been on creating his own artwork.