Wednesday, November 2, 2016

302: Neither a Conformist nor a Rebel

–FOR years I resisted using a palette knife simply because a famous local artist used the knife exclusively and I didn't want to be viewed as a follower of his style. I described the effect I wanted to a fellow painter, and he suggested I use a palette knife. I resisted his suggestion. I remember a quizzical expression passing over his face as he no doubt internally dismissed my objections. Again, my main objection was I didn't want to appear to imitate another painter's technique.

This reflexive non-conformity continued as I repeatedly dismissed the palette knife as a principle tool of painting. Additionally, it was easy to get a facile, almost mechanical mark–a look I wanted to avoid at all costs. Along with the use of the palette knife, I also dismissed using cloisonnism telling the aforementioned friend that I didn't mind a linear look if the paint was showing through the top layer. But I didn't like to add paint in a line surrounding shapes. Again I got the same quizzical look. I rejected cloisonnism because it was used by many post-impressionists and I didn't want to be seen as conforming to that convention.

Looking back on these conversations I have no doubt my friend thought I had an obsession with making things hard for myself. In fact, I held a subconscious, counterproductive view of conformity and non-conformity. Both modes are out of harmony with an artistic state of mind because they use outward cues to determine inward attitudes. If I adopt a technique because someone I admire uses that technique that is conformity. But if I reject a style because I want to be a non-conformist that is equally restricting. I need to embrace techniques and styles totally independent of my need to conform–or rebel. Both are reactive, dependent ways of responding to the world.

Such awareness of one's motivations takes a lot of conscious review. It might be beyond many people's ability at certain stages of life. Teenagers have a reflexive need to rebel and ironically end up collectively conforming to identical expectations of how to look, talk, and act.

Artists need to actively resist such reflexive behavior because it slows down the time it takes to get to where we need to be. Equally problematic is that, before we arrive, we have no idea where we are arriving, and what techniques we need in our toolkit when that time comes.

It would have been extremely productive to freely explore the use of the palette knife and the advantages of cloisonnism without regard to whether it appeared I was conforming to some perceived vogue.

I was recently watching a video of Louisa McElwain and at 3:02 I noticed she loaded her right-hand palette knife just like I load my brush, that is, she used her left-hand palette knife to add the appropriate colors onto the palette knife in her right hand. This revelation hit me like a thunderbolt, and I immediately filled my palette with color, grabbed two large palette knives, and began mixing and adding paint to a new canvas. I was amazed at how much control I could get over the applications of broken color.

I still went back and modified edges with a bristle fan brush and an extra long filbert, something McElwain would not have done. What I learned is that we have a right to borrow freely–and neither conform nor rebel to any artistic convention.

Brad Teare –November 2016



  1. Brad-

    I enjoyed this post. It was thought provoking and well written. Keep it up.

  2. thank you very much for sharing your beautiful painting and your thought.

    1. You are very welcome, Maria. Thanks for dropping by.


Thanks for your comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...