He Would Start By Telling You What to Paint
Andrew Wyeth had a long and productive career. He was a beacon for representational artists who needed a guiding light to navigate the rocky waters of contemporary art, a stalwart supporter of his friends and family, a proud student of America who learned the lessons of its history, and a strong man who heard the voices of both his detractors and supporters.
Today marks the anniversary of his death and we want to take the opportunity to report on what would have happened if Andrew Wyeth had been at the head of our art classes when we were young — what lessons he would have taught and what his focuses for art students would be. When he died on January 16, 2009, we lost a painter who inspired us and allowed us to see the world through his sharply focused and deeply personal vision. But today we celebrate that focus and vision and try, in our own way, to walk in his inspiring footsteps.
Painting a Life
Our staff was fortunate enough to catch the exhibition, “Andrew Wyeth: Watercolors and Drawings,” at the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2007—with a guided tour by the granddaughter of Andrew Wyeth, Victoria Wyeth. She said her legacy is wrapped up in her grandfather’s because of his subject matter.
“To make the connection that the people sitting across the table and living next door to you are the people in the paintings—once that clicks, it’s the most amazing thing,” said Victoria. “He always says, ‘Vic, I’m painting my life.’ And he is painting his life, but he’s painting my life, too.”
Wyeth never took for granted the everyday and the regular. In those day-to-day people and occasions he found a rich world of inspiration for his art that he would have surely recommended to young artists just starting out or looking for inspiration. So look to your life for art. It is surely there.
What to Value
One of our former editors, Stephen Doherty, had the honor of corresponding with and visiting Andrew Wyeth, or “Andy” as he insisted being called. What impressed Stephen the most about the man who was among the wealthiest, most decorated, and most well-known artists of our time was the simple but solid set of principles by which he lived his life and pursued his career.
“When he drove me around his home and property in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, it was clear he was proudest of being able to support his family as a full-time artist; to honor the achievements of his father, siblings, and sons; to use his wealth and influence to preserve the historic land around his home; and to be blessed with the love and support of his wife, Betsy James Wyeth.”
Don’t ever forget what you truly value. Those are the things that matter and what you can set your course by.
What Your Worst Moments Will Be
In some ways, Andrew Wyeth is like every other artist we have had the honor of interviewing. He remembered his first two gallery exhibitions in Boston when none of his watercolors sold. He still felt the pain of criticism about his work years after the ink had dried, most especially about his masterpiece Christina’s World and his Helga drawings and paintings.
Wyeth was honest about the marks left by the art world’s taste makers. It’s a caution to all of us who seek prestige and public acclaim. The bitter and the sweet will always come together and for one person who “gets” and admires your work, there will be a person who has an equal and opposite reaction. Be ready for that.
What to Seek Out
Always seek out the friendship or acquaintanceship of the painters, designers and draftsmen around you. Andrew Wyeth enjoyed the company of other artists, many of whom he happened to be related to. He felt awkward at gallery and museum openings but it didn’t stop him from going. He didn’t like people treating him like a celebrity but he didn’t isolate himself. Instead, he sought out companions he felt comfortable with and many of those people happened to be practicing artists, just like him.
Walk Your Own Road
On the last day of class, Andrew Wyeth would likely turn to his students and tell them to walk their own paths. No matter how isolating or difficult. After all, he proved to generations of artists that there was a place in the art world for representational drawings and paintings. He demonstrated that such work could include content that was personal, worthy of critical attention, and connected to the history of art.
It’s that ability and willingness to hold true to his vision that is the most inspiring of all Andrew Wyeth’s teachings, and the one that we all should hold dearest in our own art practice.
Feel invigorated and inspired as you sit down to your next painting project. It is more love than labor and we have the tools for you to feel that way all the time. If you are interested in pursuing watercolor, consider the Watercolor Workout with Jean Haines Video Collection.
Jean is one of the Artists Network’s most talented and popular instructors because she somehow understands how to help you set your own creativity free. Enjoy!