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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Privilege Is in the Painting

 Chicken Coop, McLaughlin, 30 x 24 inchesxxxxxxx

I SAW A FASCINATING PLAY:   The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall. A true story, it centers around a group of English coal miners who transformed themselves into renowned artists known as the Ashington Group. The miners, who referred to themselves as "pitmen," worked on their paintings at night, after performing long days of backbreaking labor in dark, dank, dusty, oxygen-deprived pits in the ground in Northumberland. What a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) painting must have been for them.

The miners' original idea was to enhance their lives through an art appreciation class. They were to meet once a week in their hut with Robert Lyon, an instructor in art history at a local college. After the first few meetings, however, Lyon discovered that the minors lacked sufficient vocabularies to understand his talks on the great art of the world or even to discuss the slides he projected among themselves. Instead, he brought in paints, brushes and canvases and told the men that they were going to start to paint.

The pitmen vehemently protested that they couldn't possibly paint because they had no skills or training in anything, let alone art. Most of them had left school and commenced working in the mines at around age 10. Despite their misgivings, Lyon prevailed and the men started painting. The instructor encouraged them to paint what they felt inside. As they continued, painting not only enhanced their lives but gave them self esteem. One of the pitmen, after completing his first painting said:


I was shaking–literally shaking—‘cos for the first time in me life, I’d really achieved something that was mine…. And I felt like for those few hours there—I was my own boss.

Lyon's advice, painting what you feel inside, is good advice for any painter, including myself. I have been learning Photoshop recently. This involves drawing and painting on an external tablet while watching the work appear on the computer monitor. Pretty tricky when you're not used to it! Though I am convinced Photoshop will eventually enhance my work, the learning process has temporarily set me back some in terms of drawing and painting. It has negated (temporarily, I hope) my formal, graduate-level university training. I feel that I am starting all over again. So I can empathize with the pitmen. I have heeded their instructor's advice and have started to paint what I feel inside, rather than worrying about my technical acumen.

While Photoshopping, I painted my cat predominantly purple because I couldn't find a way to switch to another color. While practicing color gradients, everything I produced looked like a Jimi Hendrix album cover. Don't let this get around, but when using the polygonal lasso, I could not stop it. It lassoed everything in my drawing, then my house including my dog and cat and then went after me. I finally had to pull out the electrical cord, shut the door and leave the house in order to escape. Then I said to myself, "Yes, I'll draw what I feel like inside–which was a glass of wine. Eventually, though, I became comfortable with my new friend, Photoshop, just as the pitmen did with their brushes, paints and canvases.

I, like the miners, discovered that you get better results when you think of painting as a means of self-expression and not of perfection. My nascent Photoshop paintings and drawings, though far from technically perfect, really do express what I feel inside.

After the Ashington Group became famous, Lyon wrote a dissertation about the project and was appointed to a professorship at the Edinburgh College of Art. The Ashington's Group's star painter, Oliver Kilbourn, complained to Lyon that he was just as talented as the Professor, and, indeed, a good enough painter to be in the professor's position. Kilbourn believed that the only reason Lyon, and not he, held the position was that Lyon was a member of the privileged upper class and had the advantage of advanced education and training which was not available to the working class. To that the professor replied with something I have known and felt my entire life:

The privilege is not in the class, the privilege is in the painting.

Paint on,
Depingo

* You can see the Ashington Group's paintings *here.
**Thanks to Li Gardner, my teacher, for keeping me out of the Photoshop insane asylum.

14 comments:

  1. I read you dissertation on painting with PS. Love it, but seems you are caught in a Purple World.

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  2. Yeah, Prince and I! He got caught in some Purple Rain once. Maybe I will get caught in red today!

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  3. Very interesting ... Maybe I should start painting!

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  4. Definitely. I think you are excellent at expressing yourself. That is what it takes!

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  5. Some day the unexpurgated version of your encounter with Photoshop will be published.

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  6. Amazing stuff, maybe I should get a job in a mine.

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  7. Me too. I think the O-2 deprivation helps!

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  8. Anonymous, if the unexpurgated version gets out, I will be infamous. Then I will simply Photoshop erase the - in - of that word.

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  9. omg love the new profile photo, you are a pro at photoshop now, that looks so cool! xoamy

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  10. Looking at your ribs is a lot better than sitting through a boring RHS Biology course by Mrs. Shelly.

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  11. Thank you John. I am sure I would like yours too if I could only see them.

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  12. Wonderful about your show. I am proud of you. We can talk about the post tonight!

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  13. Yes indeed. Emotion first - last - always. Very true and honest.

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