6 Myths You Shouldn't Believe About Art

01
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Art Myth #1: You Need Talent to be an Artist

Ways to Destroy Your Artistic Creativity
Stop worrying if you've got the talent to be an artist! Talent alone won't make you a great artist. Image © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Fact: Some people do have more of an inherent talent, or an aptitude, for art than others. But worrying about how much talent you do or don't have is just a waste of energy.

Everyone can learn to master the techniques fundamental to good painting and everyone has the ability to improve their creativity. Having bucketfuls of 'talent' is no guarantee that you'll be a good artist because it takes more than ability to be creative.

But They Said I "Have Talent"

The advantage of believing (or having others believe) that you ‘have talent’ when you start out is that artistic things come easily to you initially. You may not have to strive as hard to achieve a 'good' painting and you may get a lot of positive feedback. But relying on talent will only get you so far. Sooner or later you'll reach a spot where your talent isn't enough. What then?

If you've worked at developing artistic skills - from how different brushes work to how colors interact - and are used to actively pursuing ideas rather than expecting creative thoughts to come to you, you're not at the whim of your so-called 'talent.'

You're already in the habit of exploring possibilities, of investigating new ideas, of pushing things one step further. You're set for the long term.

Talent Doesn't Matter If You Have Desire

And if you believe you haven't any artistic talent at all? Let's skip the platitudes about everyone having some creative aspect in them and how everyone has some special talent.

If you truly believed that you didn't have any artistic ability, you wouldn't have a desire to paint. It's that desire, combined with persistence and the systematic learning of painting techniques - not talent alone - that make a successful artist.

Degas is quoted as saying: "Everyone has talent at 25. The difficulty is to have it at 50."

“What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” – John Ruskin

02
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Art Myth #2: Painting Should be Easy

Myths About Being an Artist: It Should be Easy
Where does the belief that great art should be easy come from?. Image: ©2006 Marion Boddy-Evans Licensed to About.com, Inc

Fact: Says who? Why should anything that’s worth doing be easy?

There are a number of techniques that anyone can learn (such as shading, rules of perspective, color theory, etc.) to produce a painting in a relatively short time. But it takes real effort to move beyond mediocrity.

Great artists can make it look easy, but that 'ease' has, like any great skill, come through years of hard work and practice.

Don't Expect Painting to Be Easy

If you set out with the belief that painting should be easy, you're setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. With experience, certain aspects do become easier -- for example, you know what the result is going to be when you glaze one color on top of another -- but that doesn't mean actually finishing the painting is easy.

Dubious? Well, here's what Robert Bateman has to say about it: “One definition of a masterpiece I have heard . . . when you see it, you should feel you are seeing for the first time, and it should look as if it is done without effort. This is a very, very tough yardstick. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever done a masterpiece, but when I am struggling with each painting - and they are all a struggle - I often feel that I am nowhere near those two goals.”

Bateman says of 'easy pieces': "If I look back on the body of a previous year’s work and see many easy pieces, I feel I have let myself down."

“It’s easier to paint in the angel’s feet to another’s masterwork than to discover where the angels live within yourself.” – David Bayles and Ted Orland in "​Art and Fear."

03
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Art Myth #3: Every Painting Must be Perfect

Art Myth No.3: Every Painting Must be Perfect
Perfection is an unrealistic goal, and aiming for it will stop you trying subjects that are 'too difficult' for your present painting skils. Image: ©2006 Marion Boddy-Evans Licensed to About.com, Inc

Fact: Requiring every single painting you make to be absolutely perfect is an unrealistic goal. You’re never going to achieve it, so you become too scared to even try. Haven’t you heard about ‘learning from your mistakes’?

Instead of aiming for perfection, strive for every painting to teach you something and risk mucking things up by trying something new just to see what happens. Challenge yourself by tackling new subjects, approaches, or things that are ‘too difficult’.

What's the Worst That Can Happen?

You waste some paint and some time. Sure, it can be frustrating when you don’t achieve something you like, but as the cliché goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”.

If you screw up on a painting, try to paint out the ‘offending bit.’ Leave it overnight and attack it again in the morning. There are times when it's best to simply admit defeat for the moment and put it aside for much longer. But never permanently; most artists are far too stubborn for that!

Ultimately, if you become famous enough, museums will be so delighted to have any work by you that they’ll hang paintings that were unfinished or just rough studies, not just the ones you’d considered finished and good. You’ve seen them – those paintings where part of the canvas is still bare, except for perhaps a line drawing showing what the artist was going to put there.

"Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it." -- Salvador Dali, Surrealist artist

04
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Art Myth #4: If You Can't Draw, You Can't Paint

Art Myth No.4: If You Can't Draw, You Can't Paint
A painting is not simply a colored-in drawing. Image: ©2006 Marion Boddy-Evans Licensed to About.com, Inc

Fact: A painting is not a drawing that is colored in and a drawing isn't a painting that hasn't been colored in yet.

Painting involves its own set of skills. Even if you were an expert at drawing, you'd need to learn how to paint.

  • Some artists like to do detailed drawings to use as reference before they paint, but many don't.
  • Some artists do drawings directly onto their canvas before they start to paint, but many don't.

Drawing is Not Required

There is no rule that says you must draw before you paint if you don't want to.

Drawing is not just an initial step in making a painting. Drawing is a different way of creating art. Having drawing skills will definitely help with your painting, but if you hate pencils and charcoal, this doesn't mean you can't learn to paint.

Never let the belief that you "can't even draw a straight line" stop you from discovering the enjoyment that painting can bring.

"Painting embraces all the 10 functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest." -- Leonardo da Vinci.

05
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Art Myth #5: Small Canvases are Easier to Paint than Big Canvases

Art Myth No.5: Small Canvases are Easier to Paint than Big Canvases
Small canvases are not necessarily easier to paint than big canvases. Image: ©2006 Marion Boddy-Evans Licensed to About.com, Inc

Fact: Different canvas sizes have their own set of challenges. There may not even be a difference in the time taken to finish painting a small canvas or a big one.

Miniatures are tiny, but they certainly do not take only a few minutes to finish! (And you’ll never get a miniature done if you don’t have a steady hand and sharp eye.)

Size is Subjective

Whether you paint large or small depends not only on the subject -- some subjects simply demand a particular scale -- but also the effect you want to create. For instance, an enormous landscape will dominate a room in a way a series of small canvases never could.

If your budget for art materials is limited, you may be tempted to use small canvases because you think they require less paint. Should that be your only concern or should you paint whatever size you want? You will find that a medium-sized canvas teaches you how to paint both details and large areas while using far less paint than you fear.

If you’re worried about the cost of art materials and find that this stress inhibits your painting, consider using student quality paints for studies and blocking in initial colors. Save the good artist’s quality for the later layers.

James Whistler produced numerous small oils, some as tiny as three by five inches. One collector described these as "superficially, the size of your hand, but, artistically, as a large as a continent".

"Can you believe it is not at all easier to draw a figure of about a foot high than to draw a small one? On the contrary, it is much more difficult." -- Van Gogh

The really important question most artists have is whether large or small paintings sell better.

06
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Art Myth #6: The More Colors You Use, the Better

Art Myth No.6: The More Colors You Use, the Better
Art Myth No.6: The More Colors You Use, the Better. Image: ©2006 Marion Boddy-Evans Licensed to About.com, Inc

Fact: Contrast and tone are more important than the number of colors used. Mixing a lot of colors together in a painting is a recipe for creating mud and artists hate muddy colors.

It’s easy to fill your paintbox with lots of colors and it’s certainly tempting given the range that is available. But every color has its own ‘personality’ or characteristics and you need to know exactly what it’s like before moving onto another, or mixing it with another. Knowledge of how a color behaves gives you freedom to concentrate on other things.

Begin With Simple Color Theory

Start with two complementary colors, such as blue and orange. Use these to create a painting and see what you think. Is it not more dynamic than a painting that covers the entire spectrum?

Not convinced? Spend time looking at the paintings of Rembrandt, full of earthy browns and yellows. It's hard to find anyone who would argue that he should have ‘livened’ up his paintings with more colors. Instead, his limited palette adds to the moodiness.

"Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul." -- Kandinsky

"Nature contains the elements, in color and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick, to choose, and group ... these elements, that the result may be beautiful." -- Whistler

"A colorist makes his presence known even in a simple charcoal drawing." -- Matisse.