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On the value of oil painting.

Education is presently going through many changes. The demand for excellence in the schools is requiring major changes in the school's curriculum as well as in the instruction employed to generate learning. The thrust of these educational reforms is in the direction of the actual comprehension--not mere recollection --of material. Students must play a more active role in learning and processing the content of the material conceptually.

Art programs must be conscious of their role in these new demands. They must, in fact, take advantage of their role. Too often art is imitated but not truly understood by high school students. The elements of a particular composition are re produced in a non-conceptual manner, evident in artwork that reflects the teacher's direction, with little interpretation on the part of the student. Students decide, therefore, that art is a process of imitation to be done by those who possess the skills to be faithful imitators. In these cases, the conceptual aspects of art are not communicated to the student. It is essential for art educators to provide not only the means to create artwork, but an under standing of it as well. For instance, by working with oils in a responsibly prepared curriculum, I have come to understand that oil painting can prove to be valuable in helping students appreciate art as a whole. It provides them with a link to the past, "a taste of the traditional." As a basic art form, it gives students a fresh perspective of art history and culture. After experiencing oils first-hand, a student relates to the work done by many artists and can appreciate their physical and conceptual efforts.

Oil painting is a conceptual experience, relative to the artist's individuality. It reinforces basic skills such as drawing and design, with the added element of color. The manipulation of these elements is the artists' choice and will provide not only an extension of skill, but of creative potential. Oil painting allows for the development of the student's artistic direction in terms of both media and ideas. It can be a very personal method of expression, open to anything that the artist would like to communicate. Communication of a particular concept can be achieved through manipulation of subject matter, adaptations to different styles and techniques. For example, an oil painting can be done all at once, or textures can be built up, layer by layer, using either a brush, a palette knife or both.

As a student and beginning oil painter, I realize that painting is a rewarding struggle--once the painting is completed, the student has a new measure of success. After experiencing oil painting, I was less afraid to incorporate uses of color and manipulation of technique into drawing. I also found that failure is a non-existent factor in working with oils--mistakes are simply painted over as often as needed.

My fellow students have also found the oil painting experience an important part of their visual arts training. Kym Young, a senior who plans to make art her career, feels that oil painting has given her a "better understanding of form and depth." She also feels she has gained more confidence from working in oils than in drawing, because it is easy to rework an oil painting until you are satisfied with it. Of course, it also shows that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes --you learn from them and move on."

Painting provides the instructor with one of the most effective means of teaching color; demonstrating the need for harmony as well as the need for continuity of color throughout a piece. Color can be a difficult concept to grasp. It is necessary for the instructor to provide information on how to mix colors and on how these colors work together. Many colors complement, accent or strengthen each other, giving the completed piece a sense of harmony. Conceptually this may be a useful tool for the artist. The painter may or may not wish to disrupt this harmony, depending on the theme he or she is trying to communicate.

Color is influenced by light. After deciding on the subject matter, the student must decide how light is going to affect both color and subject matter once on the canvas. The way in which light affects color determines the form of the object. Knowing this, the student can control the depth and dimension of the subject. The degree to which light is utilized can vary the emphasis placed on different components of the painting. For instance, a student may want to enhance the theme of a work by using strong light areas on the objects that carry the most prominence in relation to the theme, while deemphasizing those objects that are not as important in conveying the theme. The comprehension and application of color and light techniques are necessary in order to paint in oil. These elements, however, are not only relative to painting; the y are relative elements of art in general. This, in itself, may be the most important reason for providing students with the opportunity to work with oils. It enables the student to gain a new insight, a fresh perspective and an appreciation for art and its traditions. Both student and instructor will benefit from the experience, for painting serves as an essential tool in the beginnings of art as a product of conceptual processes rather than the product of imitation. This is what I have learned as a result of being well taught!

Melinda Myrick wrote this as an advanced art student of Kurt Bittle, Chairperson, Art Department, Bel Air High School, Bel Air, Maryland.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Myrick, Melinda
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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