Why Should Artists Study the Great Masters? What can be learned from copying master artworks and other things I didn’t learn in College.

Many years ago when I was an undergraduate Art student at McDaniel College, I asked one of my art professors, “Will it help me to be a better painter if I study the masters?” She said that it would, but declined to tell me how it would help. At the time, unfortunately, I didn’t take her advice. Perhaps it was because I didn’t truly understand why it was a good idea to study the works of Caravaggio or John Singer Sargent. Lately, I have been asking myself the question, “How can I be a better artist?” because my artwork has seemed lacking in something, but I am not sure what is is.

My employment background as a Library Assistant has shown me to the wonders of the internet and how any question can be researched and instant results to your search inquiry on Google, can answer your questions in seconds. And so, I started doing Google searches over the past few weeks on how to be a better artist. Lo and behold, several article results flashed on my  Samsung galaxy phone screen and one of them by Magic the Gathering, Artist and illustrator, Noah Bradley, caught my eye, 21 days to be a better artist (even if you’re terrible), (2015). Here is the website link, if you would like to read more: https://medium.com/@noahbradley/21-days-to-be-a-better-artist-48087576f0dd.

Ok, so back to the question, “Why should Artists study the great masters?” In the above-mentioned article, Noah Bradley, 2015,  speaks about the importance of copying the masters, which he terms, “master copies”. In these exercises, he explains that an artist chooses an artwork by a dead artist and attempts to replicate it. He includes a website link, entitled, Week 1: Master Studies-Noah’s Art Camp, with a step by step art tutorial decribing how to copy the masters and gives a bit more explanation for why we should copy dead artists’ work on this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQfF-P70V2Q. In the video, Bradley also mentions that copying the art work of “golden age illustrators” (i.e. artists who worked betweeen the 1880s and 1920s),  is a good place to start. Source: Week 1: Master Artists -Noah’s Art Camp, http://www.youtube.com, and Art Cyclopedia, Artists by Movement: The Golden Age of Illustration, 1880s to 1920s,

http://www.artcyclopedia.com/history/golden-age.html.   Today, I did some additional research on the topic of master studies and why they are important undertakings for artists.

In another article entitled, “Copying Paintings of the Masters and Other Artists” by Lisa Marder, November 24, 2015 on Thoughtco.com, she states that there are several concrete benefits to copying master artworks. Marder, 2015,  also observes that although the practice of copying master art works was once a popular teaching method in the academic artworld, this practice has fallen out of favor because today’s culture is more attuned to creating “original” artwork and avoiding the dangers of copyright violation. Source: https://www.thoughtco.com/copying-paintings-of-the-masters-2578707. She lists several benefits of copying the masters, (i.e. artists who created artwork prior the 18th century”),Marder, 2015. According to Marder, 2015, some of these benefits include: 1.) Learning to see things more accurately by drawing, and 2.) Building a foundation of artistic techniques with which to inspire your future work, such as composition or color choices. Souce: https://www.thoughtco.com/copying-paintings-of-the-masters-2578707.  For further reading on this subject, she recommends readers to peruse the article, Today’s New Old Masters Outshine the Avant Garde, Huffington Post, May 24, 2015 by Brandon Kralik.

Stay tuned for next week’s art blog when I will give you a step by step art tutorial on how to copy master art works! For now, I am attaching some photos of master copies that I have been working on by Mary Cassatt and Mead Schaeffer. The first master copy is entitled, Sara in a Green Bonnet, by Mary Cassatt, ca. 1901, and the second copy is The Count of Monte Cristo, by Mead Schaeffer, 1928. These works are painted with Gamblin 1980 oil paints on canvas.

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