Why we should invest in classical drawing and painting skills

  • Craft is a solid foundation for the development of art practice
  • Craft is a conduite of history
  • Handmade objects cannot be replaced by machines

A question I was asked while applying for a scholarship was, "why invest in this activity." Here is my answer in full.

The best argument for why we as as individuals, and as a society, should invest in the craft of artmaking was written just before the end of World War 2, by Harold Speed in his book “Paintings, Techniques and Materials”, at a time in Western art history when the value of skill and craft was about to be almost completely devalued by the rise of modernism:

“In the best periods of art there was no professional art criticism, but art was linked up with the crafts. Painters started as goldsmiths, sign-painters or craftsmen of some sort or another. Painting and sculpture took their rightful place as the flowers of the crafts - flowers whose roots and branches were in all the works of man - and good craftsmanship was the basis of all good painting. Not that craftsmanship is art, but good craftsmanship is a healthier soil for art to grow in than fine theories about aesthetics.  Nowadays art is like a flower cut off from its roots and branches, a curiosity, a stranger to the ordinary economy of life.”

Seventy-two years later and these roots have been almost entirely decayed by an institutionalised arts education, which completely negates, mis-teaches and undervalues the very foundation of art making: craft. However, it is my belief history has come full circle and there is a growing desire among the public for tangible, relatable art that can be appreciated.

If, in Harold Speed’s day, he and his contemporaries felt a need for tangible hand-made works of art as a reaction to the rise of mechanization, then it can be argued that the need for craft is greater today than ever due to the rise of automation. Automation is at the heart of many of our problems in the west as jobs disappear and we have less face-to-face interaction with one another. This will only grow in the coming years, and this is exactly why we need to invest in craft: for craft is the antithesis of automation. A fine painting created by a skilled artist, or a sign exquisitely hand carved by a sign-writer, cannot be replaced by automation precisely because of the human interaction with the material.

It is also my belief that craft is a conduite for history. As we learn and build upon the techniques of the great men and women who came before us, we transfer a piece of the past onto our paper, canvas or clay, with every mark we make. Thus, investing in craft preserves and pays homage to the past. This alone should be reason enough to invest in this activity

Thus it is imperative that we invest in craft, for it is the roots and foundation of good art, a conduit for the past, and affirms our existence at a time when the human mark is in retreat as our lives are increasingly governed by technology.