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.

Coming Soon: 2017 Solo Show - "Strangers"

Poster for exhibition my my graphic designer sister, Natasha Viljoen

Full press release below:

Stoke Newington Arts Centre Brings Strangers Together Through Exhibition of South African Painter’s work

● When: 23 January - 24 February

● Where: MostArt Centre, 86 Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 7PA

January 2017: MostArt Centre will host the debut solo show by South African artist and local Stoke Newington resident Jacques Viljoen, titled “Strangers”.

The exhibition will explore the theme of estrangement through a series of paintings on found objects, plein air landscape paintings and portraits.

Viljoen, who studied Fine Art at The University of Cape Town, has also received traditional training in London and Florence.

Central to this exhibition is a series of paintings on soft cover books, which the artist has collected from markets throughout London over the course of year. Together, the book’s covers tell the story of a fictional character, recounting her experiences of estrangement.

This includes memories of distance childhood friends, strange new cities, new and old lovers, and eventually, herself.

Jacques Viljoen said: “I had the idea for this exhibition a couple of years ago, while I was adjusting to life as a foreigner in my new home of London. It started off with collecting and

painting on books but as my skills in traditional painting progressed, I was able to start capturing moments from life in the form of landscapes and portraits.”

He went on to say that, “ It occurred to me that I needed a venue to exhibit my work that would bring strangers together, and MostArt Centre was a good fit. Today I find many of my peers are seeking out alternatives to the traditional gallery setting, for spaces that draw people in and hold them, rather than just a blank space to hang pictures. I liked Erdogan’s idea of creating a space of acceptance which can unite people of different backgrounds. This is really important at this point in time.”

The MostArt Centre is located in the heart of Stoke Newington. The centre aims to bring the local community together through the arts and activities. It regularly hosts musicians, artists and film evenings.

All works are for sale and Jacqcues Viljoen’s work can be seen on his instragram @Jacques.art and website at www.jacques-art.work.

The exhibition will close on the 24th of february 2017

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