The Visible Edge of Art / by Melissa Carmon


“For the artisan, craft is an end in itself. For you, the artist, craft is the vehicle for expressing your vision. Craft is the visible edge of art.” 

--David Bayles, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

The Visionary's Point of Contact: Materials

As a painter, naturally, I am very interested in paint.  Materials fascinate me, because, as David Bayles says in his book Art and Fear, materials are an artist's point of contact with reality.  They are the physical intersection where vision meets expression. 

Painting is part chemistry and part aesthetics: there are hundreds of pigment combinations, a dozen mediums, as many additives, and a nearly infinite variety of ways to mix and match layers, glazes, and impasto techniques.  For the painter, it is not just a matter of having the right materials, but also developing the ability to use them.

Whether one's art is conceptual or figurative, traditional or not, craft is the means by which one's art is expressed.  For an artist there is always a translation of the idea at hand, and craftsmanship (or lack of craftsmanship) is part of the expression.  Craft impacts the maker (because it is intimately related to the process of making), and it also impacts the audience, because it is inseparable from the context by which an idea is conveyed. 

The Crucial Ingredient (That You Can't Buy at Jerry's Artarama)

There are lots of good things one can buy at Jerry's-- LOTS.  Using quality materials and learning about how materials work is important, but craftsmanship supersedes just  knowing what to buy.  A friend and fellow painter, for whom I have a lot of respect, recently gave a painting demo for our artist group.  He noted at one point that he actually uses "Walmart brushes" to create his work. This would come as a shock to most people who have seen his paintings, but the take-away here is that it isn't about the brush, it's about the brain that learned how to make virtuoso art from the cheapest of synthetic brushes. Beginning artists will often try to glean information on the brands that an established artist uses with the mistaken hope that successful painting is simply a matter of being able to afford the right materials.

While avoiding the wrong materials (cheaply made or poor quality) is genuinely helpful, the right ones will only get an artist so far.  I am an advocate of using excellent tools--even at the student level-- since good tools prevent needless frustration. However, what a growing artist really needs to acquire is the skill of craftsmanship, which pairs a knowledge of materials with experience in using them.  

A combination of research and experience will give an artist that magical ability to capture some part of their vision in paint, charcoal, wood, or stone.

A painter's mind is formed by hundreds and hundreds of hours of painting.  After hundreds of hours of painting, and with a little guidance, the painter's artistic vision develops, and a knowledge of how, when, and why he uses those paints and those brushes emerges.  The painter develops a language for creating their work.  Knowing when to buy that $100 tube of paint, or whether to use disposable synthetic brushes is a necessary foundation, but it just the beginning.