YouTube art instruction

If you are looking for art instruction videos, YouTube is loaded with them. That’s the good news–videos for every taste and interest. The bad news is that the quality is–to put it charitably–spotty. You get what you pay for.

Of course, you know this, so why am I taking the time to discuss something so obvious? With art instruction, the best proof of the instructor’s ability is the work they produce. If their work is amateurish, it’s clear that they don’t possess great understanding. But when vloggers discuss art history or aesthetics, their opinions are often valued by their credentials, such as degrees, follower count, or experience (age). Older artists have the bad habit of pretending to speak for art when they voice their opinions. You have to be an experienced artist yourself to know that experience counts for little when it comes to art.

I am writing this post because I saw several videos from older artists claiming to explain historical and professional studio practices–to speak for art. Yet, none of them grasped important fundamentals of their topic. No, I am not going to provide links or names. I have no interest in spats on the internet.

One Spanish vlogger claims to describe the techniques of the old masters. But this vlogger doesn’t use solvents. That’s his choice but not the choice of any of the artists he discussed. Solvents were universally used until very recent times. Even today most artists–by far–still use solvents. He nowhere mentions that. So what, you might ask? Old masters frequently used thick varnish-based mediums that would be unusable without solvents. It’s like claiming that you can run your car without motor oil. In other words, you can’t understand old master techniques without accounting for solvents.

This brings me to two older artists who both proudly proclaim that they do not use mediums in their paintings. Putting aside the low-energy quality of the paintings by both, one wonders why they would fall to such a default, beginner position. After all, readers of my blog know that the old masters used mediums without exception, at least those who lived before the middle of the 19th century.

The big break from traditional studio practices began in earnest in the middle of the 19th century with the Impressionists. By the time I went to art school, the ignorance of traditional practices was a firmly established dogma. Today, the poverty of modern practices is overwhelmingly self-evident, and interest in the older traditions is strong. So the prideful ignorance exhibited by some older artists establishes their adherence to old-fashioned ‘modern tradition.’

For some artists, prideful ignorance provides cover for their limitations. “You can’t compare my work to past artists because they cheated by relying on mysterious and dangerous mediums. I rely solely on my genius!” The subtext is that art is only an exercise where they can exhibit their talents, their genius. Such artists often do things like painting with only two colors, holding the brush in their teeth, or painting with their eyes closed. Or painting without mediums.

We know what to expect from artists that go do this road. It’s obvious in their work.

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