Reader, I’m in Love.

I fell in love with a dead German this week.  How could I not swoon when I read this?:

 “I’m a painter,” he said, “and I nail my pictures together.”

Kurt Schwitters, of course, who made ‘Merz’ assemblages that are simply painting by other means.


‘I nail my paintings together’, I love that.

I just love that quote, it speaks about the creative process, a personal vision, conviction and giving rather less than a damn about how things should be done.

Breaking the rules, is the only way to make new ones, and while that seems obvious, its amazing how many ‘creative’ artists feel compelled to work within rules. It’s small  minded, it’s self defeating, it’s stupid.

Creativity if it’s to be about anything, has to be – can only ever be – about insight, innovation and change. We don’t suddenly wake up more creative – we choose to be invested in it; it’s a state of mind.

So, on to my habitual bête noire, Received painting styes.

It’s front of mind, because I’m leading the final trimester of my diploma this week on creative development, rather than cranking out paintings in a received style.

Received style?

I mean painting,  in the words of Constable, ‘like other men’. That’s all very well when one’s learning to paint , after all we all learn by imitation. No, I become exercised when imitation becomes the aim of the game.

turner dutch boats in a gale

Turner’s Dutch Boats in A Gale, or is it Van De Velde?


No, this is Van De Velde. Turner ‘received’ his style, it’s not wrong if it’s a direction of travel rather than a destination.

Most art societies, most ateliers, most artists do this to themselves, fitting in is a self inflicted wound.

Here’s a thought. Pick a hundred, or a thousand atelier students , who’ve spent three to five years learning how to draw sight size, model Form classically, and paint with a Zorn style palette of three to five chosen pigments.  At this point they can use paint beautifully draw flawlessly and truly understand painterly Form. But – and this a big reservation – having that same input is going to affect the output.

So, put those 100 works in a room – do we see the hand, the eye, the creative intelligence, the original insight of a hundred living, breathing, feeling individuals? Does the work on show speak of their personal ideas, dreams, goals visions, creativity? Nope….

We’ll see variance of course, brushwork is like handwriting, and the more diligent students might have more accurate drawings, but processes create homogeneity; how could it be otherwise? Process was the name of the game when painting was an industry, a contract entered into, a product made.

But since the Big Bang of Impressionism, process has become the elephant in the room. Too little (‘go on just be creative’), and you’re painting without craft. too much and the craft eclipses the Art.  We need process, but we must learn the mantra ‘its a good servant, but a bad master’.

brunaille van dyck

Van Dyck, flawless technique is all about process but what happens next? You can learn to do this, many do, but first ask yourself why? To what end?  Have a plan that’s bigger than your skills, that’s all I ask.

When you think of it , my above definition of the personal creativity of 100 students,  isn’t a bad summary of why each and every one of those talented individuals got into art in the first place. Replace that passion and potential with process and how many will have the vision and clarity and purpose of Schwitters? It’s tragic, it’s unnecessary and it’s all too common.

The end game of formal training – be it to alter style or more broadly, as in my courses, to teach the craft of Art, has to be borne in mind.

While art must be craft, craft in itself cannot become Art.  To paraphrase Churchill, receiving and understanding formal skills training isn’t the end game or even the beginning of the end, but it may be the end of the beginning.

Buttermere and Crummock Water. Oil 30x40%22 205 by Martin Kinnear

Buttermere: The ‘end of my beginning’, but that’s all it is.

Once you know how paint works, you must turn yourself to deciding how it should be used by you: and that alone is what will make you unique.

I’ve no ‘right’ to say this, I’ve got no degree, I neither hold nor look for approval or accreditation from any art society , and I’ll swim through blood before I let anybody impose their rules on me or mine.


The chaos that’s my studio – but – and here’s a comforting thought, there’s no other studio like it, because it’s my vision, and there’s only one of me…

Rant over, don’t blame me, see Schwitters.



2 thoughts on “Reader, I’m in Love.

  1. Hey Martin. A friend dismissed my studies after……. as just copying and not developing my own style. Virgil Elliott, in Traditional oil painting p 2, said ‘each artistst’s style should be unique; however, this idea is often used as an excuse for whatever is lacking in a given artist’s technique. Style should be the result of choice, not of limitation.’ He goes on to say that style will happen when it is Time, which may not be until obstacles of perception and limitations of technique have been removed. Thank you for your very original blogs, which are reflective and critical. On the intensive skills course you gave us the technical tools to follow the road to individual style, via a solid technique. Thank you so much. Oh, and don’t shrug off Buttermere as the end of the beginning as it is a very emotive painting (and could well be the aspirational end of the end for those of us with less talent!!)
    Good luck on your new journey. Sean


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