From remarks delivered
January 27, 2006, at the Carolina Country Club,
Raleigh, North Carolina, marking the thirtieth
anniversary of Portraits South.
great artist Richard Schmidperhaps the foremost
living American artistin his brilliant book
of instruction and counsel, Alla Prima,
says this: "May each painting that you do...
include an expression of gratitude for the extraordinary
privilege of being an artist."
I love that quotation. First of all, I note that
we are to be thankful that we are artists, but
more than thatthat we should recognize that
being an artist is a privilegeand that the
privilege is a sacred gift.
How do we respond to this? How do we respond to
the extraordinary gift of a precious privilege?
The answer is: by being the very best artist that
we can be.
It means thatno matter what our age or no
matter how many years we have been in this businesswe
daily strive to improve our craft, our drawing,
our tonal values, our color, our design. We are
never satisfied. That elusive masterpiece still
lies out before us somewhere.
Dear friends, I heard something the other day
that I found deeply troubling. It was a casual
remark from a beloved longtime friend and fellow
artist. I will not mention his name, because most
of us in this room would recognize it. This artist
is a painter of children's portraits, and I had
asked him to describe his methods. Here, in part,
is what he said: "After the child is dressed
and ready, we go into the back yard. I have my
35mm digital camera ready, and I follow the child
around the yard, snapping rapidly as we go. The
next day, back in the studio, I select the best
one and go to work."
I remember saying to myself, "God help us!"
Have we come to this? Following a child around
the backyard, snapping candid photos, one of which
will be enlarged, hand-colored and framed? Have
we come, at last, to this?
If that is where we areand every exhibition
of contemporary portraiture that I see seems to
confirm that is indeed is where we arethen
we are staring directly at the imminent demise
of portrait painting.
If we have reduced the noble art of Velázquez,
Rembrandt and Van Dyck to following a child around
the backyard with a 35mm SLR, then we are finished.
Finished, utterly, as one of the great artistic
pursuits of mankinda pursuit that began
before the dawn of history, flourished during
many great centuries, reached its apogee in the
eighteenth century, and died pathetically, unmourned,
in the twenty-first.
Can we avoid such a melancholy end? Of course
we can. How? By returningevery one of usto
the principles and standards that elevated this
profession to be the crowning glory of the Louvre,
the Prado, the Uffizi, and the Metropolitan...
by working diligently at our command of drawing,
by straining to grasp the subtleties of the tonal
values, by worshiping at the altar of nature's
exquisite color in all its complexity and diversityand
by studying the giants of the past, those titans
in the museums who have shown us the way.
We can save our profession from extinction, we
can restore it, we can enhance it by a determined
study of the great masters. There is the solution:
a determined study of the great masters. And by
turning our backs on the effects of the candid
But now I'm preaching. You know that I love you
all, and I am so proud to be a member of this
group. I hope that you will not hold against me
that bit of chastisement. It is a warning delivered
from the heart.
God bless you all, and God bless us as we work
to carry portrait painting to new heights. We
can do it. Thank you, and good night.