Reading: Arthur Wesley Dow, Composition (1914)

“In a word, first cultivate the mind, set the thoughts in order, utilize the power within; then the eye and the hand can be trained effectively, with a definite end in view. The usual way, in our systems of artā€instruction, is to put drill first, leaving thought and appreciation out of account.”–Arthur Wesley Dow

I finished this book a few days ago and it is without a doubt one of the best art instruction books I’ve ever read. Composition has always been a weak point for me, and since I tend to love books of this era, I gave it a try. Only after I was well into it did I discover that it was Dow’s teachings that O’Keeffe credited as a major influence in the development of her famous style. Makes sense once you’ve been through this book.

I did most of the exercises as I went along and will do them again because they really are effective. It’s rare for me to jump into the doing quite so readily; my way of learning is by reading, but the ideas this time made sense and sounded fun. They built from simple to complex and got your mind thinking and seeing in patterns rather than fussing with the technical aspects of drawing. I can see this working well for younger students or for anyone who wants to do art but gets frustrated when they can’t “draw well.” This book still won’t give them that–only time and practice will–but it might help in the creation of powerful images with the skills they already have, just the way children do. Most artists envy the sure genius of kids–this books can help you find your way back there, with smart instruction, not with commands to trust your intuition. It works.


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