"Copying" Vermeer?

Yesterday I taught an art class titled, "Drawing from the Old Masters" in the middle of Tokyo. Six people came to study by doing highly detailed pencil drawings that were taken from the paintings of master painters such as Vermeer, Da Vinci, Ingres and Caravaggio.  I have taught this course several times, and the results are always stunning. However, I often find resistance from students (and, I would presume this to also be one of the reasons why the class is not always packed with students) to the idea of simply "copying" the works of artists of the past. They feel that art should be original, that it should come directly from the person doing the drawing. I understand why my students, and art students in general, have come to feel this way.

Probably some time around the time of Picasso's and Kandinsky's rise to fame a truism arose that art should be free, personal, expressive and emotional. What failed to figure into this truism was just how well trained, classically, Picasso was. His father was a classically trained artist who became an administrator of a great art institution. He made sure that his son learned the fundamentals at an early age. And one of the best ways to learn the fundamentals was to follow the ancient tradition of learning from, by copying, the work of masters, either contemporary or ancient.

When a pianist plays a magnificent piece by Tchaikovsky or Chopin, do we say they are "copying"? When Ella Fitzgerald cranks out a "standard" from the jazz repertoire, is it only imitation? Of course not! Somehow, with regard to music, the idea of learning, practicing, paying homage to and ultimately finding one's own expression through great works of the past has never fallen out of favor. What a good thing this is for music, and musicians! And how sad that visual art in most modern, Western societies has erected an unnecessary architecture of shame around the very same activity, that of copying from and learning from great masters.

The two images above are pencil drawings of mine. The lower one was done as a demonstration in one of my classes. It is, as all will probably recognize, a copy of a famous painting by Vermeer, "Girl with a Pearl Earring". The upper one was done later, as I decided to re-create the image in a different way, influenced by the great painter Modigliani and my own tendency to stylize faces in a similar manner. People might say that the one on the right is more original, certainly, but the point is that I wouldn't have been able to do it, at least not to the same degree of subtlety, if I hadn't first done the left image, when I was "just copying".  The time I spent copying, and learning from,  a great, master painter was time very well spent! The Old Masters have provided us with such a rich legacy, just as the great composers have. It seems like a waste to merely look at their works and admire them,  when we could learn so much more by studying their sensitivity, the beauty of their shapes, and probing the mystery of their genius with our own hands and eyes!




考えてみてください。ピアニストが、チャイコフスキーやショパンの有名な曲を弾く時、私達は「彼らは、真似ている!」などと言いますか? エラ・フィッツジェラルドが、ジャズのスタンダードを歌う時、「単に真似ているだけ!」と言いますか?もちろん、言いませんよね! なぜか、音楽に関しては、過去の有名な曲を学び、練習し、敬意を捧げることによって究極的にその人自身の表現を見出すのだという考えは、好意的に受け入れられていたのです。これは、音楽や音楽家にとって、なんていいことなのでしょう! そして、同時になんと悲しむべきことなのでしょうか。 非常に似た行為であるにもかかわらず、最も近代的な西洋の社会において、偉大なる巨匠を模写して学ぶことは恥であると考えるような、不必要な風潮が築かれたのは。

上の二つのイメージは、私が描いたペンシル画です。下の絵は、私が教えるあるクラスのデモンストレーションで使ったものです。たぶん皆さんお気づきのことと思いますが、これは、フェルメールの有名な真珠の耳飾りの少女の絵の模写です。上の絵は、後に描いたものです。モディリアーニの影響を受け、そして彼と同じようなやり方で顔をデフォルメするという私自身のやり方を取り入れ、前の絵と異なる描き方にしました。人は、右側の絵がよりオリジナルなものだと必ず言うでしょう。しかし、大切なことは、私がただ単に模写する時、もし最初に左側の絵を描いたならば、私は少なくとも同様に繊細なレベルまでにはできなかっただろう、ということなのです。このように私が、偉大なる画家から学ぶために模写をしている時間は、非常に意味のある時間なのです。昔の巨匠達は、偉大なる作曲家とまったく同様に、私達にとても豊かな宝物を残してくれています。彼らの作品をただ単に鑑賞したり、賞賛したりするだけではもったいないのです。 私達は自分自身の手や眼を使って、巨匠達の偉大さの謎を探りつつ彼らの形の繊細さや美しさを学ぶことによって、非常に多くのことを学ぶことができるのです。


3 件のコメント:

  1. Andy, thanks for the wonderful class yesterday what a great way to share this in your blog too.

  2. Some interesting ideas there. Another question. In classical music, why do orchestras play Beethoven and not "Beethoven covers"? Why are they not called tribute orchestras.

    As a musician and composer I sometimes here the comment "well that wouldn't be original". I think you would be completely stuck if you tried to play music that was 100% original.

    As my own composition teacher said, copy the great masters. Steal from them. You'll never get it quite exactly the same. And the gap between the original and your copy is where your style starts to emerge.

  3. HI Alex,
    Saw and replied to this comment on Facebook. I won't repeat, but it is really nice hearing from you. We have a project to attend to, and we'll get to that soon, I hope!