|Tony: Did anything in your childhood help contribute to or
influence your pursuit of art as a career? If so, elaborate.
As with many artists, I have no memory of starting to draw. It wasnt really a
choice I made. My mother says that as a baby I would draw on the walls with a red crayon,
always red, before I could walk. Id sit and scribble until I got caught, sometimes
spanked though it didnt stop me. My mother would then clean the walls with Stanley
cleaner. The smell of Stanley cleaner is one of my first vivid memories. Anyway, this went
on until Mom got tired of cleaning the walls and made sure I always had access to paper.
I didnt think much about drawing until the first grade when I would sell drawings
to schoolmates for a nickel. My first sale was a picture of a boat.
When I was a kid, drawing was seen as a waste of time by adults so I really didnt
get any help with it until the sixth grade, when a history teacher I had for an hour a day
did everything she could to make excuses for me to draw and would often give me little
lessons after school; most of them I still remember.
Im really stubborn and I guess as much as anything, what kept me drawing when
other kids stopped was that most adults I knew tried so hard to stop me. I was punished
far more often than applauded for drawing as a kid, well into high school, though there it
began to turn. By the time I was in high school, if I wasnt at school, playing drums
in the band or running around in the woods, I was drawing.
I first thought seriously about art as a career the day my band director said I had to
choose between art and band. Within seconds, I was out the door.
Tony: When did you really recognize that you had artistic talent and decide to
pursue its development?
Charles: By the time I was eight, I KNEW I was an artist (probably before
that) and as time went by I looked for teachers wherever I could find em. Working at
a rug distributor at 15 a guy taught me a lot about drawing faces, some of which I still
use. My high school art teacher left me alone to draw, he didnt help, but I had an
hour a day when I could draw without fear of punishment.
Tony: What schooling did you pursue (college, art classes/instruction, etc.) to
enhance your artistic talents?
Charles: After high school, I had planned to go to New York to find
schooling there, but got talked into college instead. After college, I had my degree, but
still didnt feel I had learned much if anything about how to draw and paint. Tracing
was what was offered, the realists wanted you to trace, the abstract guys wanted you to
think about painting. Once, I painted a burro walking up a
hill and was told it was too illustrative. Whadda ya do?
Stubborn me, of course, refused to trace and thought the abstract guys used too many
After years of struggling in the dark, I finally went to New York, and found the
National Academy of Design and Art Students League. It was at these schools that I
learned what I do now.
Tony: Would you care to comment on the effectiveness of the art classes and
instruction you have obtained? Pros, cons, limitations, needs, etc.
Charles: I have never met any working artist that got much of anything about
art technique from college; I include myself in that group. No one can teach art. What can
be taught are the basics of materials, how to use them, some simple exercises of how to
see beyond the details, to see with the minds eye. And some basic principles of the
visual language that apply to all media, regardless of style or direction. None of this
was ever presented to me in college. I was asked to find my own way (so why am I paying
you?) without the corrupting influence of technique. Though when I finally saw a faculty
show in my senior year show I saw red. They knew nothing I wanted.
Ah, but then I found artists not produced by higher education at the
schools in New York and on the subway trip after my first class I realized that during the
first three hours I spent with a teacher at National Academy, I had received more
information about painting than in my entire college career.
They say that those who cant, teach. Well if you cant do it you sure as
shootin cant teach it, particularly art. Art teachers should produce art, this
keeps them developing as artists, which can only enhance their ability to teach. I think
that at all colleges or any other schools that offer fine art classes, the teachers
work should either be on display or access to slides of said work available. This way the
students know up front whether the teacher has any understanding of what they propose to
espouse. Also if a teacher only paints templated designs of pure primary colors, and the
student wants to study the figure, that teacher may not be the one for you.
Tony: What role does the study of art and art history play in better educating and
preparing an artist? How does this make you better, if at all?
Charles: There is this notion that art is supposed to be totally original,
totally the artists invention from top to bottom, like art is magic, or some kind of
religion; and thats bull! When you study dance, you learn to move like your teacher
to begin understanding movement and your own body. Then, gaining understanding, eventually
some dancers become choreographers and create their own vision of dance. In music, you
learn others music until you develop the ability and confidence and hopefully the
inspiration to make your own compositions. So it is with art. Finding artists you respect
who are willing to advise you and critique your work is invaluable. Try to understand what
they do and why, then chew on it awhile, try to get in their head to seek knowledge. Then
decide what about it you need for your art and keep it for a while as you pursue advice
from other artists.
Remember, art is a developing process, the more understanding of how paint works or how
design can create movement, the more possibilities are available to the artist. Most
artists I know continue to study other artists to see if they can gain even one more bit
of understanding to apply to their art. From just prior to the Renaissance, through to
now, an unbroken line of development which each succeeding generation builds on and
alters; through study of past masters and the advice from living artists, art students
(which I remain) can develop and continue the line towards the future.