“The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself.” Washington Allston (from The Painter’s Keys)
Whether or not competition between artists is a good thing is the subject of opinion. Some believe competition inspires creativity. Others do not. Rivalries among artists are not new. Perhaps, it is human nature for some to be competitive. For artists, it can be a blessing or a curse depending on the individual.
Stories abound of famous rivalries. The competition between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci is said to have been fierce, especially on the part of Michelangelo. According to an article for The Guardian by Jonathan Jones, the competition Michelangleo felt towards Leonardo was so bitter, Leonardo left Italy for France to escape it. Leonardo strongly felt the need to be removed from the fierce rivalry.
On the other hand, Michelangelo, was reported to have been inspired by the competition he felt for Leonardo, Titian and other great artists. Martin Gayford revisits the Michelangelo/Leonardo rivalry for The Telegraph. Gayford states of Michelangelo, “his career was fired, and darkened, by bitter, personal rivalry with other artists.” Michelangelo was driven by a deep competitive nature.
Much of the art world is geared toward competition. Juried shows are everywhere and have a long history. Many artists repeatedly enter multiple juried shows creating for the themes of the shows. A theme can inspire artistic direction. Installations and exhibitions are based on the judgment of the installation directors and are also frequently based on specific themes or goals. Artists find fuel in these directions, as well.
But what of the artist who is not inspired by the Michelangelo competition? What of the artist who prefers the Leonardo escape? This artist may follow a different drummer or no drummer at all. While the outward push may be to travel with the competitive pack, the lone artist must be true to the personal inner direction. There is a place for both. One artist may lead the pack in Italy while the other follows the road to France. Great art is made in both places. It is up to the artist to choose. Michelangelo or Leonardo? You decide.
“Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” Leonardo da Vinci (from The Art of Artificial Evolution)
Does participation in the arts increase knowledge? Since the publication of “The Mozart Effect” study, scientists have been asking this question. Artists already know the answer is yes. The more studies are undertaken, the more the facts will become clear. Learning is enhanced when visual art and music increase the amount of sensory input. Conceptual learning increases with the use of creative problem solving. Adding eyes, ears, and imagination will bring on more cognitive understanding. It just makes sense to add the senses to education.
In her dissertation for the University of Kentucky, Jennifer Sue Shank looks at the effects visual art has on the ability to learn music. Her paper entitled, “The effect of Visual Art on Music Listening,” examined the introduction of visual stimuli to enhanced identification of musical elements by elementary teachers. The results showed a statistically significant increase of music learning among the group exposed to selected works of visual art while listening to music. Shank’s paper is very interesting and well worth reading all the way through.
Karin Evans, writing for The University of California, Berkeley, covers much of the findings of research on the subject of arts and learning in her appropriately titled article, “Arts and Smarts.” Evans covers both research findings and the skeptics’ arguments. One of the issues Evans covers is the benefit of the arts in teaching students the ability to envision solutions. Arts enable students to develop the use of creative problem solving. Evans also covers research on how the arts enhance the ability of students to feel and express empathy with human emotion.
The National Assembly of States Arts Agencies (nasaa-arts.org) discusses the finding of the relationship of increased SAT scores in students who actively participate in the arts. The NASAA-ARTS details the benefits of art on general education in “Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Education“. More than SAT scores are improved through the arts but SAT scores are a telling measurement of the effect of art on learning. Abundant evidence exists on arts and learning.
In spite of this growing body of evidence, schools are drastically cutting arts education. Slowly and methodically, the arts are being removed from courses offered. Science teachers are in demand. Art teachers are not. Yet from da Vinci to Einstein, the greatest thinkers throughout history have actively engaged in both the arts and the sciences. Without arts to engage the senses, will education grow more senseless? It appears so.
Where is the stopping place on any painting? Does a red light come on and say, “Stop?” How do artists know where that place is? Ask any artist and you will likely get different answers. It is not easy to come to the finished place. There is always something more to do. It can be something small or something much bigger. It may be something that has to be looked at over time until the finishing touch finally makes itself known.
Agonizing over where to stop can be stressful enough to get out of the mental painting mode. Essentially, concern over the finish can be strong enough to keep pushing to the point where the painting loses spontaneity. To stop when the intuition says stop can take courage. It also takes listening to that little voice.
Artist Paul Gardner is quoted on Artpromotivate as saying, “A painting is never finished-it simply stops in interesting places.” Perhaps, that is a significant difference from the Leonardo quote. Instead of forcing abandonment can we accept the inner voice that says, “This is an interesting place to stop!” It could be so much less stressful to look for the interesting place than to face abandonment.
Reports say that Leonardo never found the finishing place in the Mona Lisa because he is said to have kept the painting with him throughout his life. Maybe he couldn’t abandon her.