Embracing Limitations

Even though I'm quite respectful of the type of training an artist chooses, I can't help but feel odd when I look at people working at Neo-Neo-Neo Classical academies. Among the feelings I get, is an accusing sensation, self-imposed I'm sure, pointing out how badly I draw and paint. I feel terrible when I look at how disciplined and controlled is the manner in which those drawings and paintings are executed. I can't tell you how I felt when I glanced at my palette after I saw the Michael Klein video. While you could have open heart surgery on top of his, mine looks like something that was dug out of Pompey.

While I thought about my technical short-comings, I realized something. I actually appreciate that my drawing ability is not as high as these highly talented people. I don't mind when I find that I messed up proportions, or dirtied colors, or altered my composition. The thing is, I've always seen art as a struggle. Now, that's not to say that sometimes, SOME times, wonderful things happen effortlessly, but most of the time, at least for most of us, it's something akin to labor. And by labor I of course mean childbirth.

In my case, and I'm obviously not saying that this should be everyone's manner of work, painting is a horrible experience. I paint, and scrape, and repaint, and curse the heavens, go to bed frustrated, paint again, look at a good artbook, get depressed after looking at a good artbook, go to bed thinking fuck it, paint again, start feeling confident, fuck it up a smidgeon, hopelessly and frantically try to fix it, give up, frame it and sell it.

So every time I look at these Zen classical draughtsmen, I always feel I have a responsibility towards myself and the sanity of my family, to think clearly, to draw more accurately and to paint cleanly. And I try, god knows I try...

but I can't.

That's when I realize, fuck it. I'm not as good a draughtsman as these guys, I'm not as good a colorist, and I can't make the clear and confident decisions they make... BUT, I embrace painting. I absolutely adore the process of uncertainty, of self doubt that accompanies every image I make. I like that it's not easy, that I can't grasp concepts firmly, that my paintings reflect struggle. I'm ok with that.

God bless these guys working in those ateliers, because I genuinly enjoy looking at the stuff they do... mainly because I'm not capable of doing what they do.

So here's a painting I started a bit ago. It's a bit clusterfucky, but it'll get there. Where you may ask?

... I'll get back to you on that one.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so very much for posting that. It's nice to know that I am not the only one.

Vincenzo said...

Yes...it is comforting in a small way to find out that someone as brilliant as yourself questions their abilities!

So glad you persevere to inspire the rest of us!!!

Camilo c. said...

I so needed to read this, coming from you it makes me feel better, it fills me up with confidence knowing that I struggle with the same things you struggle and that you have the same frustrations I have. Minus the "frame it and sell it" part. I hardly ever finish any painting I start. Hope everything is going great and congrats on the new baby!!!

Camilo Carreño.

Rossina Bossio said...

Me identifico plenamente con lo que ha escrito en sus dos últimas entradas. Saludos!

Stephen Cefalo said...

Liberating to hear you say this stuff. You remember steve's workspace using the back of a chair as a palette? Nerdrum uses a chunk of foam core as a palette and socks as rags, and has a stalactite of palette scrapings several feet high. Every painter has a different temparament that he has to be true to or he will make nothing good. Let's be slobs and let everyone deal with it like Rembrandt and turner.

We Buy Magic said...

Thank You for these words. So many times when I feel why painting is so painful but it is all I can think about. Your words encourage me a lot. So thank you.

Gato Casero said...

Nicolás, Tan pronto vi la pintura me encantó, no puedo esperar a verla terminada, y el post, absolutamente increíble. Es muy cierto todo lo que dices, en fin, gracias por escribir y por pintar.

Patrick said...

Wow! I find this comment refreshing and so real. Honestly I think that all artist has this feeling looking paintings they admire, one part of amazement and one part of questioning. I have the same feeling looking at your work. Personnaly I find that the beauty found in the imperfection is more powerful than the total control of craftmanship. But all this is personnal!

Sean McMurchy said...

Great post very honest and real and wize keep it up!

Sheldon Tapley said...

Well said! The emotional progress (or cycle) you describe is certainly familiar to me, and, it appears, to many others who have posted here.

By the way, you have some fans here in Kentucky. My painting students have to copy a head by a master painter. I provide for their selection about fifty printed photos of heads from painters, including Rubens, Steen, Sorolla, Uglow, Morisot, Renoir, Balthus, Copley, Cezanne, and Uribe.

Nicolás Uribe said...


Thank you, I'm geniunly flattered, but... Rubens, Sorolla......


Something is not right with that picture. Whomever picks me should be smacked in the head... with a Rubens catalogue raissonne. That way they'll learn to respect the burden of art history.

Never been to Kentucky... maybe someday I can go visit and shake some sense into those kids.

The nerve... ;)

Anonymous said...

What the f@%! are you talking about? You draw better than those dime-a-dozen "artists". They don't draw, they just render.

I'm amazed that you actually consider that sterile handiwork good draughtsmanship.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you were fishing for compliments from those "artists" with this post. What happened? Did you find that you were writing too negatively about them and tried to make it more positive-sounding? Did that get out of hand until you ended up saying they drew better than you? That's just my shot-in-the-dark theory.

Still amazed--hah ha!

Nicolás Uribe said...


No fishing for compliments here. There's no need to be nice, as well as no pride in being unafraid of expressing what I believe.

I'm writing about how I feel regarding what I consider talented representational artists. What you see as rendering, I see as observational skills and knowledge. Would I be content with that? Not really, but I still appreciate the best examples of those types of work. They require patience and skill, and while sometimes they lack personality, they have their own merit.

I still think that these ateliers are a failed experiment, and people are being a bit too stubborn about it. If you look at Russian or Chinese academies in the 20th century, they both had a very strong 19th century influence. And yet, they've failed to produce great, well-rounded artists. For example, Fechin was a great talent, but he ultimately stood out because of his decision to go to the US; not because he was any different from the thousands of Russian artists that went out of the academy in the mid to late 1900's.

There's no need to be apologetic with what I say, and there's no need to avoid stepping on toes. And quite frankly, I have no need to start flame wars either.

Anonymous said...

That's all well and good but my issue was with your claim that their drawing ability is higher than yours. You are confusing persnicketiness with talent. The reason there are so many identical atelier-type renderers out there today is that it's not too difficult to "draw" like that. It requires a lot more patience than actual talent. If someone lacks that patience it does not mean they aren't talented, in fact it could mean that they are too talented to make such boring "drawings".

Schiele couldn't draw like that. Are you saying he was less talented than the latest dime-a-dozen star student from an atelier? I'm sure if he was alive today, we could give him some ADD medication and he'd fit right in with them.

Nicolás Uribe said...


Oh god lord noooo... if you knew me personally, or attended the drawing classes I give, you would see how I even blush or get teary eyed when I speak about Schiele. He was absolutely exceptional...

See, here's the issue I have. When you read what I wrote, how exactly did you infer that I didn't like Schiele? I just said I liked and respect 19th century academic drawing. Why would you, or anyone for that matter think that a statement like that impedes me from appreciating other manners of drawing?

The truth is I love looking at a Prud'hon as much as I like looking at a Kent Williams drawing. To me they're both exciting ways to interpret drawing. Why on earth would I limit myself to liking only one of those? Because they have different philosophies??? I'll let other people engage in byzantine discussions while I sit back and enjoy what I've chosen to enjoy.

If Schiele, or Tolouse Lautrec were alive and tried to convince me that academic work was shite, I would listen to them carefully, got bed and think

"Man, I love those two guys, they're fucking terrific... but... I still like that Cormon painting...

what the hell, fuck 'em. I like what I like."

And I would dream about the three of them holding hands, getting married in a Mormon ceremony and having truly talented babies.

Anonymous said...

I know you like Schiele, that's why I used him as an example.

You said: "I actually appreciate that my drawing ability is not as high as these highly talented people. I don't mind when I find that I messed up proportions, or dirtied colors, or altered my composition."

Technically inaccurate proportions, "dirty" colors and altered compositions, in other words "messy" non-neoclassical art is a lot closer in spirit to someone like Schiele who obviously had an extraordinarily high degree of drawing ability, unlike the turd polishers from the ateliers that you oddly admire.

That was my point. Hopefully, it's more clear now.

Anonymous said...

A couple more points, after reading your posts again:

It sounds like you're placing today's atelier "artists" on the same level as the great draughtsmen from the 19th century. It's been a while since I bothered to look at the prize winners from ArtRenewal, but last time I checked none of them were even close to the best 19th century academic art. Have things really changed that much?

Also, you make it sound as if today's atelier "artists" don't struggle to produce their work. From the conversations I've had with some of them this doesn't seem to be the case. If it's true that for a good number of them it is truly effortless, then that probably explains why I find their work so dull and lifeless.

Michael Klein had a show at Arcadia recently. Have you actually seen his work in person? One word immediately came to mind upon seeing the show: PEDANTIC. I left shaking my head because some guy I know had raved about it. But, it made sense to me that he would appreciate it, he was still in art school.

Nicolás Uribe said...


That's why I try to be specific and write "the best examples of". I'm not referring to the atelier system as a whole, but to the people that stand out. And while I can't assure you how much or how little they struggle, I do nothing but acknowledge how hard they work.

Again, when I'm talking about my process, I'm talking about MY process. I'm not trying to tell people how they should or shouldn't work. That's up to each individual artist.

And to answer why today there's no comparable talent to that of the 19th century... why there's not a contemporary Bouguereau, or a Meissonier, or a Fortuny. Quite simply because the world is different, schools are different, art is different. An artist is the product of the context of his or her time. The wonderful thing about art is that as much as you can try and replicate that initial influence or admiration, it's simply impossible to do so.

Also, people don't paint like those guys simply because those guys were ridiculously good. That's probably a simpler answer.

Anonymous said...

I have a better answer to that, television, movies, video games, internet, junk food, etc.

But anyway, I guess I could ask what you think "stands out" about the drawing ability of a Klein or Grimaldi that isn't matched or closely approximated by the student stuff you see on something like the Grand Central Academy blog. To me, it all looks like hyper-refined student work that doesn't come close to the raw drawing ability of a Schiele, Ivor Hele, Frazetta and other non-neoclassical artists who didn't fuss so much over the basic technical aspects of their work. But I don't care if you ever bother to answer that since I'm pretty convinced the answer is "nothing".

All I'm really saying, in response to what you said in your initial post, is that I find it ridiculous that you think the atelier stand-outs have a higher degree of drawing ability than someone like you does. The only insurmountable difficulty I see someone like you having in trying to do what they do is the lack of will to do so. The way I see it, you don't draw like that simply because you really don't want to. You're too set in your ways, which doesn't seem like a real problem to me because that stuff is boring. You could draw like they do if you really, really had to but they would need different training to draw like you. In my view, the direct kind of drawing that you do requires more talent than the sheepish and timid work that I see coming out of the ateliers. Yes, even the "stand-outs". It's all so damn dull and low-energy, like they're so afraid to make a mistake that they devised a safe approach that guarantees almost no mistakes.

I'm not attached to my drawing methods, so a couple of years ago I decided to draw something like what they do in the ateliers. I only had about three hours to do it in compared to the days that they have. I looked up people like Anthony Ryder and Ted Seth Jacobs, learned about the "envelope" and set about trying to see if I could approach that way of "drawing". My first result wasn't that bad. But it was readily apparent how my looser, more gestural approach to drawing was interfering with what I was trying to do. Since I'm not attached to how I usually draw, I just consciously abandoned my old habits as best as I could and steadily improved. I'm sure if I kept at it for a few weeks I could do a drawing just like those from the ateliers but I lost interest.

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm bragging because I'm not. I'm just not that impressed with that atelier stuff. It seems like every week there's a new person that figures out how to do it. If it's so special, would there really be that many of them?

Rob Howard said...

Nicolas, in this country we have hobbyists of all kind. Some with amusing and perplexing hobbies. One I find both amusing and a bit sad is that of "military re-enactors." These are people who aside from never having seen warfare, wish to recapture their fantasy of life as a medieval knight, an American Revolutionary War soldier or a Civil War soldier.

It's all pretty sad. Fortunately, the battles are just smoke and no blood. Despite the attention to the costumes and their version of the language, terms, food and manners, the reality is they all pack up their gear, put it in a modern car and drive back to their cubicles. Kinda melancholic when you consider it.

I feel the same way about the atelier crowd fighting safe battles that have long since been won. Like the military re-enactors, they risk nothing. Nothing could be safer. These are art re-enactors, not artists in any but the same sense that the people down at Ye Oulde Medieval Faire are remotely like the real knights of old who were fighting and hacking their way through real battles.

There will always be a cadre of good little boys and good little girls who want nothing more than to please their teacher, come home with all A's on their report cards and enjoy being showered in fain and meaningless praise, like the accolades from the non-buyers on Facebook (as I have said, those people lavishing praise on FB spend more every year on toilet paper than they do on buying art).

What we see coming from the ateliers are craftsmen...marvelously skilled at times. But think of some of the equally well rendered brushwork coming out of the fine porcelain factories. These were local industries that trained local people to paint marvelously skilled and detailed scenes...over and over and over again. Marvelous hand skills.

What is nice about those skilled craftsmen is their work is not surrounded with the bullshit that inflates the neo-neos. The Neos need to bathe in that bullshit because the realities Weill cause them to slit their wrists. The biggest reality is that none of them (and I have spoken with many of them) have any idea of how to compose a picture past the rudimentary first-weeks-of-art-school level. None of them know that it's not the rendering or the model that communicates an emotion.

The truth is that the ateliers produce excellent studio assistants and i have hired many of them over the years...guys with master's degrees working alongside other educated and trained artists doing studio scut work.

I was fond of them as people but the reality was that not as one of them was ever capable of doing much on their own, whereas someone like you would have used the studio as a stepping stone to important things. You are either being sarcastic or your taste sucks, because looking at those craftsmen as anything resembling a meaningful artist is impossible. They are operating in an artistic backwater for a good reason. There's no conspiracy afoot to keep them in the shadows. That's where they come from.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think someone as experience as you even had those type of issues. I just started gaining the confidence to even show my work. I am always trying to better myself with my execution when I paint and I know each painting I do is going to be better than the last.

I constantly research different artists who paint like how I would dream to paint. I try to learn something from each of them and I think it has pushed me in the right direction. There have been plenty of times when I think to my self "this is so fucking frustrating" but I constantly try to work my way through it.

I go to art college in the fall and I can only imagine where it is going to take me. I probably still will have one of these moments from time to time...

Martin E. O'Connor said...

I really enjoy your work. I can't say the same for the "atelier-style"

Ariel said...

Hola Nicolas! Gracias por compartir no solo tus maravillosas pinturas sino tambien tus pensamientos! Ambos da gusto verlos/leerlos.

Descubri tu pintura hace un tiempo, te había perdido el rastro y ahora gracias a un comentario volvi a encontrarte. Y me parece muy muy muy bueno lo que haces. Relamente, y desde muchos puntos de vista.

Un comentario marginal acerca de Michel Klein: como vivía en Merlo, una localidad de BUenos Aires, tuve la suerte de visitar su taller unas cuantas veces, y ojo, en la realidad no es taaaan ordenadito como se ve en el video. Ni tan mecanico. Ahi muestra una suerte de "proceso ideal", platonico. Pero ha cortado un pedazo de tela de una pintura para cambiar la composición si le parecia que no funcionaba, ha quitado una figura ya pintanda, ha removido cosas, vuelto a poner, cambiado de opinion, etc etc. Con esto quiero decir que creo que para la mayoría la pintura es una lucha. Y creo que esta bueno. Y creo que esta bueno no creer que la busquda se ha acabado

untitled boy said...

entiendo y te entiendo y me ayuda a entenderme, gracias por el post!