Call me a confused artist. I want to learn to paint better. I know from personal experience that the only way to do that is to study the work of people who do it well-masters. There is really no substitute for the real thing either. Textbooks publishers try their best to reproduce a painting, but let’s face it, book inks don’t act the way oil paints do. That’s partly why we have a museum on campus. Yet for fear that we may breathe on, spit on, scrape, knock off the wall, or in any way damage or alter a painting like Carl Bloch’s Pool of Bethesda, the Museum of Art forbids, among other things, any student from oil painting on the premises. Now, as there really isn’t a check-out system for their paintings, how is an artist supposed to learn to oil paint like a master if he can only copy them in watercolor or acrylic?
I went to the Museum recently, hoping to copy a Rembrandt. It didn’t happen. The painting was in their archives, and you can’t even get near it without tons of red tape. And worse, I wanted to paint it. I even had a professor plead my case. Still no go. They are too afraid of accidents.
Can’t we do something to prevent those accidents? For example, a glass case around a painting would protect it from turpentine fumes and any accidental spattering of paint while still giving students the chance to study it up close. Art students could then learn firsthand from master painters like Rembrandt, Bloch, Cezanne, and Hopper. Frankly, what good is the past if we can’t learn from it?