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Adapt a Classical Style: Creativity Tip

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I just visited the Toledo (Ohio) Art Museum and they had a wonderful painting by Kehinde Wiley. Instead of rejecting the past and trying to do something completely new, he has made himself a clear descendant of classical portrait artists.

Looking at his paintings, you can see all the symbols and elements of classics portraits, but they are in slightly different contexts. Sometimes, just putting someone in a classic pose with modern clothes on creates an amazing new piece.

It got me thinking about how much potential there is in completely owning the past and clearly showing the lineage of what you do. When you are trying to create something new, don’t throw everything out. Keep what works and make it better and different.

One more note about Wiley’s paintings, in person, the skill level and craft is tremendous. In the tiny versions on the web some of them appear tossed off. In person, they are huge, amazingly crafted pieces with great detail.

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4 responses

  1. Dear Mr. Wahl,
    Did you know that many of Kehinde Wiley’s paintings are not executed by him? Often they done in studio work shops in places as far away as China. The craft that you admire so much, perfect as it may be, is simply the vehicle to deliver Wiley’s message. The message is powerful and is the true substance of Wiley’s art. The point is, never confuse craft with art. A necktie may be well made but it is not art.

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  2. I did not know that. It wasn’t in any of the literature. Considering there was also a Warhol exhibit, I should have been more careful.
    Still, the paintings are powerful. I was just admiring the craft in addition to the message. The fact that they are well done by a random artist to communicate such a powerful message is interesting, but doesn’t diminish the power.
    If the painting was terrible and had the same subject matter, it wouldn’t carry the same weight.

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