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What's more Important, Technique or Concept?

This great question came in via the suggestion box:

Hello I am an artist studying Art Ed at the U of Arizona. Does technique matter anymore or is it more about the idea of the art?

I think it's actually about both. As an Art Ed major, if you know techniques, you'll be able to help other students learn about specific things - like glazing, casting, printing - that help students express what they think art is, what it means to them. To me, techniques are like a the beginning, if you want to make chocolate chip cookies, you can follow the directions exactly, to get exactly what you want. As you get more experienced and comfortable in a kitchen and with your tools, you may want to add macadamia nuts, or cranberries and oatmeal (yum!) or just wing it on your own to see what happens. Maybe it won't even be cookies anymore - maybe it will be a cake, or even a steak! What do others think?

There are (8) Comments, Comments are now closed for this discussion?
  1. comment_1_6300

    Bob commented on September 30, 2008, at 2:37 pm.

    Technique can be viewed as the foundation for all or any art activity. Knowing your craft and knowing the materials of your chosen medium is paramount in being able to truly rationalize the often impulsive act of conveying ideas. There are several things to consider here. If you are a methodical painter that paints realistic, highly detailed works, you need a very refined technique to be able to render details through careful brush manipulations and blending, glazing, layering etc. You need an intimate knowledge of how the paint will flow and blend so that form can be precisely rendered. Obviously technique is important. With a more gestural approach, such as for abstraction, you still need to know your materials and techniques, maybe even more so than a realistic painter. You need to be able to think quickly, be able to apply paint in an intuitive responsive way, such that it becomes second nature. Often, inspiration will change mid stroke and you need that confidence to be able to respond to this new direction, this new idea, which might entail a change in technique also. Without a solid grounding in the materials and techniques of your craft, you can never realize such spontaneity, such seemingly effortless spontaneity that belies great paintings. Of course, there will always be the argument that the image is everything and how it's derived is of no consequence, especially relevant in this image hungry world of mass media instantaneity we live in. The fact is that understanding the materials you work with can only better your image making practice. Having sound technical prowess enables you to consider and fully realize the idea that made you want to explore it in the first place. I personally started as a realistic painter, wanting to emulate the old masters, working mostly on figurative pieces worked up from life drawings. I eventually became an abstract painter, as my own vision surfaced and partly due to the seductive nature of paint and the limitless freedom that it provides. I became seduced by the physical nature of paint and the way it can be manipulated and spread out, drawn across a surface, be readily broken down with a solvent into washes, scrubbed, scraped, rubbed, blended, scratched, layered, glazed, cracked, made glossy or matt, made pearlescent or iridescent, textured, etc. Having control of the media allows one to reflect the immediacy of the emotion of thought.
    I think there is an unfortunate onus on every art practitioner to hurry and establish themselves in the art market, with the very real risk of putting out half-baked and unrealized ideas. Paintings exist beyond the idea that initiates the artist to pick up a brush, in the same way that a life drawing ceases to be a mere copy of a model. Producing paintings is one thing, producing artworks is another. It is a careful state of equilibrium. Without great ideas, you will never breach the white of the canvas, and without proper working methods they will never be fully realized.

  2. comment_2_6300

    Mikel Wintermantel commented on October 1, 2008, at 3:08 am.

    I like to find materials and techniques that are the least intrusive in the creation process. I have been prolific in the last 5 years because I have found a technique that works for me. Knowing the predictable results of applying paint to a surface helps me focus more intensely on the concept. When teaching workshops I like to show students real world frustrations that would hobble my creative output. I then show them my solutions to those roadblocks. They always involve techniques and tools. Once you conquer those, creating is so much easier because you are not struggling with distractions.

    Concept is more important. Having a good technique that works allows you to focus on the concept with all your creative energy.

    Mikel Wintermantel, C.M.

  3. comment_3_6300

    Bob commented on October 3, 2008, at 1:29 am.

    It sounds like the proverbial conundrum. What came first, the concept or the style?

    I believe the concept has such a large say in the form that it is delivered in, and should be one of the first things to be considered. The artist needs to respect and evaluate this, otherwise the result will be lacking. Consider how a song lyric (the concept), without a certain and unique combination of musical arrangements and fine vocal performance (technique), fails to be delivered. The artist fails.

    Likewise, bad painting will always be bad painting regardless of the loftiness of the concept.

    Painters are craftspeople before anything else.

  4. comment_4_6300

    Nilesh commented on October 14, 2008, at 10:56 am.

    This is a tricky question.

    In the field of art ed: There are many open lines in the art world. Conceptual Art (the movement, which can be found described online, via Google) dispensed with technique. A painting could be described, rather than painted. In some cases, it was claimed that it could simply be thought rather than thought and described. Tom Wolfe writes about it in colorful terms in his book 'The Painted Word.' John Lennon and Yoko Ono were part of this movement.

    Orozco told one of his students that he could learn the materials and techniques in an hour; but it would take a lifetime to find the highest or most appropriate things to say or do with the art.

    Some people go overboard learning all about materials, and don't really sink their teeth into the art itself.

    There is also this: Does art really need a concept at all?

    Is it possible to do art without concepts?

    What are the possibilities for post-conceptual art?, trans-conceptual art?, concept-free art?

  5. comment_5_6300

    GeorgeBelcher commented on October 23, 2008, at 4:26 pm.

    Technique and Concept are inherent in all works of art. Whether or not it is intentinonal one is always, in one form or another, exploiting a technique and a concept. You may be attempting to abolish a concept or the idea of a concept. You may formulate your work around concept and complete a painting with no paint at all.

    The real point is that you need to explore art at an individual level. Make your own decisions as to what you like and dont like. Let these be your guide to deciding on what is important to you. You may prefer beautiful figure paintings to densely engaged works of absract number formations. Simply think about what reaches out to you the most and then take close notice as to why you like what you like. This will help you determine your own views on the importance of technique and concept.

    One can say that concept is more important than technique in the art world currently or vice versa, but truthfully they are both always important. What is truly important is finding what is true to yourself. It is only in this way that your art will be your own, and you may make it what you want.

  6. comment_6_6300

    Nilesh commented on October 25, 2008, at 10:26 am.

    There are many conventional assumptions and traditions in the art world. Why not challenge them?

    Concept is not necessarily inherent in art.

    Are human beings and human actions limited to conceptual realms?

    Technique may or may not be inherent; and it depends in large part on the definition given to the word.

    Why not explore other territory?

  7. comment_7_6300

    patfallon commented on November 2, 2008, at 11:39 pm.

    Technique is about 'How to Paint," and Concept is about "What to Paint." It would be difficult to separate them and still have something that calls itself 'art.'


  8. comment_8_6300

    aedie commented on March 22, 2010, at 5:26 am.

    Both necessary, neither sufficient.