Principles and Instances

Course Director Martin Kinnear on what you should look for in  a good painting course.

Martin Kinnear with ‘ While Others Wasted Time Growing Flowers (oil 96×48″) from his Painted Garden show 2016.

I’m often asked by prospective students ‘ Will I learn anything?‘ Setting aside the observation that we don’t know what they know or what they could yet know, I’m afraid that the answer is ‘ yes, and if you’ve already been taught, absolutely.’

You might infer from this that I’ve got a downer on art teaching, or that I subscribe to that old lazy tutor’s standby that creativity and art cannot be taught.  Nothing could be further from the truth, the trouble is that showing somebody how you paint, and teaching them to paint are quite different things, so before you book a course with us – or anybody else – be clear about the difference.

Martin Kinnear demonstrating traditional glazing after Turner

The easiest way to ‘teach’ painting is to paint in front of people. It’s an old stand by at art clubs, and if you know what you’re looking for when watching an artist any work, not without educational value.

However, as much as I enjoy painting for myself, and as much as you might enjoy the theatre of watching paintings being made, observation of myself or anyone else painting in their style isn’t a great learning experience.

All you’re seeing, when you watch me – or anyone else paint –  is the end result of a series of nuanced and ongoing decisions. Questions about colour, about composition, about physicality and handling. Decisions about grounds, and imprimaturas, gessoes and mediums are all there – but are there unspoken, unexplained and under the surface.  Watching a painting being made,as a means of learning to paint for yourself,  is as useful as driving over a bridge in the hope that will show you how to build one.

Art history is about instances, learning is about collecting principles

The key to this is understanding the difference between an instance and a principal. Any given painting is by definition an instance of how painting can be done. Just as a particular painting by Monet is an instance of his style and Monet himself is an instance of to paint in an Impressionist way, and Impressionism in its broadest sense is merely an instance of how to paint from ebauche to direct. No, what you want on a course are building blocks not pre selected painting methods. Learn the principles, the building blocks of painting, and you’ll be able to paint in your way, not merely like your tutor or the thousand other students who’ve learned the instance of their style.

Demonstrations are the means to understand how principles work as in this foundational glazing demonstration

That’s why the Norfolk Painting School is built around teaching students the principles of painting, and despite being the leading  specialist oil school in the UK has no ‘house style’.

Our 2019 Courses are built around a structured way of teaching principles, from foundational courses on core skills to the rich, challenging and full foundation of our Diploma Course and the ‘deep dives’ of our specialist short courses, everything is designed to give you the principles you need to answer that burning question. Yes you will learn something – and specifically you will learn to paint like you.