I recently discovered Francis Cunningham blog and youtube channel, an amazing treasure trove from a perceptual master’s knowledge and experience.
Francis Cunningham has taught master classes at the Art Students League in New York City and taught many years at the Brooklyn Museum Art School as well as many other leading figurative art educational venues. His work is represented by the Laurel Tracey Gallery. He studied with Edwin Dickinson and Robert Beverly Hale at the Art Student’s League.
His blog has many excellent videos which discusses various aspects of his paintings in depth as well as his thoughts on painting in general. In a recent video he discusses a few of his early paintings made when he studied with Edwin Dickinson. Francis Cunningham talks at length about the process of color spot painting he learned from Dickinson. His website’s 2006 essay, A Vision of the Nude is also of interest as he further discusses his experience studying with Edwin Dickinson. Here is a brief quote from this essay.
Dickinson’s teaching vocabulary was perceptual. In the entire time I studied with him, he had given our class about an hour on perspective, and only because we’d begged him. Dickinson, a living master of perspective (see his Ruin at Daphne in the Metropolitan Museum), didn’t teach it in class nor did he take up anatomy. He stayed clear of all subjects – perspective, anatomy, composition theory, color theory and the like – that might function as a “preconceptions” and distract us from what the eye sees. He wanted us to record in paint or charcoal the shapes of “color-value” we saw in nature from a “station-point,” without interference from conceptual theories or concern for the “what-it-is” of the objects or shapes before us. A mud puddle is as interesting to a painter as a human being; to paint either requires the same detachment from expectations, such as “the human being is ‘beautiful’ and the mud puddle ‘ugly.’”
Dickinson, never in any way insistent, invited us to give ourselves over completely to the eye, the plumb-line, the “how-high-for-how-wide” of perception and the “how-light-for-how-dark,” the “how-warm-for-how-cool” of what was before our eyes. Our eyes were what mattered, not those of someone else, the instructor, or some bygone master of the past. It was incredibly exciting as we learned to see and to trust ourselves and our eyes.
Dickinson’s teachings were highly selective: he addressed some issues and left out others. In its relationship to academic painting, his was a revolutionary training for the eye. At the same time, it was frustratingly incomplete for the budding painter, for there was no direction beyond that of seeing. This, too, was intentional on Dickinson’s part. He did not wish to influence us in “the art of it.”