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At the very least, this is sad, because copying from an original can teach the artist far more than what they will learn from a poster, or worse, a pixilated image on a computer monitor. It is maddening to see that most august institutions in North America have thrown up yet another roadblock to artistic literacy by preventing painting in their galleries. There are things an original has which does not transfer to a reproduction: layering, translucence, texture, brush strokes, and so much, much more. All of which ultimately separates the original from the simulacrum.
But the National Gallery in DC and the Met in NYC do allow serious painters to paint from their collections. In the case of the National Gallery, an artist must first apply, go through a vetting process, and then work on a set schedule – and there can only be one artist painting working in a gallery (or room) at a time. And of course, every copy must be two inches larger or smaller than the original for obvious reasons, and the artist must use the provided easel and drop cloth. And they must stand back from the painting just like anyone else. No going into a nose dive just because they've got a special badge around their neck...
All of those restraints are acceptable, even understandable, if we are allowed to paint from an original. And all of this would improved the level of painting going on in America. I was thrilled to see ten or twelve painters in the National Gallery during the brief time I had to walk around. It added to my experience to see these lucky painters working inside one of the greatest collections in the world. I hope I can convince my own hometown museum to follow suit. I'll certainly try.
Painting master copies won't turn you or I into a master artist. But it will allow us to peek into the mind of a master painter so venerated that his or her work has been preserved and displayed for centuries. Working from an original means you can deconstruct and then recreate the decisions those painters made in the past, and reproduce the edits and emphasis they employed, and gain from their insight, experience and knowledge. It's the 'standing on the shoulder of giants' thing.
Besides, painting in a museum would be a nice thing to do.
If you would like to work on your outdoor plein air painting skills with me in Tuscany check out the upper left corner of this blog. We are off to Italy next May and you could come too! We have five spots left. Email me if you want more information. – TJK