Over the weekend I watched a lovely indie film released in 2009 called Local Color. It was based on the true story in the early '70s of an aspiring teenage artist who develops a friendship with a reluctant and rather coarse Russian artist, Nikolai Serov, as played by Armin Mueller-Stahl. Let me say right now that anyone who is a painter--and by painter, I mean those who can actually create something meaningful with paint on canvas WITHOUT the assistant of a paint bar (more on those in a minute)--should make this film required viewing. Seriously, make a point of renting this one from your local library because you will probably relate to a lot of what Mueller-Stahl's character says in the movie about creating art. It's also a wonderful coming-of-age story.
|From the film Local Color. Now that's more like it.|
The second scene is when Serov is showing the same friend a series of paintings that were done by mentally challenged children that he mentors--and is more and more amused as his friend praises the blobs of blue and red paint for their "anger" and "pain" like they were recently discovered masterpieces.
Which brings me to this "paint bar" craze that has popped up all over the U.S. in the past 5 years or so. To be perfectly blunt, if the real-life Serov (whose real name was George Cherepov) have lived long enough to witness this fad, he would have labeled it the nasty word that means ca-ca. In case you don't know what a paint bar is, it's an art studio where you reserve a date and time (which usually costs about $40) and the instructor gives you a limited amount of paint colors, and step-by-step instructions over the course of an hour or so on how to recreate the painting. Oh, they usually tell you to bring your own bottle of wine, so you can get sloshed during the session--I assume to distract yourself from how terrible your painting is, or delude yourself into thinking that you are an artiste (said in a French accent.)
How is this any different than the paint-by-numbers kits that were popular in the '70s...depicting Elvis...on velvet?
I know, I sound like a snob. But I have every right to be. My mother is a very talented painter--having worked with oil paints her whole life, and other members of my family were artists. I took painting classes in high school and college, so I can tell you that one does not become a talented painter in an hour. It takes years of dedicated practice.
To be fair, some paintings offered by these gimmicky paint bars are much better than others. You can scroll through a website and choose which image you wish to duplicate, and I have seen some that approach professionalism. More often than not, however, these are cartoonish paintings that look like a child created them. I wish I could show one but many are copyrighted and I don't want to link to any paint bar. But for example, I saw one featuring two jumbled faces in a variety of awful colors you could choose to make that was called Paint Like Picasso. You get my drift.
I do think paint bars are a wonderful way for people with little aptitude for creativity to dip their toes into art. However, after a certain point, if one really loves it so much why not try the real thing? I've known people who got addicted to paint bars and kept going back...kept paying $40 a pop for yet another awful looking creation. Why would you want anyone to think your 6 year-old nephew did the wall art for your living space? If you're willing to spend that much money, why not use it to buy some paints, brushes, and canvases at the local Michael's store, and then invest in a good instructional book on painting to elevate your skills? Or just head on over to YouTube, where the instruction is plentiful and FREE?
I mainly see these places as another sign of our instant gratification-dependent society (and one that rejoices in giving a medal to every child, because everyone is talented.) I really can't see how you can gather any sense of accomplishment after a visit from a paint bar, because they're not challenging enough. Wouldn't you rather stretch your mind and problem solving abilities by trying to duplicate a painting without the basic instruction? That's how one learns.
It's like comparing a fast food meal to a gourmet, home-cooked one. When you're hungry, you can quench your appetite pretty quickly with McDonald's, but you may not feel so good afterwards about the sub-par ingredients you put into your body. Or you can crack open a cookbook and learn to make a healthy meal using your own hands. Which is ultimately more satisfying?
The only real benefit I see to paint bars are the social aspect, and I get that. But paint bars seem like an insult to real artists who invested in years of work and dedication to reach the level they are at. When you watch those instructional artists on PBS, they're demonstrating different techniques with their brushes--the kid of tips you'll never pick up from a paint bar. I bet Bob Ross and Bill Alexander are turning over in their graves from this darned craze.
Well, I guess I've bashed paint bars enough. All of this talk has kind of inspired me to dig out my oils and an empty canvas...but I'll leave the bottle of Riesling in the fridge.