Why the Plein Air Circuit is like Endless Art School
By Mark Shasha
The pursuit of becoming a fine artist is an ongoing journey. One rarely arrives at perfect mastery, but in aiming for it we finally achieve creative freedom, approach the canvas with intention and create work as close as possible to a perfect reflection of what was intended. Though the goal may be unattainable, there is joy in its pursuit, an adventure of constant learning and an openness to improvement.
One of the things I love about doing plein air events around the country is that it gives me robust artistic challenges similar to the best educational experiences I had in art school years ago.
A love of drawing and telling stories led me to RISD. After school I pursued writing and illustrating children’s books with Simon and Schuster. Eventually this led to painting as collectors started buying my work. But the transition to fine art from Illustration is an ongoing education.
The national plein air events are part of that continuing education for me. The seriousness of the other artists challenges me to do my best just as my fellow students at RISD once did.
1. “Homework” - Each event comes with an assignment. We must go out and create a specified number of paintings in a particular area in a limited amount of time, usually a week, regardless of the weather conditions.
2. “Classmates” - There are usually 30-40 other painters, and my work will be exhibited alongside theirs. Many are familiar faces from other events. Like fellow classmates, we quietly challenge each other to create our best work.
3. “A Deadline” - At the end of the week all paintings are exhibited. After framing we throw a big party, critique each other’s work, receive awards, make notes about progress and invite the community to drop by. Their purchases bring the added reward to the accomplishment.
It adds up to a wonderful experience for an extroverted painter like myself who enjoys being fully immersed in the work as well as the world around us. It is not for everyone. Many painters prefer the solace and reflective quiet of a studio and these painting events can be chaotic. The pressures can be stressful. There are only a few dozen serious Plein Air events in the country and the same 250 artists apply to participate. It is notable how few artists in the nation are working in the Plein Air circuit for a living.
Though the events are fun reunions, and each event has its unique creative demands and adventures, the point is to keep getting better. Otherwise, it can be an expensive gamble few can afford.
Not unlike art school itself.