I am a sculptor who works in stone and in wax for bronze. I have been running a private art school for the last 27 years – The Arts Centre Verrocchio, near Siena, Tuscany. We have excellent landscape painters teaching painting here during the summer. I have always been interested in the art of drawing, including what I call the syntax of drawing.  I teach drawing and sculpture, summer and winter.

My teaching has led me to a number of discoveries which are important to artists but disturb the status quo in Art History, and so have been thrust aside. The Rembrandt discoveries are particularly important because they  should change our expectations of what an artist might achieve from the imagination unaided by observation. Rembrandt advised his students to learn from nature “anything else was worthless in his eyes”. Yet the “experts” believe that his biblical subjects were imagined not observed. My web site www.saveRembrandt.org.uk proves otherwise.

We have a Museum of Artists’ Secrets here which will provide much of the subject matter for this blog. We will be exploding the myths wished upon us (unwittingly?) by art history. Those myths have the effect of separating us, today’s artists, from the great masters of the past who could have so much to teach us if they did not appear to be such unnaturally talented giants to us.

Since Philip Steadman’s “Vermeer’s Camera”it has become generally accepted that that was the way he achieved his miraculously toned paintings. Few have stopped to ask, as Lawrence Gowing did, how the “dark image” seen in a camera obscura could have helped Vermeer achieve such an unprecedented sense of light.

Steadman was trained as an architect and his investigation is focused on the dimensions which could have been equally well observed through as simple a device as Durer’s glass screen with fixed eyepiece. He seems to have little appreciation of what Vermeer means to the painting community. He produces very convincing evidence that a lens was used at some point because the fixed lens of the camera obscura gives it a very limited depth of field which is evidenced in many Vermeers. The camera obscura is in many ways a positive handicap to the painter, giving a little help in drafting but none in painting. I have deduced from “Ars Pictoria” perhaps Vermeer’s most famous painting, a cryptic message for painters which will fill the central gap in Steadman’s otherwise fascinating book.

We are conducting an experiment using Vermeer’s studio set up with two mirrors, which is outstandingly useful for the study of tone. This blog will include up dates on that and many other subjects I have researched; such as life casting in ancient Greece, Roman carving technique and its legacy, the recent archaeological finds under the cathedral in Siena, Lorenzo Maitani, a very great humanist sculptor, whom few have ever heard of, etc.

But the main purpose of this blog is to create a forum of discussion on ways of developing a new approach to art and art history to supersede the present, established dictatorship in art. My suggestion is “New Humanism”. Let us hear from you.

The topics will be -
New Humanism,   The Verrocchio School,   Art History, (practical & theoretical hints for artists and critics) and anything else that might crop up on our way.

10 Responses to “About”

  1. nkonstam says:

    Thanks Dominic, The Museum of the True History of Art is now open. The Konstam Sculpture Museum will be open by Easter, it looks splendid.

  2. dominic konstam says:

    Nigel — while it is sad to see the so-called scale back, I just wanted to confirm that we continue to follow your blow by blow successes from the exhibition in Todi to the proposed museum in Casole? A wonderful testament not just to what you have done for Casole but also the art world in general. Meanwhile whereever we can, we continue to carry the flag for Rembrandt and “his pupils”! All the best and keep well Dominic.

  3. Tony Lyle says:

    The Verrocchio Art Centre is now on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/centroverrocchio

  4. NK says:

    Thank you Mary W. I am glad you like the site, it was designed by my daughter Hannah, please drop in or send an email any time

  5. Mary Winterfield says:

    Hello Nigel, I met you 24 years ago outside of Florence. We had lunch together and you took me to your studio which was full of mirrors and Rembrandt figures! Tonight I encountered your book which you had given to me! I am a painter and was living in Venezuela at that time. Now I live in Los Angeles and continue to paint and teach at Art Center College of Design (Pasadena) drawing and painting. I never forgot our encounter! What a wonderful website. I would love to be in touch. Mary Winterfield

  6. Clive Pates says:

    > The ‘New Humanist’ label seems a good starting point (and title -
    > can I associate myself with this?) for a group of people to rally
    > around.. I, We, moved to the US. because I felt pretty neglected by the
    > ‘Art Scene’ structures in place in the UK.. Granted, figurative art,
    > or a re-evaluation of this following post-war
    > abstraction/conceptualism is in its infancy, but the complete denial
    > of anything that steps out of the parameters that the ‘Art Scene
    > Darlings’, are setting themselves is very intimidating. You are very
    > correct in your assumption that the art historians have taken over the
    > show, I have written about this briefly on my website:
    > The uniqueness of the Plein-Air painting is its reliance on direct
    > perception. In the simplest sense, there is no place for the literary
    > intellect that plays such an important role in much contemporary art
    > today. The image has to exist on an emotional level if it is to hold
    > any meaning at all. (I would suggest that all great painting must have
    > this emotional depth.) Plein-Air work must rely solely on the
    > integrity of the paint surface to convey meaning. Without the
    > literary level of interpretation, purely representational work is
    > often demoted to the level of craft. Often contemporary Plein-Air
    > painting can describe a type of painting that is a purely technical
    > exercise, an act of mimicry. The painting becomes less than a
    > topographical record.
    > As a counterpoint to this, it can equally be said that much
    > contemporary modern art has been reduced to an imposed meaning – the
    > picture’s only reason for being is the framework of belief that is
    > created through critical interpretation. The common misconception is
    > that the analysis and commentary of the picture is the justification
    > for the work. This creates a barrier to the act of looking. The
    > translation of the image into written language becomes more important
    > than a simple interpretation of the picture surface.
    > The 19th Century /Plein-Air/ movement created a unique point in the
    > history of painting: a revelation of meaning and aesthetic depth
    > without reliance on anything but the picture surface and translation
    > of the landscape in front of the artist, a point of conscious
    > deliberation that gave new impetus to the painted mark as gestural
    > expression. The prescribed meanings and structures of the
    > institutional art academies were thrown off, and the capacity of the
    > image to express emotional depth was restored. Over the next century,
    > from this starting point, experimentation and the need to break down
    > older structures of meaning extended boundary lines in terms of the
    > way we understand painting. There were created rich new techniques
    > and possibilities for using paint that could only have evolved with an
    > understanding of the purely abstract forms of painting developed
    > through this conscious act of looking.
    > Unfortunately, this very process of understanding conjured the
    > literary imagination and started to bury that initial potential
    > beneath a new literary web of imposed meaning.
    > Contemporary painting can be prescriptive and rely on a very developed
    > art community structure for success or failure, so once again we can
    > see a new academia reigning over the way we perceive art. There is a
    > need for reappraisal within contemporary art and a re-evaluation of
    > traditional realism is long overdue. The full paced flight of the
    > 19th century Modernist artist from all that was academic and
    > traditional is now a redundant concept. Purely perceptual painting is
    > now placed outside of the newly formed art academy structures and is
    > the low art counterpoint to the glorious and triumphant modernist
    > experiment. (A fact also reminiscent of the place Alla-Prima painting
    > occupied when compared to its High Art counterparts on the walls of
    > the fashionable 19th Century French salon).
    > Plein-Air painting is in a similar position to its historical starting
    > point, but now, due to Modernism, the gestural mark is liberated from
    > its links to realism and topography. Ironically, the landscape painter
    > is also liberated from strictures of a traditional framework of
    > meaning. The landscape painter has the potential to re-integrate the
    > last century of experimentation into the landscape. The landscape can
    > now be seen in its purist form of the abstract mark, perceived and
    > invested with meaning.
    > Surely such a turn around would justify the imposition of a major full
    > stop after the last hundred years of art history? One thing can be
    > said, within all movements and ism’s, when painting comes from the
    > heart, and taps into this fundamental emotional energy, something
    > truly exciting and memorable happens. It can also be said that when a
    > particular movement taps into this ground swell, all barriers of
    > intellectual meaning are broken and the work becomes truly democratic
    > and capable of appreciation on the highest to lowest levels of
    > understanding. Witness the massive interest in Plein-Air painting at
    > the hobby level, and the increasing publicity given to a lively and
    > growing movement that is attracting more and more serious painters.

  7. NK says:

    The Vermeer experiment has been delayed by ‘flu and a christmas visit . It will resume in the New Year. Meanwhile Rembrandt’s syntax will be examined.

  8. NK says:

    I hope we dont have to wait 50 years for the reappraisal of art history. If you visit http://www.saveRembrandt.org.uk you will see I am not short of ideas as to how to do that.
    Coming shortly on this blog “Vermeer’s Method”

  9. NK says:

    Thank you. I am probably of the last generation to get art history from artists (Camberwell 1955-7) I regard it as an essential part of my work as a sculptor. I have made a number of discoveries in the field which I think even the sceptical will find interesting.

  10. Dear Mr. Konstam,

    Ever since the late 1980s I have stated that when art history will be re-written in say, fifty or a hundred years, that book will look quite different to the one we now get to see. One of the problems as I see it is that with the avantgarde ideologies art historians and art ideologists and art theorists and art critics have all put in their effort to spin “contemporary art” to a bright blazing future.
    I am very much in favour of cutting out that motley crowd, but the problem with many artists nowadays is that their knowledge of art history is so patchy. Already in my time at the academy of fine arts (in Groningen, Holland) art history was relegated to a (very distant!) back seat. In the four years of “free artist training” (as it was called) I did after doing three years of training to become an art teacher (which included a comprehensive study of art history with Jansson and Gombrich as our basic text books) I was appalled to learn that only one paper of not more than eight pages was required on a favourite artist… (My own paper, on the influence of photography on late 19th century art, about forty pages, got me very low marks because the art history teacher wasn’t interested in spending any time reading it. I took it to the university library and lent it to the librarian who later told me I ought to have it published, and that it had “academic leanings” —she said “quality” but looking back I think “leanings” is better.)
    In my dealings with several hundred artists I have found that in general even basic knowledge of art history is seriously lacking, not only among artists in Netherlands, but also in the UK, France and Germany. In Sweden however, I have found that people are very much aware of their art tradition, and often proud of it.
    So I’d be in favour of a blog, if only to learn from the knowledge of others and, perhaps,if it would be possible, to contest these views if they clash with my own.
    So, let it rip, I say!

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