When introducing painting students to the ideas of the Boston School, I often ask myself: “Are you giving them a key or are you locking them in?” As youth is wont to do, I recall decisively rejecting closed box methods. “This is how we do this and this is how we do that” almost inevitably felt like a trap to me; something which, rather than empower me, would make me a clone or a seconder of another’s personal predilections in painting. All manner of pastiche painters exist in the world today n the persons of individuals imitating Sargent, Bougeureau or other Academic painters, the Hudson River School, Barbizon painters, Impressionism, or even the Boston School itself.
The preoccupation of all students of painting should be first the mastery of nature, not the mastery of somebody else's technique, methods, or look. Those latter are merely necessary vehicles or starting points, but inevitably dangerous to full expression of truth (notice I didn't say “self expression” although it potentially affects that too) regarding the visible or rather visual world. Rather, the teacher’s task is to provide the names of the known elements of the visual world and the best, most effective, most efficient approach they themselves have acquired for their articulation. Unless that teacher is training apprentices to work in their own shop and thus purposely in their singular manner, success should not be measured by the attainment of the look of that approach, that manner, but by the truth of such work to the look of nature itself.
As Ingres and any sane master will indicate, nature is “la source” and not art itself. When an art becomes preoccupied with itself as it has in what were once the great art schools of the West, it inevitably faces decline and eventual erosion. That is no less true today. For example, dedication to outline appears as a method common among the numerous mannerisms of today's ateliers. Working from outlines has been referred to as a convention which is another word for manner. It has an inherent, non-visual, self defeating falseness based on a preoccupation with objects rather than the wholistic look of nature. Yet virtually every teacher in America employs it today.
Among the causes of their limited focus is a rejection of Boston School impressionism, a way of painting dedicated to the fullest - and the most efficient - expression of the look of nature. R. H. Ives Gammell himself referred to it as the greatest evolution of impressionism whose greatest antecedent was Velasquez himself. As I said, the Boston School's own approach is similarly fraught with pitfalls, should the student become attached to its manner rather than mastery of truth. In fact, the reason for the rejection of impressionism is simply its failures to address significant visual truths that the new academics since at least the sixties have set about reincorporating.
The modern student of representational painting needn't be a victim of the mannerisms of their times. Yet the only way to get past the locks and chains of today is to introduce oneself to a full understanding of the methods and thinking of the advanced impressionist - while at the same time approaching the best values and training associated with the academics. The Boston School thinking, rather than the academic Gammellized version of it underlying much of today's training, offers the key. Their logically combined mastery of both color and drawing provides a sound model for precise articulation of the whole look of nature, the foundation and base of our visual language, and therefore a truly greater means of personal self expression.