Fixing Painting’s Image Problem – How a Painter Becomes a Craftsman Part 2 – Aesthetic Appreciation

Fixing Painting’s Image Problem – How a Painter Becomes a Craftsman
Part 2 – Aesthetic Appreciation

By Mario Guertin, President – PDCA Craftsmanship Forum,
President – Painting in Partnership, Inc.
Steve Scanlan, Decorative Finisher, Painting in Partnership, Inc.

In Part 1 of this series, we made the point that the image problem we face as painters can be solved by elevating our level of seriousness about the work we do as painters. Specifically, our work can be viewed from 3 different angles: Vigilance, Aesthetic Appreciation and Technical Know-how. In reality, painters who stick around painting for a few years already operate to varying degrees in each of these realms. However, most painters are not aware that the work they do is that significant and that demanding. Consequently, painters are not focused on sharpening those key skills and undermine their credibility and perception by the general public. In other words, painters hinder their ability to grow as true craftsmen and gain the respect and sense of fulfillment they would truly deserve. This series of articles is designed to enable painters to get clear about what makes a painter a true craftsman and how to go about sharpening those skills, so that, in the long run, we can get the place in the sun we truly deserve.

The first article focused on Vigilance and how a painter begins establishing himself as a craftsman by first engaging his mind and acknowledging that to successfully complete a painting project, a lot of thought is needed and many little details need to be attended to. Vigilance is the ability to be focused mentally so that, as a job unfolds, all the issues can be handled effectively and in a cost efficient manner. We will now turn to the second aspect of Craftsmanship Development: Aesthetic Appreciation. This article is about recognizing and owning the artistic dimension of painting and identifying key practices a painter must have in order to develop that key set of skills.

Defining Aesthetic Appreciation

Why do we paint? To make money, yes, but for those of us who choose to make painting our “thing”, there is more to it than that. Isn’t there? We like to make things “look better”! If you were to survey painters (you do if your hire them) who love to paint, you would find that the number one thing that gets them out of bed in the morning, besides paying the bills, is the satisfaction they get from “making things look better”. The principles embodied in “making things look better” are the principles of Aesthetics! Webster defines Aesthetics in this way: “a guiding principle in matters of artistic beauty and taste; artistic sensibility”. In this article, we will explore those principles, as they relates to a painting project. We will also look at ways you can sharpen that key craftsmanship skill.

Vigilance featured the Mind. Aesthetic Appreciation features the Eyes. Aesthetic Appreciation is the ability of the human eye to distinguish what enhances the beauty of a room through the painted work. In other words, aesthetic appreciation can be thought of as an understanding of what makes things look good and the desire to accomplish that result. A craftsman finds pleasure and inspiration in producing aesthetically pleasing work. As a painter, a key goal should be to become aware and own the artistic dimension of painting. The second goal should be to find ways to develop that key skill. We believe that it is not sufficient for painters to do want to do good work. Painters also need to educate themselves about the artistic and aesthetic nature of painting.

Aesthetics – A Trend in the Marketplace

It is our belief that there is a cultural renaissance going on in the marketplace regarding aesthetics. More than ever, people are investing in the beauty of their homes. Evidence for this trend abound. Examples are:

  • People are remodeling their homes at an astonishing rate.
  • There is an abundance of home improvement shows on television.
  • Baby Boomers have the desire and financial means to educate themselves about aesthetics.
  • The marketplace is increasingly educated about what “looks good”. An entire industry is devoted to educating the taste and aesthetic appreciation of consumers.
  • Homeowners have largely abandoned traditional decorative staples like wallpaper in favor of the more adventurous and artistic painted finishes.

Because of the strength of these trends, it is especially important for painters not only to be aligned with this movement, but also to be on the cusp (or perhaps lead) by being more educated about aesthetics than their own clients.

At this stage, it is important to point out that when we use the words “aesthetics” and “artistic”, we do not limit it to the purely decorative aspects of painting. The point here is that if you handle a paintbrush, you are involved in aesthetics, that you are aware of it or not. Many painters disown the artistic aspect of painting because they think it is not masculine enough, even borderline sissy. Claiming the artistic aspect of painting also implies owing up to the fact that painters are “sensitive” people who are attuned to the fact that their work touches people’s lives in important and profound ways. Is that the view you have of yourself and your work?

I bet you would be surprised if your doctor did not know what it meant to be healthy; the same thing goes for a painter not to know how “he/she” makes things look good and not be able to converse with the client about such matters. Becoming more knowledgeable in this aspect of painting is essential for painters to develop as Craftsmen.

Principles of Aesthetic Appreciation

We have all heard the phrase that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Although it is true that there is a wide range of tastes and preferences, there do exist some Basic Principles of Aesthetic Appreciation that can be applied to painting. These principles are the building blocks of what makes something “pleasing to the eye”. Training your eyes to recognize and follow those few principles creates the foundation for “making things look better”. The Basic Principles are:

  • Symmetry
  • Harmony
  • Balance
  • Order

Examples of Aesthetics in Painting

The terms above can seem ethereal and vague concepts. When understood, they can however be used to train the eye to gauge the aesthetic standard of a project. We thought a few practical examples would help illustrate the concepts.

    1. New Crown Molding
      To understand the concept, think of the crown molding when it is first installed. It looks a bit like an eyesore, being raw wood, with scores of holes, gaps and inconsistencies. However, if it is properly painted, it will add to the aesthetics of the room. The crown will add lines along the ceiling, which will help the Symmetry and Balance of the room. It will also create more Harmony and Order with the baseboard, windows and door trim. Simply put, the proper painting of a crown molding increases the aesthetic value of a room by raising the levels of all the principles of aesthetics.

 

  1. Removal of Wallpaper and Repaint of a Room
    Old wallpaper that is discolored and has curling edges no longer adds to the aesthetic value of the room and, actually, it takes away from it. However, the removal and the repaint of such a room can be a disaster and its aesthetic not much improved if a non-professional attempts it. Several things could happen that would detract from the final look and negatively affect the aesthetics of the room:

    • If the old adhesive is not completely removed, it will cause the paint to crackle and produce Inconsistencies in the finish.
    • Also, if the damage done to the drywall during removal is not properly repaired, an unpleasant texture will result with a similar effect on the aesthetics of the room.
    • Finally, if the trim is not caulked to the walls, the room will look out of Balance and Unsymmetrical.
  2. Applying a Glazed Finish to Walls
    Decorative Finishing also present many aesthetic challenges to the painter, that he/she be a professional or not. Here are some of the danger areas:

    • If the edges of the finish are not straight and tight against the trim and ceiling lines, the Symmetry and Order of the room will be compromised.
    • If wet edge problems develop, the Harmony will be negatively affected.
    • If the application is blotchy, a similar irritating effect will be produced.
    • If the glaze color “is off”, the room will lack Balance and Order.

    The aesthetic challenges presented by decorative painting explain why only a small fraction of painters are adept at it. The reason is that to execute successful installations of decorative finishes, a painter must have gained a more advanced level of competency in applying the Principles of Aesthetics. As painters gain in their ease with these principles, the domain of Decorative Painting opens up as a field of fruitful painting endeavor.

As you can see from the examples above, a lot of effort goes into a painting project to produce a result that is aesthetically pleasing. The reason it is aesthetically pleasing is that it satisfies the basic principles stated above. Everybody who has been a painter for a while has at least some inkling of the principles of Aesthetic Appreciation; otherwise they would not have stuck around painting, no pun intended. What we are talking about here is becoming conscious and purposeful in applying aesthetic principles, because this is what true Craftsmen do to develop their skills and, over time, become Masters at what they do.

How to Develop One’s Aesthetic Competencies

Contrary to the common belief, Aesthetic Appreciation is a learned skill, like any other skill a painter learns. Similarly, through conscious effort and the use of some simple practices, painters can develop those skills and, over time, achieve fantastic results. So, what can be done to develop those skills? We thought of developing a self-assessment tool that can be used to both give you an inventory of the main ways to grow in this area, as well as to enable you to get a read on how engaged you are in process of developing your skills and where you stand on the Competency Scale.

Conclusion

As painters develop competency in applying the principles of aesthetics to their work, they become able to advise their customers about what looks good and help them to beautify their environment. Artists are not born and Aesthetic Appreciation is not acquired overnight. However, awareness and practice in this key area lead the painter a step closer to being a true Craftsman and gaining the status and respect he/she deserves.

Self-Assessment Tools

1 – Practices for Developing Aesthetic Appreciation Skills

Key
1 = never
2 = sometime
3 = often or competent

This tool is designed to give you a handle on how engaged you are in the process of sharpening your Aesthetic Appreciation Skills

 

Have Studied the PDCA definition for a
“Properly Painted Surface”
1
2
3
Ask questions of more competent workers regarding
Finishing standards
1
2
3
Seek feedback from more competent workers regarding
Finished work
1
2
3
Observe the finished work of others, good or bad
1
2
3
Observe finished work where ever you happen to be Touch and “feel” finished surfaces
1
2
3
Visit Parade of Homes or Showcase Homes in area
1
2
3
Seek to observe the work of experts or masters
1
2
3
Look at Home DŽcor magazines
1
2
3
Take classes to learn higher levels of finished work
1
2
3
Consult books on decoration
1
2
3
Observe what you seek to imitate, such as stonework
1
2
3
Observe what you seek to imitate, such as woods
1
2
3
Observe what you seek to imitate, such as shadows
1
2
3
Observe finished surfaces where ever you are
1
2
3
Submit one’s work for peer review
1
2
3
Total

 


2 – Competency Scale

This tool is designed to help you assess the current level of development of your Aesthetic Appreciation Skills.

Level
Basic Recognizes a “Properly Painted Surface”
1
Has a general understanding of 4 Principles of Aesthetics
2
Can Fulfill a basic request to “make something look good”
3
Advanced Knows color (compatibility, matching, mixing)
4
Knows differences between woods and can match stains
5
Knows basic Decorative Finishing techniques
6
Master Can reproduce the look of nature (stone, wood, shadows…
7
Looks at something painted and can reproduce it
8