The Artist Philosophy William Ahrendt

Art is not the paint alone, but a medium for communication between the viewer and the artist.

If expression conveyed in a work of art is perceived by the beholder, a connection is shared that completes the work and links the artist and the viewer together. At that moment, Art comes to life. The artist and the viewer form an alliance of mutual fulfillment though the two may never meet.

- William Ahrendt


Click here to look over my shoulder as I paint!

Artist’s Philosophy:

If asked, I believe the artist should be prepared to answer the question,” where do you stand in art?”. His answer will best express his philosophy.

As an artist and a human being, I stand with human beings, with human individuals as well as their experience, history and struggle. I find human efforts, courage, skill and achievement full of interest for me.

In the arts, therefore, I look for human beings, a reflection of human experience and the human condition. I want art to be populated as it has been throughout the history of art.

However, in the time period during my years as a student I found myself in the midst of the abstract art movement in which few if any human figures are recognizable. The avant guard was to be followed and obeyed. A painting, we were taught, was physically a two-dimensional surface with an integrity of its own which was to be maintained and respected. “Allegiance to the plane” became the cry. Into the painters ear the modern art muse was demanded to whisper flat, flatter, flattest.

With Giotto, in the fourteenth century, the course of art turned to the rediscovery of the beautiful figure of classical times. The great artists of the following six hundred years, architects, sculptors and painters alike, inspired by this rebirth, made their visionary contributions for the creation of light on three dimensional form and form in space. And as in opera, books, plays, lyrics and virtually all the great paintings of history humans remained the medium of expression, they are the mime of illusion. They symbolize the person-to-person communication among people. The expression of all the feelings, emotions, actions and interactive experiences of the human condition are accessible to the artist through representation of the human figure.

Abruptly, however, the twentieth century student of painting was informed that the ingenious discoveries of art history denied flatness and produced, we were told, a “dishonest visual illusion of an imitation of nature”. This, it was pointed out, was inconsistent with an “allegiance to the plane” and should be abandoned. Discoveries of past masters were no longer applicable. The “new aesthetic” had displaced them and, for the student of painting, the artistic influence of art history had been eclipsed. The paint itself was now to be the subject of art.

Obviously, the great work of art history was to be viewed as neither a valid guide nor inspiration in the development of a modern painters education. This philosophic schism in art during the 20th century swept aside the professors whose heads, hands and hearts still grasped fine academic standards.

There is no question that the spirit crushing disasters of World War 1 along with their protracted negative repercussions throughout the century opened the door to cynicism, shock and rebellion in the arts. Yet neither Picasso, Zadkine, Goya nor Dix, among many others, abandoned the human figure when expressing the horrors of war. What, if anything, would their powerful creations express if the figures should be removed?

In following periods the wings of abstract artists were clipped to fit the flight path of each of the newer ism as they succeeded one another at shorter and shorter intervals. Artists were popularized and discarded as fast as TV commercials until - as Andy Warhol predicted - each was famous for his 15 minutes.

And among all their paintings a human being was scarcely to be found.

What foundations, I wondered, could long support an art without human beings?

I couldn’t buy it.

I knew that the human figure would always be my subject and that neither they nor the space they lived in were flat. I couldn’t abandon my reason for painting. What was I to do? I needed stars to guide me.

I decided to go to the source and study the paintings of my cultural heroes. Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, Velasquez and many others. All were waiting for me in Europe when I arrived on my Vespa.

I lived, worked, taught and painted in Europe for eleven years and stood before my teachers, the works of the masters, for a thousand hours. They knew how to paint. In the museums of Germany and Italy I copied their work, studied their lives and lived among their people.

In 1965 I passed the entrance examination and was accepted as a student of art in the Max Doerner Department of Painting Techniques at the Hoch Schule Der Bildenden Kunst in Munich. There, the questions, which I had concerning the technical materials and procedures employed in the paintings of the great periods, were answered, and the craftsmanship, which provides a solid foundation for permanence and quality in art, were attained.

In the streets, in the museums, in the cathedral and in the daily life experience of Europe I’d lived in the midst of art history and learned much about its roll in western culture. Upon returning to America in 1968 It seemed, therefore, only natural for me to complete a Masters Degree in Art History. I did so at Arizona State University.

My vision of art as a reflection of human life had already been revealed to me in my youth. And although I couldn’t have anticipated the circuitous path of decades that I was to follow in pursuit of my vision as a painter, I’ve never regretted a moment of the long journey.

I’ll close my comments on where I stand as a painter with some advice to young people interested in studying the classical approach to painting as a career.

I’m greatly encouraged by the rise in popularity and attendance of atelier schools of painting and sculpture which I find appearing throughout our country and in Europe. These schools promote a return to the academic training and standards of excellence in the visual arts. They provide a revival of responsible views in aesthetic philosophy and offer a forum for dialogue and exchange of expert information among educators and scholars. And - important in my view - they promote scholarship and research on the great artists of the past as well as the preservation of their techniques and methods.

One such atelier which may be worthy of your investigation is the Art Renewal Center.

Another, this one found in Europe in the home of the Renaissance, is The Florence Academy of Art. They have announced their goal to “ provide the highest level of instruction in classical drawing, painting and sculpture” and “to return to discipline in art, to canons of beauty, and to the direct study of nature and the Old Masters”.

William Harry Ahrendt was born the last day of February 1933, in Cleveland, Ohio. At age 7 he began drawing, having announced to his family that he was going to become an artist. Unwaveringly, he put art at the top of his priorities through public school years and through the Los Angeles Art Center School, and the Cleveland Institute of Art, Ohio, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1956. Winning the Institute’s prized travel scholarship at graduation allowed him to tour all the major museums of Europe from a studio base, which he established in Rome, Italy and later Munich Germany.

Taking residence in Germany, there followed a wide variety of art related occupations, ranging from serving as the Arts and Crafts Director for the U.S. Army in Giessen, Germany to directing the advertising department for The U.S. Air Force European Exchange Program in Wiesbaden.

During his 11 years in Europe his study of the work and techniques of the Old Masters remained his primary focus. In 1965 Ahrendt passed his entrance examination at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts where he studied in the Max Doerner Department of Painting Technology. There he scrutinized, researched and copied originals by Fra Angelico, Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Velazquez.

In 1968 Ahrendt’s European period of study ended and he returned to the United States where he completed his Masters Degree in Art History at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.

Throughout the following decade Ahrendt was a member of the Art Department faculty of Glendale Community College, Glendale, Arizona, where he became Art Department Chairperson.

In 1976 he designed and began construction on his studio home in the canyon country of central Arizona among the Pine forested canyon walls outside the small community of Pine.

Since 1979, after having resigned his position at Glendale College, Ahrendt has worked in his Pine studio supporting himself solely through the sale of his art. And has throughout past years acted as contributing editor for Arizona Highways Magazine in which his drawings, oils and tempera paintings have interpreted the full range of southwestern sagas from Spanish exploration to American occupation. He painted riverboat, stagecoach, saloon and ranching scenes, gunfights, missions, epic marches humble settlements and portraits of many historical American natives and their white counterparts.

These painted episodic adventures into the history of the American west - exposed in one of America’s premier regional journals - have contributed toward a following among lovers of paintings of American history and particularly of the 16th through 19th century theater of events west of the Mississippi. This following of art buyers continues to grow.

Today Ahrendt spends the majority of his time doing what his life has led him to love most. He works daily at his easel doing, primarily, commissions for paintings on the History of the American west.

He is also transforming his classroom-teaching skills and his love for painting into instructional DVD video demonstrations through which Ahrendt wishes to share with art interested students, teachers and collectors the many facets of information that his experiences in the field of art have proven important for the well rounded education of artist’s and art lovers.

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