Frogs and Flounders

I spoke last week with an artist who complained that too many people who take painting classes are dilettantes.

“You meet a lot of people who, frankly, are all doing the same bad painting over and over,” she said. “They’re not serious. They’re just there.”

My own experience of painting classes is quite different.

Through the years, the classes I’ve taken in large part are filled with painters determined to improve—and who demonstrate their determination week after week after week.

In fact, I envy the skills of most of the people I’ve taken classes with. (Some are so skilled I question why they ever enrolled.)

Classifying writers, philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously divided the world into “hedgehogs and foxes.”

Based on my encounters with painters in art classes, I divide the world into frogs and flounders.

Photo courtesy Randall Graham

Frogs leap from painting to painting, nearly always showing incremental improvement in their artistic skills.

Many, in fact, leapfrog from one painting to the next, their skills growing palpably each time. (I secretly hate them.)

Flounders, on the other hand, even when their paintings’ subjects differ, paint the same bad painting over and over and over.

They never leap.

They merely bob.

Sociologists use the term “floundering” to describe the hapless state of the 20-year-old who bounces from his parent’s couch to a menial job, then back again.

He has no bearings, no goals, and no grounding, except for courses in things like Klingon, Lego Robotics and Cyberfeminism (yes, these are actual college courses).

As it happens, flounders are in small supply in the painting classes I’ve taken, while, miraculously, frogs abound.