How is Art Like Surfing?

Unfinished Self Portrait 14x18 Oil

Unfinished Self Portrait
14×18 Oil

Have you ever witnessed a popular surfing spot? It makes a great object lesson. Surfers paddle two or three hundred yards out against the tide to get to the perfect spot. While some are struggling to swim, others have caught the big wave. Some are ducking out of the way as the surfers glide by.

Try to visualize the waves as trends in art.

Surfers work hard to paddle out. Similarly, artists struggle to learn and find their artistic voice.

Surfers finally get to that sweet spot and catch a wave; those paddling stop to watch them glide by. Similarly, artists still in the water of obscurity see others riding a new artistic trend, yelling, “Here’s how to paint.” Those struggling are growing anxious, thinking “I should be on THAT wave.”

Some surfers ride a wave till it runs out; others get off the wave halfway and struggle back to a prime spot; still others catch a smaller wave halfway to their goal. Similarly, some artists hope they eventually catch a good wave and can ride out an easy career; others see the times changing, and decide to jump off the wave and struggle back to a sweet spot; still others choose a smaller wave halfway out, abandoning the difficulty of the struggle.

It’s an organic visual loaded with metaphor, isn’t it.

The tide that pushes against every artist is the fear that the best things are passing us by. Steven Pressfield personifies it as an enemy called Resistance in his book “The War of Art”. He says, “Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer resistance.”

One example of an artistic trend is the American “plein air movement”. It’s on a bell curve just like everything else. It will change (already it has different regional expressions), and most likely it will, like all waves, sink in the ocean to manifest another day.

Lime Tree 16x20 Oil

Lime Tree
16×20 Oil

I see this movement of outdoor painting as a vehicle to help me find my niche. I have to think of my future beyond this trend, and so do you. In a way, I’m jumping off the wave lately and paddling again. It’s exciting, and I’m scared and full of expectation at the same time.

Fortunately, there’s a bigger wave building that we can be excited about—it’s the interest in art in general! There’s still a ways to go, but the swell is evident. It’s a great time to be an artist. It’s a great time to be studying and growing. It’s a great time to teach. Today’s students of art are the future art collectors. There’s an awesome set of waves coming.

The more I’m in this career, the more I feel this growing wave. I want to be out front.

If you feel it too, here’s what I recommend: know art history intimately; don’t stop studying it, and be respectful of ALL OF IT. The history we’ve been dealt is a proverbial pearl of great price. We’re not innovating; we’re standing on tall shoulders. There comes a time to wean yourself from just painting for the “love of it.” It’s something to take seriously. Look to artists that don’t appeal to you on the surface. Read about their lives. Your work will have a deeper look and meaning if you let diverse stories and styles influence you.

Degas and Corot were two artists known for this kind of profound reverence. From the book “Corot in Italy”, it was said that his great accomplishment during his formative Italian journey was to “…fuse the empirical candor of outdoor painting with the pictorial rigor of the classical tradition.” He was respectful of the traditions he came from, and yet, before nature, he looked with fresh eyes and produced work way beyond his time.

In the book Degas by Jean-Jacques Leveque, it was said, “Like Manet, he (Degas) was torn between his reverence for the past and his visions of the future.” While others like Monet and Pissaro were dismissive of the romantic traditions in the Parisian art scene, Degas was respectful of it and payed homage to it, and yet fused it with his growing love of the Impressionists broken color. He implored his peers to temper their reactionary speech.

This is important to note because some artists and art movements today want to react dismissively to the art movements of the Twentieth Century. How will we ever have real conversations with the curators of the avant-garde if we don’t have a healthy respect for what they represent? But that’s a discussion for another time.

[One way you can catch this vision is to join me and Jason Sacran in Italy the summer of 2017 as we introduce you to one of the most influential communities in the world of representational art, JSS in Civita, through our workshop “In The Birthplace of Outdoor Painting”. Go to to learn more.]

Let’s get ready for the big wave! HANG LOOSE my friends.

John P. Lasater IV has had many awards at plein air events and national exhibitions, and has been featured in Southwest Art and Plein Air Magazine. He also served as a
speaker and demonstrator for the 2015 Plein Air Convention and the 2016/17 Plein Air South Conventions. He will be demonstrating at the 2017 OPA National Exhibition.
Be Sociable, Share!

Upcoming OPA Events

OPA 2018 National Exhibition OPA 2018 National Exhibition
Oil Painters of America’s Twenty-seventh Annual National Exhibition will be held at the Steamboat Art Museum (SAM), Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from June 1 through September 3, 2018. Learn More!
OPA 2016 Summer Online Showcase OPA 2017 Fall Online Showcase
The Fall 2017 Online Showcase is from October 1 - December 15, 2017 and will be open to Associate and Signature members. Learn More!
  • Maria Hock

    When I saw the analogy of surfing and painting I was skeptical and afraid it was a sensational headline meant to drag you to an article with little content. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the comparison and having read it I will pay more attention to more diverse art styles. Thanks so much for an insightful comparison that made me think, analyze, and broaden my horizons.

    • John Porter Lasater IV

      Thank you so much Maria. 🙂

  • john pototschnik

    Excellent blog post, John. Great analogy. Also, congratulations on your OPS win…first two time winner.

    • John Porter Lasater IV

      Thank you John. I was sad to not be there to shake your hand last Friday. You’re a BIG inspiration, my friend.

  • Knowledgeable blog ! Thanks for sharing !

    • John Porter Lasater IV

      Thank you Riya

  • Younis

    Indeed, a nice blog, John. However, you can reach a larger audience through Mahjool, where the artists open their online studio and get orders while at home.
    It was captivating throughout!

    • John Porter Lasater IV

      I’ll have to check into that!

  • John, this was an exceptional blog post. I think it hit home more for me after attending as a faculty member the Plein Air South event and heard so many different voices saying very similar things. I was told many years ago, one day I would not read as much about technique, and be more interested in the lives of artists…. that these lives would mean more and help more in my own quest for learning. You have stated some of the things that I have been trying to formulate in my own mind and how to go about the continued learning. Thank you for your words.

    • John Porter Lasater IV

      That’s awesome Marsha. Thanks for saying something. I agree about starting to love reading about the lives of artists.