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.

Upcoming OPA Events

Salon Show 2021 Salon Show
The Salon Show will be hosted by Quinlan Visual Arts Center, located in Gainesville, Georgia, June 10 through August 7, 2021 Learn More!
OPA Summer 2021 Online Showcase OPA Summer 2021 Online Showcase
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2021 National Convention & Wet Paint Competition 2021 National Convention & Wet Paint Competition
The 2021 National Convention & Wet Paint Competition will take place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from August 24 - 29, 2021. Learn More!
Eastern Regional Exhibition 2021 Eastern Regional Exhibition
The Eastern Regional Exhibition will be hosted by the ArtCenter Manatee, located in Bradenton, Florida, September 28 through October 22, 2021. Learn More!
Western Regional Exhibition 2021 Western Regional Exhibition
The Western Regional Exhibition will be held October 15 through November 27, 2021 at the Mary R. Koch Arts Center (Mark Arts), located in Wichita, Kansas. More details to be announced as they become available. Learn More!