If you study art history, as I have, you’ll learn that evidence of plein air painting goes back a few hundred years. Over time, painters have been inspired to take brush and canvas outside. As a result, small plein air movements have arisen. The best known were Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and the Barbizon School. But each of these involved just a handful of artists.
Of course, America has its own rich history with the Hudson River School, which involved sketching, oil sketching, and in some rare cases, full paintings on location. Later, artists like Theodore Robinson, J. Alden Weir, and a small number of others who had lived and studied in Paris brought their impressionist styles back to America. As a result, plein air movements grew up in the East and in the West.
But nothing in the history of art has ever seen a movement this large, a movement that has become a lifestyle. I like to say it’s the new golf. Whether amateurs, hobbyists, or professionals, thousands of artists are living the lifestyle of outdoor painting. Like golf, it is mentally challenging and stimulating, it’s social, and it’s relaxing and allows you to forget everything else for a while. It involves being outdoors in beautiful places, provides some exercise, and can even lead to world travel. But unlike golf, it means using your creative brain and is an outlet for developing your artistic ability. And for some it can provide an income, or at least the gratification of being occasionally involved in shows or sales.
We are seeing thousands adopt this lifestyle, which means more painters’ groups, more events and shows, and more people being exposed to original art and collecting it. They are also joining the exotic trips PleinAir magazine has created (Cuba, Africa, New Zealand), and attending retreats that are all painting and not workshops, like my Adirondack and Fall Color Week events. Of course they want to be part of a community and want to learn and grow, which is why the Plein Air Convention & Expo is now attracting about a thousand people each year.
Our PleinAir Podcast [click here to listen] has also been bringing more people into painting. Like last time, we expect a hundred or so people to show up at our next convention who have never painted before and who’ll buy all their supplies at the event. And we’re seeing more young people coming into the plein air lifestyle.
Our role is to not only create experiences that scratch their itch to participate, but to hold up the best examples of quality and encourage growth and high standards.
This annual guide is evidence of the growth and success of this movement. We all play a role in keeping it moving forward, helping it grow, while keeping standards high so that plein air does not become known for low-quality artwork, but for high-quality paintings, often created after years or decades of experience and growth.
We can keep this movement growing and alive for generations to come by helping others paint — reinforcing my goal of helping 1 million people learn to paint, because it changes lives. Most will never go pro, will never do shows or even show their work, yet with our help they will be introduced to a life as an artist, which is rich and rewarding. Thank you for the role you play.
This article originally appeared in a PleinAir magazine supplement titled “The Ultimate Artists’ & Collectors’ Guide to Plein Air Events & Organizations.” Click here to subscribe to PleinAir magazine so you never miss an issue.