And in summer, I paint

As I look at the scene below, I get to thinking: Is our dichotomous approach to or understanding of how we learn what we make of it? Through art, I continue to question not just how do we learn, but why do we learn?

Elbsandsteingebirge, Germany

In looking through the history of art, I’ve become entirely fascinated by the pedantic formality of art education and the rejection of that very thing. More so, I’ve grown intrigued by their cyclical nature and metaphysical influence of one another—how new movements are self-catalyzed through the rejection of their predecessors. Rather than being torn between academic study and its inverse, I’ve become interested in their simultaneous pursuits. The cross roads of the study and the anti-study, where formality informs the abstract and vice versa.

I’m left with the questions:

What happens when you reject the rejection? Does meta-critique come full circle or can we continue pushing further?

Étude stems directly from French, meaning “study.” When used as a noun, an étude is “a study or technical exercise, later a complete and musically intelligible composition exploring a particular technical problem in an esthetically satisfying manner.”1 As the étude became an academic or formal practice in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, plein-air painting (experiencing painting in the “open air”) became the painting equivalent of a musical étude. Inherent in every technical exercise is not just how but why? Formality focuses on the how while abstraction questions why. While plein-air painting was intended to be an étude—a technical study of nature—Impressionists painters pushed past it’s intent by asking why. Paula Rea Radisich writes, “In England, it is very well known, [William] Turner and [John] Constable applied their considerable creative energies to the sketch after nature and transformed the étude from an academic exercise to an autonomous work of art.”2

Paul Cézanne on the hill of Les Lauves, 1906. Photographs by Ker-Xavier Roussel.

Are you of the thought, “I’ll believe it when I see it?” Or the inverse, “I’ll see it when I believe it?” Or do you truly have to be of either school of thought? Or can you be both? Just as your belief informs what you see and vice versa, to step outdoors and paint what you see isn’t as cut and dry as the étude of of plein-art painting makes it out to be. In an attempt of honesty, in restoring their sense of place and experience in the natural world, Impressionists had to see beyond what they were expected to see. Théodore Duret from The Impressionist Painters (1878) writes,

“Under the summer sun, with reflections of green foliage, skin and clothing take on a violet tint. The Impressionist paints people in violet woods. Then the public lets loose violently the critics shake their fists, call the painter a “communist” and a rascal. The poor Impressionist vainly asserts his complete honesty, declares that he only reproduces what he sees, that he remains faithful to nature; the public and the critics condemn him. They don’t bother to find out whether or not what they discover on the canvas corresponds to what the painter has actually observed in nature. Only one thing matters to them: what the Impressionists put on their canvases does not correspond to what is on the canvases of previous painters. If it is different, then it is bad.”3

This is where the first image I showed you comes in. Painter Hank Schmidt in der Beek and photographer Fabian Schubert started the Und im Sommer tu ich malen series in 2009 which translates to “And in summer, I paint.” This series is an ongoing collaboration between the artists also known as Painters Portraits where the two “are seeking out the plein-air locations of Cézanne, C.D. Friedrich, Gauguin, Hockney, Hodler, Kandinsky, Marc, Monet, Münter and others.”4 It was in these landscapes and settings that the Impressionists had to overcome the repercussions of deviating from tradition. Similarly, in Hank Schmidt in der Beek and Schubert’s project, the artist is defying tradition which has become synonymous with expectation.

In Edmond Duranty’s La Nouvelle Peinture (The New Painting) of 1876, he laid claim that the future of painting requires an active rejection of formula and instead aims “toward an uncontaminated and individualized approach to nature.”5 He pulled two key points from impressionist painter John Constable to support what he suggests are “the principal aims of the Impressionists”:

  1. “Opposition to convention; anti-academicism; the need to free oneself from the examples of others, to find one’s own way.
  2. Following from that, the wish to develop an original art expressive of one’s individuality, in preference to an art that adheres to received models (while recognizing that the latter, being familiar, is more likely to bring ready success, whereas an art based on what one sees and feels in nature will be slow to gain favor with a public that prefers cleverness to wisdom and sincerity and is not ready for a new and bold approach to nature)”6

Schubert describes their project as “a conceptual and visual reflection about the picture-in-picture, a painting artist in the picture, a once painted landscape in the picture and a painted pattern of a shirt as a picture.”7 Their pursuit of these impressionist landmarks becomes a pilgrimage wherein traveling to these sacred destinations as an act of devotion becomes an act of devotion to anti-academicism not the individuals, and the seeking of answers becomes the seeking of context.

The multi-layered approach Hank Schmidt in der Beek and Schubert take reveals the individual as the works point of inception—a point of Impressionism often overlooked. Rather than the paintings calling to the landscape, the individual serves as a beacon of autonomy. Inherent in painting in public, more so when spectators are present, the artist is burden by the responsibility of fulfilling expectations. (In some sense, exceeding expectations.)

There’s a nonchalance to each photograph which grants the artist casual deviation from expectation despite the counterfactual nature of it. Imagine the fascination of the kids in the last photo as they see a man painting in the distance. Let’s imagine they’re approaching the man from in the front and only are only able to see the back his easel and canvas. They’re running over to see now what he’s painting but why he is painting. They see that he is perched in front of the cathedral, and even at such a young age, they are primed to cast their own expectations. They pump their breaks as they reach the artist and drift into a U-turn in hopes of being amazed by the artist’s rendering ability. Instead, the boys discover he’s not even painting what’s in front of him, he’s painting the pattern of his shirt. In this moment, there becomes a shift in expectation—a shift in beauty where external expectations are trumped by internal realizations.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir writes in his notebook, “It is impossible to repeat in one period what was done in another. The point of view is not the same, any more than are the tools, the ideals, the needs, or the painters’ techniques.”8 Since there’s a sense of absurdity to Hank Schmidt in der Beek and Schubert, it’s as though they’re relieved of their responsibility to adhere to expectation and tradition, while simultaneously calling those very things into question.

Hank Schmidt in der Beek and Schubert are taking part in the same act of plein-air painting the Impressionists did, seeing what they had seen, and painting what they had seen. But what the Impressionists saw extended beyond what was in front of them. What they saw, just as you or I see, is defined by context—the context of the art industry, the context of the political climate, the context of their lives. What Hank Schmidt in der Beek and Schubert could see didn’t differ much from what the Impressionist could see, but what they See (with a capital S) varies greatly. This project then becomes an investigation in establishing contemporary context.

In many of these photographs, Hank Schmidt in der Beek is in pause and stepped back from his works in progress. Is this an intentional illusion to create the sense that the artist is meticulously stepping back and forth from his work as though to slowly and intentionally capture the scene in front of him? Is this a means to purposefully (and humorously) deceive the viewer? Or is it more so an unveiling of the landscape as merely a reflection of the individual? Even preceding the Impressionists, has landscape painting ever been objectively removed from the individual? It’s as though Hank Schmidt in der Beek and Schubert are asking these questions by placing the picture in the picture, backdropped by another picture. Rather than pulling us further away, each layer acts like a lens of a magnifying glass that pulls us closer and closer in to investigate the role of Self.

View the Painter Portrait series on Fabian Schubert’s website, and purchase their book on Edition Taube.

  1. “Étude,” last modified April 19, 2007,

  2. Radisich, Paula Rea. “Eighteenth-Century Plein-Air Painting and the Sketches of Pierre Henri De Valenciennes.” The Art Bulletin 64, no. 1 (1982): 98-104. doi:10.2307/3050197.

  3. “ART HUMANITIES: PRIMARY SOURCE READER,” accessed April 27, 2017,

  4. “Fabian Schubert – painters portraits,” accessed April 27, 2017,

  5. Isaacson, Joel. “Constable, Duranty, Mallarme, Impressionism, Plein Air, and Foregetting.” Art Bulletin 76, no. 3 (September 1994): 427. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 27, 2017).

  6. Ibid.

  7. “Fabian Schubert – painters portraits,” accessed April 27, 2017,

  8. “ART HUMANITIES: PRIMARY SOURCE READER,” accessed April 27, 2017,