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The Painters’ Desire

May 30th, 2009

"Spring Meadow", oil on mat board, 20cm x 16cm, 2009
"Spring Meadow", oil on mat board specifically prepared for oil, 20cm x 16cm, 2009

What are the effects of the painter’s desires? What about the motivations leading to the perceptions and execution of a particular work. At what point do conviction and a sense of purpose come into play?

In asking these sorts of questions we come to realize that we cannot separate the painter from life. The life of the painters, their thinking and ideas, what they eat for breakfast and so on come first. Technique and style we find to be of only secondary concern.

A painter arrives at the moment of making a brushstroke as a consequence of living. The past that constitutes that life invokes itself in the stroke. If the painter is of one piece each of these brushstrokes contribute to a painting that speaks to us as a complete statement. That is to say we have then something felt and seen as a unified whole.

It feels strange to write these words. Is it not self-evident, these things? Well, no. They are routinely overlooked and misunderstood even as they appear to have been questioned in depth.

The obvious is not understood simply as the context for a relationship with our lives. To the question: Why question life? Ray Bradbury in the “Martian Chronicles” writes “Life is its own answer.”. In other words I am suggesting that we habitually confuse the content with the container. When it comes to creativity this seemingly subtle distinction is profoundly important.

How the idea arrives in the mind of the painter is complex. That the idea is prior to technique should, however, be to the sensitive observer evident. In contemporary work hanging on museum walls we can see an obsessive concern with technique, materials and style.

The painter concerned with digging below the surface of things suggests dimensions beyond the mundane three. This, I am strongly suggesting, is the path to deeper meaning. The painter invents the necessary techniques as needed in this pursuit. This involves decisions made instantaneously during fleeting moments. This is neither a technique of working nor an acquired style. It is nothing less than the creation of technique at the instant it is needed.

Now this is not a haphazard thing easily contrived. This creation of technique is the result of a person deeply involved in the process and the organic order involved. When we get right down to the nitty-gritty of what art is we find it to be an unwavering devotion to the understanding of this order. By studying the relationships, relative values and fundamental order in the world around us we get in step with organic law. However difficult this is, it is the only path by which one arrives to a refined level of taste and judgement. Engaging the process for the sake of doing things well is a price we enjoy paying. The reward is a deep appreciation for simplicity and order as well as good health. Many painters have lived a long and fruitful life in the pursuit of art. Much of their best work was done late in life. Life and art ARE intimately connected when we deeply desire one we end up getting both. Kind of funny how simple this is; Simple, but not easy!

I am not sure when I first read Robert Henri’s “The Art Spirit”: it must be something like 40 years ago. This extraordinary human being and artist moved back and forth several times between Paris and New York at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The book is a compilation of notes and letters to his art classes at the Art Students League. He was a remarkable teacher and this is truly a remarkable book. Highly recommended! I am indebted to this apostle of Art for my direction in life and many of the ideas expressed here.

Published in french as Désir du peintre


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