Sandrart, one of the artists who knew Rembrandt’s ideas in his time, said of the old master, “he alleged that one should be guided by Nature and by no other rules.”
And it is possible too for people to be deceived, deeply, deeply deceived. He could paint like that – came so close – and then he turned down this other path and made these silly things for the rest of his life. And the world has embraced the silly things and the few true things he made are thought of as background for his “invention.” They are just curiosities according to the experts.
Still – he did make a few true things and that is better than nothing. Once – he was true. Some people are never true.
Then too, some people are always true.
All an artists’ works are a series. Monet only made patent what all true art had implied. And Delacroix had expressed the idea when he noted that the painter paints himself, his own soul. In that lies the unity. I have seen many interconnections in an artist’s works that owes nothing to the current fashion for multiples. I’ve seen people organize space in parallel ways over different canvases. I’ve seen the same activity take place in my pictures.
Sometimes the effect is subtle. It reflects unconscious impulses. It demonstrates something about how your mind organizes its thoughts.
Whenever a real break comes, one that causes you to organize things differently – now that ought to provoke one’s curiosity! Do I now think differently? Am I somehow changed? And perhaps I wasn’t even aware….
Richard Diebenkorn wrote “Notes to himself on beginning a painting.” They are somewhat like Gibb’s Rules. Diebenkorn’s number one (they are similarly numbered) says, “attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.”
At first I thought Diebenkorn’s rule sounded at odds with my practice. I plan my paintings as much as practicable, following a procedure that is not radically different from what the old masters did. Yet in essence I do “attempt the uncertain.”
The “warp and weft” of the painting will come through the process of painting. My preliminary drawings (which I do habitually, especially when I fall in love with a motif, repeating it over and over) these reiterations seem to open doors. But when I go through the door, when I work on the actual painting, I find that the drawings point toward possibilities. They do not close down, they open up.
I could compare it with walks I take. I go back to the same places again and again. After many occasions I come to know the terrain thoroughly. But each visit contains its own incident and mood. Weather changes. Times of year, the hours of the day, the angle of the light. Equally much I have my own internal weather and seasons: I travel there in different moods.
Memories of past times have their effects. It’s never the same path exactly.
“To copy the objects in a still life is nothing. One must render the emotion they awaken in one. The emotion is the ensemble, the interrelation of objects, the specific character of every object modified by its relations to the others – all interlaced like a cord or a serpent,” said Matisse.
He had some very nice things, too. I’ve seen pictures of them. The tables are spread out with vases of flowers, with houseplants, figurines, objets d’art, and every manner of cup or vase. Big tables arranged in various corners of big airy rooms and the reflections from the ceramic surfaces gleam. You could mentally wander through objects like that like a knight in a medieval forest. And it really is more than just bric a brac. It is a kind of civilization in miniature. Matisse put the history of French life and culture on a tabletop.
George Braque said, “Everything is subject to metamorphosis; everything changes according to circumstance. So when you ask me whether a particular form in one of my paintings depicts a woman’s head, a fish, a vase, a bird or all four at once, I can’t give you a categorical answer for this ‘metamorphic’ confusion is fundamental to what I am out to express.”
Matisse was more forthcoming. “Matisse often told me that the best thing the old masters have, their raison d’etre, is beyond them, that they are not able to teach it and that they waste their time by trying. But they are able to teach, without meaning to, by informal conversations about their work and their life,” reported Henry de Montherlant
Of course, you didn’t ask him if it was a fish or maybe a woman’s head….
Picasso had some Ingrist inclinations. What if he had followed that impulse rather than choose an avant garde aesthetic? What if he had built an art on Benedetta Casals, following his own instinct for realism even when realism was waning as a recognized style?
A great artist creates styles as easily as others follow a tide.
Ingres’s figures, the nude as a subject, is often conceived so narrowly today and carries a lot of baggage. Not so in his day! In contemporary art the nude appears infrequently or in very narrowly conceived ways. Ingres, on the contrary, reminds you how beautiful the body simply is, how beautiful its parts. Hands and feet are incredibly beautiful and capable of such range of expression. The shape of an ankle, the hollows, particularly in certain kinds of light, is wonderous.
Et ils se trompent étrangement s’ils pensent que quand ils ont écrit: un pied ou une main, ils ont donné à mon esprit la même émotion que celle que j’éprouve quand je vois un beau pied ou une belle main. [Delacroix Journal, 21 Oct 1853]
Ah, there was something they agreed upon!
I guess contemporary photographers can be exempted from what I’ve just said. They often really explore the body as form. But artists have gone slack and have quit seeing and imagining. I cannot fathom the extent to which the nude is neglected. Even in life class, what we generally pass over in the way of ideas; it’s staggering. And how Ingres was filled with ideas about the body and endlessly carried away by its beauty and strength. Its potential, its multivarious aspects, and no part too small: the placement of a finger becomes subject of many explorations and adjustments, and even (as Degas noted) the “indication of the fingernails” came under his ardent scrutiny. He was affected by the body, continually alive to it. He revisits certain poses that evidently touched him particularly. They recur in myriad forms over time.
And his simplifications of the body are like a mythic geometry, or a logic that renders spirit into line as though the body were a dance or a melody or a mathematical statement of surpassing grace. He plays out body as a riff on his violin. He makes the flesh into signs and precepts in an encomium of being.
“In the telling of the dream, I exposed them to its unconscious contents,” he said. There are meanings of my dream that I do not myself discern but which someone else might see because of the unconscious contents which are broadly shared by other people … by the public even. Maybe someday someone will tell me, the dreamer, what it all means.