Sleepy this morning, mobile even before the alarm sounded, I got up, wandered into the living room and looked at the clock on the wall without my glasses, and as I leaned in to see the numbers on the dial I saw a bright flash! Behind me a bolt of lightening had just shot through the air outdoors, reflecting in the clock face from the window behind me. Then the clouds let fly and the storm was roaring. Now there’s a dramatic way to wake up!
What a beautiful storm ensued. And after it was done and the sun had risen, what a spectacular light poured over everything, the trees, the lawns, the road, and the pavement outside.
What I paint and what happens in my life are often very different things. How I would love to be the sort of painter who could drop everything and respond to a magnificent storm. Was Turner like that, I wonder? Or Monet? Or our American Winslow Homer?
Hold everything! Commute to school?? I don’t think so! I’ve got paintings to paint!
In my dreams ….
I bought three apples at the Giant Food store (well, actually I bought five apples, but I ate two of them). These apples have already appeared in this blog in pictures (they were competing with the clementines, you might recall). After comparing apples and oranges, these apples are ready to go head to head with new competitors. They want to be famous. Here they are in their room with the picture of their idols on the wall.
They stand before Cezanne’s famous apples of Provence. I don’t know. It’s hard making the real apples that nature makes and Giant sells stand up strongly against the rich pigmentary apples of imagination that Cezanne conjured when he looked at the contents of his produce basket of rural France during the 19th century. Oh, how his old Provencal apples have such grandeur, such gravitas! Real light reflects off mine and gravity pulls them down yet they don’t quite stack up!
When doing a “picture within a picture” of this sort, calling on the Masters, one ought to be ambitious and vie with the Big Guys. So, I did. I tried to do that. I got Cezanne’s picture there (in the form of an advertisement for an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum) and I looked back and forth between it and my apples from Giant Food.
Okay, so it’s back to the drawing board for me. It’s hard to capture the full dignity and splendor of apples from life. Cezanne was so clever. But I tried! And I’ll try some more.
Here’s the same three guys by themselves.
Whenever I hear someone describe an artist’s work as “traditional” I always want to ask “which one?” Which tradition do you mean? (There are so many.) The assumption in contemporary Western art is sometimes over-broad — so much that anything depicted in a manner that’s recognizable is “traditional.” Yet within the most comprehensive reaches of the European inspired art, there are innumerable avenues for visual thought to travel. Painting can be realistic, or “painterly,” or linear without being realistic. It can portray everyday life, or it can portray very extraordinary, fanciful and imaginary themes. It can be landscape, portrait, still life, mythological painting, and several genres besides, that don’t even have names. It can resemble other artists of earlier times, and yet be very much its own thing — as Edouard Manet looks very 19th century French to us now, yet was a great aficionado of Diego Velasquez and other artists of the Spanish 17th century.
Skill is super important, but skill alone doesn’t make art. An artist can be skillful and find himself or herself feeling needy. The skill has to be put into something. And the something is more than just subject matter — though that’s part of it — the something is an idea, an impulse, a meaning whose form needs to be seen. When words fail, visual art steps in. But it needs to have something to say.
When an artist is all dressed up with nowhere to go, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It just means you have a journey ahead of you.
[Top of the post: the author’s pen and ink drawing after an Ingres figure — made in a very un-Ingrist way.]