Tag Archives: inspiration

Aspirations of an artist

‘Nowhere in the world of art education has technique been so foolishly substituted for true meaning, self expression, and knowledge as in the field of watercolor’
Edward Reep, 1983 (from the book Content of Watercolor)

Harsh words from Mr. Reep, but he has a point. Students often don’t seem to move on from materials and technique. Part of the problem is that people seem to think they learn how to paint by attending workshops. I don’t mean to downplay that a workshop can help. Some just take so many or even worse, some actually only paint in workshop settings, never anywhere else! The art of painting is learned by painting!

Well, it all depends on what goals we have, doesn’t it? I guess it’s ok to just paint as a pastime. However, I think that someone who paints three times a year should not have the right to call themselves an artist, any more so than someone who thinks they’re a musician when they only play their instrument every leap year and otherwise just listen to music.
To think and talk about painting doesn’t count. To look at painting images on facebook doesn’t either. We actually have to do it.

The more we paint, the closer we get to the real reason of why we paint. We no longer focus on the ‘how’ but more on the ‘why’.

When we start it’s quite normal that we’re preoccupied with technique and materials. We inhale ‘how to paint this and that’-books and attend workshops. We have to start somewhere. After a while, the focus starts shifting. At least in theory.

As the years go by I started thinking more and more about why I paint. In the beginning I even had problems articulating it, or finding a good reason at all! Sure, I used to be a professional illustrator. Sure, I painted since I was a child on and off. Sure, I studied painting with an Italian master painter, etc. etc. But are those real reasons? Motivation enough to keep at it today, after all these years? Do I love it that much?

Everyone should ask themselves the question why they paint, I think. Painting ultimately should be about expression. A painter, even a representational painter, needs to have a vision that goes beyond copying shapes that we encounter in nature or take pictures of. We need to have something to say with our art. It’s a different path for each and everyone of us. It’s a different life for each and every one of us. Therefore our art and what we express should be highly personal and intimate. Despite social media, painting will remain a solitary pursuit where only the end product is shared with others and even that is not for certain.

Keep it that way.

‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri

I thought I should share some of Robert Henri’s quotes from the book The Art Spirit that I am studying at the moment. My thanks goes out to Phil Kinsey for turning me on to this book! It was written in the late 1800’s but it is as true today as it was back then. The truth will be the truth, withstanding the passage of time. Enjoy!

‘If you want to know how to do a thing you must first have complete desire to do that thing.’

‘The effect of brilliancy is to be obtained principally from the opposition of cool colors with warm colors, and the opposition of muted colors with bright colors.’

‘Hold on to the few simple larger masses of your composition, and value as most important the beauty and design of these larger masses, or forms, or movements. Do not let beauty in the subdivisions destroy the beauty or the power of the major divisions’.

‘Whatever you feel or think, your exact state at the exact moment of your brush touching the surface is in some way registered in that stroke.’

‘There is a super color which envelops all the colors. It is this super color – this color of the whole – which is most important.’

‘Do not be interested in light for light’s sake or in color for color’s sake, but in each as a medium of expression.’

‘In painting of light, in modeling form, keep as deep down in color as you can. It is color that makes the sensation of light. Play from warm to cold, not from white to black.’

‘The painting that impresses you at first sight and the next day loses even the power to attract your attention is one that looks always the same. It has a moment of life but dies immediately thereafter.’

A different kind of painting tip!

Workshops teach techniques. Every workshop instructor will have their own method of painting. So you might be taught to never do ‘this’ in one workshop, and to absolutely do it in another.
Art has no rules. Anything can be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, often only depending on timing or intention.

There is too much talk about ‘best painter’, ‘master painter’, this and that. People being put on pedestals, like they’re deities. If you classify people you create hierarchies and that creates suffering.
Looking for validation outside yourself is tricky business. If you try to paint like so and so, you’re setting yourself up to suffer because you’re not so and so.
Same thing happens if you’re painting to be ‘liked’. It is certainly good to get validation from your peers (notice I did not say followers) but not if you’re painting to impress someone or to get into competitions. Again, you’re setting yourself up for suffering! Be mindful of your motivations. Look inside of you for guidance.

I’d love to quote my favorite poet here when asked by a student if his work is good or not:
‘A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity. In this manner of its origin lies its true estimate and value: there is no other.’
Rainer Maria Rilke (Letters to a Young Poet)

In other words, it comes from a deeper place inside you. You have to paint, you have no choice! You will find subject matter that moves you, because what you love you’ll paint better. You need to express yourself that way and that in turn makes your art real.