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Archive for September, 2004

One of the toughest things for young artists is deciding what subject matter to concentrate on. Once we are a little older it is often simply a matter of looking back on our work and then trying to recognise what our subject matter really is.

If we look at one picture by any artist we see a subject, such as Athena, or Adam. But when we look at the overall output of an artist we begin to discern something else, underlying all their work. This is their theme, and it is quite possible that some artists themselves never become aware of these underlying forces powering their work.

Praxiteles: The ideal

Michelangelo: The male nude

Rembrandt: Humanity

Beethoven: Passion and peace

Mozart: Love

Turner: Passion and peace

Alma-Tadema: Living history

Degas: Grace and power, animal and human

Toulouse-Lautrec: Surgical insight

Klimt: The Eros of beauty

Rodin: The body of God

Rothko: Mood made concrete

What we need to do, is to find out what it is that drives us to create art. This must not be art itself, but that aspect of creation which stirs us, excites us, and turns us on.

This is necessary for two reasons. First, it allows us to cut to the chase, as it were, and to say the things we want to say. (Not truly what we “want” to say, actually, but the things we are here to say.) And second, because unless we can identify early on where our passion lies, we can so easily lose interest in art.

There is some risk in this. We need to explore our psyche, and often our dark side… On the positive side, once we reveal this passion to ourselves it is then batehed in the light of our consciousness. Because the task of true art is simply to celebrate. Good art is the celebration of a great soul; and great art is the celebration of a great soul.

Practically, finding your theme requires us do do many pictures, from life, from memory, and from imagination. And at the slow pace at which good paintings are created, this process would take decades. The way to explore this world and with it our responses to this world, is to draw. To draw without ceasing. “Draw many lines, young man,” Ingres told Degas, and, “Draw the thousand-and-one things,” Hokusai was instructed.

Get a sketchbook, a large (A4) hard-cover book with quality paper, and use it, not as a sketchbook, but as a book of nature study, as a diary, as a scrapbook, and as a notebook for thoughts on life and art. This book is to become your alter ego, your Portrait of Dorian Gray. And as you fill one, move on to the next one. At least one drawing a day, for the rest of your life.

And when we die, our sketchbooks will be our true legacy. Greater than our so-well crafted paintings and sculptures; intimate, passionate.

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