Imagination vs. Technique

Vintage Bomber Lure

Vintage Bomber Lure

These students have become masters of the trade of drawing, as some others have become masters of their grammars.  And like so many of the latter, brilliant jugglers of words, having nothing worth while to say, they remain little else than clever jugglers of the brush.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Our famous American poet Wallace Stevens worked all his adult life in Connecticut for Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.  One can only imagine how alone he was in his day-to-day work environment.  He called a colleague into his office one day and asked:

“Can you give me your idea of what imagination is”?

His colleague answered: “I don’t have an idea.”

Stevens replied: “Why don’t you think about it a couple of days and come back and we’ll talk about it.”

His colleague, years later, said he was glad the subject was never mentioned again.

For the past few days, I’ve been musing over the “imagination vs. technique” issue in art.  I suppose we all do that, wonder how much of our work is technical proficiency and how much of it really is “art”.  For years I wondered if I was just an illustrator or if I actually could regard myself as an artist.

I’m reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit.  I am haunted by this: “An artist who does not use his imagination is a mechanic.”

Recently, in the studio, I am trying to improve mechanics, explore techniques, learn to master a few more tricks.  But all the while I’m pondering that mystery–how does a composition become “art”.  What is it that makes a work of art worth looking at longer than a glance.  I of course don’t have answers for these.  Meanwhile, I just keep playing in the studio, enjoying this enterprise.  I’m glad I got one kicked out of my way already.  Time to move on to the next endeavor.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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5 Responses to “Imagination vs. Technique”

  1. Xraypics Says:

    Mate! What a challenge. This is a subject I’ve pondered for years, still no clear answer. It’s 6.00 am, unfortunately I have a big teaching day ahead & must go, will probably return with some, not so eloquently put, thoughts. Tony


  2. coreyaber Says:


    The big question. Thanks for posting about it. I have thought about the same thing a lot, and after a while I started to relate this question to a scene from the Rowan Atkinson comedy series Black Adder. In the third season in the reign of the mad King George, the Blackadder character (in this season the butler for Prince George), in trying to convince the Prince that he, Blackadder, is the Scarlet Pimpernel, tells him that when asked if he was the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Pimpernel would say no. The Prince then exclaims “Blackadder, are you the Scarlet Pimpernel?” to which Blackadder obviously responds “No,” leaving the Prince convinced that he is.

    So, when asked if he is an artist, what would an artist say?


    • davidtripp Says:

      Very engaging thought, Corey. My short answer would be, “Yes.” I consider anyone an artist who creates art, beyond the “hobbyist” endeavor. I tortured myself for several years, thinking I was more “illustrator” than “artist” until I read biographies on Hopper and Wyeth (my twin visual art muses) and found out that they were tortured by that dichotomy throughout their lives, and indeed that critics at time assailed them both as “illustrators.” Wyeth chafed that he could not separate himself from the Norman Rockwell comparisons. After reading all that, I decided to be hard on myself in other ways 🙂 I am my own worst critic, but I am driven more to authenticity, and I’m happy that I am not slouching as I work in that direction. I’m also finding it easier to make “bad” art, knowing that it happens. Artists create a lot of good work and a lot of bad work. They create, period. That is now my goal–to be prolific, to study what I do, heed correction, and try to carve out some kind of meaning with what I do.

      I really appreciate communicating with you. Thanks so much for your work and your thoughtful insight.


      • coreyaber Says:

        I went through the same struggle as a writer, and probably would have taken a little more enjoyment in it had I just gone with it and said I am a “writer,” but for some reason it was hard and anxiety inducing (not literally). Turning to painting, I did away with that deliberation, figuring that when I felt comfortable enough with people seeing what I was working on and me being able to talk intelligently and passionately about it, I could say I am an artist. If I set the bar at me feeling totally comfortable with my work or waiting until I had “made it” I’d never get there and never have an open conversation about art. Thanks for the reply.


  3. davidtripp Says:

    Excellent comment. It sounds to me that you are a writer and artist entertwined. I think that is fabulous. One area fuels the other. Robert Motherwell could not give up either of those disciplines, he loved them both so much. I think it’s good that I finally settled back into my role as a public school teacher. It pays the bills, makes my living. But art is where I live, and if it doesn’t pay, or if I suffer setbacks in development, I still have a job and a consistent paycheck. It’s good not to worry about the job, and leave all my worries and drives to the art enterprise. And I do love it so.


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