Cogitations on Art Theory

Painting through the Darkened Morning

All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings . . .

. . . The imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

Hurricane Hanna has finally delivered a dark day with rain in north central Texas. Morning coffee has enhanced the mood in my studio and I’ve been happy with the way the work has shaped up today.

Better still, I’ve had one of those quality “thoughtful” mornings and decided I wanted to devote a blog entry to my personal theories regarding the act of making art.

Jack Flam has been in charge of the Robert Motherwell holdings (the Daedalus Foundation) since the artist’s death. Countless times I have listened to him take part in a panel discussion on Youtube concerning the artist’s legacy. He shared the quote above from Wordsworth in describing Motherwell’s two-step approach to painting–1) spontaneous outpouring, followed by 2) logical scrutiny and adjustment.

While reading Zola’s The Masterpiece, I came across this amazing statement reflecting Cezanne’s approach to painting, which more succintly states the Wordsworthian position:

Following Delacroix and parallel with Courbet, it was Romanticism tempered by logic.

Romanticism tempered by logic–what a succinct way to describe what I try to do in making art. I choose watercolor as my prime medium, because I love the spontaneity of the pigments as they billow and flow across a wet surface. Much of what I start with in a painting cannot be controlled. I watch in wonder as the water and pigments do what they do. Then later, when it is set up and dry, I try to impose discipline in shaping the painting into a composition. Passion opens the painting process, and logic edits and concludes it.

For years I have worked on Nietzsche’s tension between Dionysus and Apollo in the creative process–Dionysus represents passion and spontaneity while Apollo imposes order and discipline. Art, to me, arises in the midst of that struggle.

Heidegger, in his essay “The Origin of the Work of Art”, describes the art process as a struggle between “earth” and “world”. Earth refers to nature as it is, whereas world is what the creator exerts on the earth to create something. Earth is resistant, but the artist’s world is unrelenting, and in that perpetual struggle, art emerges.

The morning has been most satisfying. For several days now, I have felt little success while working in the studio. But I am of the age that I don’t get depressed when the art I make is unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, I give much time to looking at the results, trying to discern what is missing, and whether or not it can be fixed. Today has been more rewarding, because I feel that some of the criticisms I’ve leveled against my recent work have been validated, addressed and corrected.

I am currently working (struggling) with three paintings in the studio this morning. Some good things are beginning to emerge, and at the same time, the resisting earth is scoring points in this tug-of-war. But it’s still OK; I enjoy the challenge and still look for ways to win. Few things can bring me more joy than spending time restling with art, not only in making it, but coming to some kind of understanding, some theory, of what I am actually doing.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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2 Responses to “Cogitations on Art Theory”

  1. Dian Darr Says:

    Such an interesting commentary on the opposing forces that lead to creation. I am more on the “Apollo” / “World” side when creating and designing my quilts. Often I struggle to let the opposing side intervene, and the results are always amazing. After finishing a recent quilt that I struggled with, my quilting mentor/ teacher commented that the quilt was stunning but very different from my usual quilts. This really hit home. How do I ever learn to trust my more creative side when I am so hung up on structure and organization??


    • davidtripp Says:

      Boy, how I know that dilemma! I struggle with too much control and always find the results so insipid and unsatisfying. I do study theory & technique much more now that retirement provides the time. I’m hoping for some breakthroughs as I keep going through the steps.


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