The Emotional and the Technical: Balancing the Art Equation

Opportunity to Read and Reflect while the Restaurant is Busy

The man who has great emotions might burst into tears–but that is as far as he will get if he has no practical side. The artist must have the emotional side first, the primal cause of his being an artist, but he must also have an excellent mind, which he must command and use as a tool for the expression of his emotions.

The idea, which is the primal thing for a picture, is all in the air; the expression on canvas is a case of absolute science as it deals with materials. A great artist is both a great imaginer and a great employer of practical science. First there must be the man, then the technique.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The day has been long as Sandi and I have culled out of the gallery my pieces to hang in next weekend’s festival at the Dallas Arboretum. The dinner hour has arrived, and the Saturday night crowd now fills the Queen Street Grille across the lobby from our Gallery at Redlands. It is possible later that patrons after dinner will flow across the hall and into this gallery to have a look. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the waning western light glowing through the large windows of the gallery as well as the general quiet of the lobby. (Prom pictures were being taken this afternoon. The noise, ugh!)

My pulse quickens every time I read of the life of Robert Henri as he gathered The Eight around him in Philadelphia. Henri was truly a prophet, drawing a young group of newspaper illustrators around him in his apartment at 806 Walnut Street. He read to them from Emerson, Whitman and Tolstoy to fire up their imagination and then instructed them in the proper techniques for sketching and illustration. The group went on to become known as The Ashcan School, moving to New York City and sketching live the scenes that enveloped their day-to-day lives. Later on, The Eight expanded to include a young Edward Hopper, one of my favorite American artists of all time.

The quote above engages me directly, as I look back over my earlier years when I sought training to improve my art techniques, but didn’t really feel the fire in my belly till I was finishing up grad school, enriched by theology, literature and philosophy. Returning to the pencil and brush, I was surprised that I actually had something more to say through drawing and painting than I had thought in my earlier years. Thus my newly discovered passion was easily engrafted onto the skills I had been taught while working on my art degree.

Throughout my later years, I have come up with several ways to look at this bifurcation of emotion and technique. In philosophy, I learned from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy that Greek actors on the stage sought to display to the audience the two competing forces in human life–Dionysus, the god of passion and turbulence struggling against Apollo, the god of reason and discipline. As an artist I have known for decades those two competing forces.

In art history, I have seen countless examples of those clashing tendencies. Neo-Classical art focused on the disciplines of drawing and composition. In reaction, Romanticism sprung up, crying out for passion and experimentation in art. In my own artistic endeavors, I have been told by my earlier instructors that I was too tight, too controlling, too orderly in my work, lacking in feeling, freedom and spontaneity. I am still aware of that in my current work.

I hope that before too much longer The Twelve will have opportunity to gather and talk about these matters that drive our artistic endeavors. Meanwhile I’ll just continue reading, thinking, writing, and hopefully applying what I’m discovering.

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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3 Responses to “The Emotional and the Technical: Balancing the Art Equation”

  1. scamp1010 Says:

    I would love for us to gather as well. I want to soak up all The Twelve has to offer. I love to be read to, even as an adult I find such pleasure in someone else’s voice reading words of great writers. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and thank you for the post.


  2. squirrel3189 Says:

    Aww David, you have such an expressionist personality. Your thoughts flow onto your canvases bringing life as you see it for us all to enjoy. Your words are art as well, you express yourself beautifully.
    Best wishes to you on this day, your birthday!


  3. davidtripp Says:

    What a lovely post, Jeannie, thank you for making a good day even better. If what I post and paint improves moments and days for others, then knowing that just enriches my life more than it already is. Thank you again for what you have posted.


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