Pre-Dawn Musings. Life as an Artist

Redlands Hotel. Second Floor

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

After a week of frenetic loading, traveling, and unloading from gallery to home to festival grounds back to home and then back to gallery, I am finally able to stop long enough this morning to write about what is swirling about me. I woke up about 3:30 this morning in The Redlands Hotel and could not return to sleep. So I have been enjoying the quiet pre-dawn at the kitchen table in the suite I inhabit while at this residence. The Redlands Hotel has the feel, the genuine vibe I believe inhabited it since 1915. I seem to do some of my best thinking and painting here. And now in the quiet of the morning, I sense that the dam is about to break–all the thoughts I’ve harbored in my heart this past week will probably spill out onto this computer screen and then go out to anybody who cares to read.

This Robert Henri book has been like a Bible for me the past ten years or so. Teaching art history, my imagination was always stirred by the details of this amazing man’s life. Obviously his persona was magnetic as he gathered a group of newspaper illustrators around him and fired up their imaginations at meetings in his studio apartment on 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. They called themselves The Eight (hence my derivative idea of The Twelve here in The Gallery at Redlands).

For years I’ve wondered if my own life could have turned out differently had I had such an art teacher as Henri. But that is an immature and uncritical sentiment; in many ways, he has been and still is my art teacher. And the best parts of Henri’s character and philosophy were embedded in the art teachers who influenced me the most–Mr. Scucchi (high school) with his abstract theories, Professor Murray (university) with his erudite scholarship, and Professor Unger (university) with his technical focus.

I cannot improve on the quote from Henri at the top of this blog, but I wish to respond with my own sentiments. I have always been intrigued with the dual nature of the artist as emotional and intellectual. Throughout my own pilgrimage, I recall my early years as charged with emotion and imagination, and my desire to express these through the avenue of art, drawng first and painting later. Throughout public school and university I never lost that emotional charge, but being intellectually lazy and immature, I sought to improve my work only through technique, assembing as many tools for my toolbox as possible. As for academic pursuits and listening to lectures, I was completely disinterested.

Halfway through my university undergraduate years, I suddenly woke up to the world of ideas and found myself starved for academic pursuit. I guess one would call me a late-bloomer. By the time my Bachelors was completed, I regretted that I had not taken scholarship more seriously. Earning later a Masters and Doctorate did not burn me out. Rather those ten extra years of meticulous scholarship changed my life and I now find myself in retirement years just as intensely curious as I was from the beginning, but now with more time to read and reflect.

Every artist has his/her own way of pursuing this enterprise. As for myself, I spend just as much time reading and writing as I do painting in the studio. My mornings generally begin with coffee and “executive time” where I study just as intently as I did during my graduate school years (except I no longer have papers to write or deadlines to meet–a perfect world at last!). I approach the drafting table later in the day and attempt to apply what I’ve learned to the task of making visual art. My heroes from art history are those who found ways to balance their technical artistic skills with their academic pursuits of study and writing. These artists are the ones I read the most–Edward Hopper, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Eugene Delacroix, Paul Gauguin, N. C. Wyeth and of course Robert Henri. Through their examples, I continue to find ways to balance my intellectual and technical focus with my emotional side.

Thank you for reading me.

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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4 Responses to “Pre-Dawn Musings. Life as an Artist”

  1. Stacy Campbell Says:

    Well crafted. A blog with such self-enlightenment and reflection is good for all. Post our conversation yesterday morning, all I can say is that I too love the quiet mornings on on a Saturday and Sunday (I’m still a working girl) but you are blessed with the thirst for knowledge coupled with retirement. No time for regrets. Safe travels back to DFW.

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Stacy, this morning I believe I’m experiencing what you did yesterday. The weekend gallery is always a wonderful environment, but frankly this last one exhausted me. Nice to be home in Studio Eidolons now with my dog, my music, my thoughts, my writing and my painting . . .

      Like

  2. Cecilia Says:

    David, one thing I never studied was art history. I was too busy with science and frankly, because I never believed I was a true artist, so why bother? Now that I know better, I can see I’ve missed out on that enriching experience…maybe you can point me to a good starting place? Love seeing your thoughts on the various quotes!
    Cecilia

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Cecilia, I hear you and would love to talk about this. Art history was something I took for granted since it was required in my major & then later I had to study it more closely in order to teach it. In my senior years it has become much more internal & seems now to flow through my veins. I’m a walking, talking bibliography so let me know what interests you & maybe I can help. Robert Henri’s “The Art Spirit” is a loose collection of his public talks, published articles & personal letters. He was a magnetic force as a human being and the passion certainly pours from his writings. Of course there are many, many more volumes that inspire me daily & I’ll gladly share more if needed. In our upcoming gallery talks I’ll no doubt allude to artists & history as I truly feel that much of what The Twelve are doing has parallels in art history.

      Like

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