Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Burke’

Morning Coffee with Dave & Joseph

August 17, 2018

jmw turner

Turner had already learnt that part of the job of the artist is to improve on the actual view as it is reimagined on paper.

Franny Moyle, Turner: The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J. M. W. Turner

Reading the Joseph Mallord William Turner biography this morning over coffee yielded several of those Ah-Ha! moments for me, especially the quote posted above. I have to face the reality as a musician as well as an artist that I am often bound tightly by my subject matter. As a guitarist, I am often “page-bound”, unwilling to allow spontaneous flourishes into my music because I am focused on the notations in the book before me. I can also be “recording-bound” if I am trying too hard to copy a particular guitarist’s riffs on the song I am playing instead of trusting my own inner voice. I must learn to let the music flow within me and respond to what I hear internally.

The same goes for painting. Whether I am working en plein air or from a reference photo, I often find myself sticking strictly with the subject before me instead of trusting my “inner eye” to edit a composition on the paper before me and create a quality painting rather than a strict copy of the subject I am viewing. I needed this word from the Turner reading to remind me that this is my composition, and as the artist, the prerogative is mine to put in what I wish and leave out what I choose.

And so, returning to a commission that has held my attention for several weeks, I made the conscious decision today to excise certain details and furnishings in the original photo that I believe bring unnecessary clutter to the composition before me. I am happy that this painting is taking on a “clean” look rather than the typical urban look with its assortment of trash cans, signs, gutters and lamp posts. I learned long ago that I have the ability to render these extraneous objects. But are they necessary in this particular painting? I have decided they are not.

Santa Fe depot

Should be completed in a matter of days . . .

Another Ah-Ha! moment from the Turner reading this morning came from remarks delivered by Sir Joshua Reynolds, first president of the Royal Academy of which the young Turner was a member. In one of  the president’s discourses, he urged that “invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory.” This reminded me of Emerson’s line from “Experience”–

The history of literature . . . is a sum of very few ideas, and of very few original tales,–all the rest being variation of these.

Years ago, I gave up trying to be original and innovative. I have come to embrace the reality that “I am a part of all that I have met” (I lifted this from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”). Being an artist involves sifting and sorting among all the tricks and gimmicks we have collected over the years with hopes of finding a decent recipe for combining those elements. Yesterday, while listening to the Ken Burns documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright, a commentator, in discussing Wright’s early work at the drafting table, said that he was “developing his grammar.” I like the sound of that! In my senior years as an artist, I suppose I am still trying to develop my grammar.

jmw turner 2

Reading Turner made me feel that I’d returned to graduate school

And finally, the Turner biography discussed Edmund Burke’s notion of the “sublime” which played a role in the changing aesthetics within the Royal Academy by the time Turner studied there. In his pivotal work A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Burke attacked the classical notion of his day that assumed the most important part of a work of art was its clarity and clean definition.  I turned to The Encyclopedia of Philosophy for further discussion of  Burke’s ideas:

What is greatest and noblest is the infinite, and that the infinite, having no bounds, cannot be clean and distinct. He argued that the imagination, moreover, is most strongly affected by what is suggested or hinted at and not by what is plainly stated.

Reading those words reminded me of the advice given by the late Andrew Wyeth–the strength of a composition lays not in what you put into the picture, but what you leave out. A judge at one of my competitions years ago told me that she had a particular eye on the drawings and paintings that left “space” in the picture plane that invited the viewer in to complete the narrative. I’ll never forget that piece of advice. And so, in future watercolor endeavors, I will be exploring this idea of leaving certain areas of the composition undeveloped while choosing to detail other parts. I’m interested in seeing where this is going to lead.

This morning has been an enriching one. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.