Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Louis David’

Juggling More than One Interest

January 15, 2020

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Nearing Completion on the KATY train

To achieve their goal, masterpieces must charm but also penetrate the soul and make a deep impression on the mind that is similar to reality. . . . Therefore the artist must have studied all the motives of mankind and he must know nature thoroughly. In short he must be a philosopher.

Jacques Louis David

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Early Stages of the UP Big Boy

Recently, my blog activity has been sharply curtailed. Scheduled events are approaching quickly: a one-man-show, a speaking engagement and a watercolor workshop. In the midst of planning and corresponding with other parties involved, I have been submerged in a pair of watercolor commissions of locomotives and, as always, much reading.

I naively thought that since I would not be teaching this semester my study hours would significantly diminish. Instead, with no assigned subject matter, I find myself spending more time in book stores and public libraries, and looking over taller stacks of books at home. Soon, I may be responding to what I’ve been reading from Daniel Goleman’s books on emotional intelligence along with Alain de Botton’s ideas on art, philosophy and life.

But today, I have found myself ricocheting among the ideas of several notable painters: Jacques Louis David, Eugene Delacroix, Robert Motherwell and Andy Warhol. Returning to my favorite hobby horses, I find myself musing over ways to balance academic study with making art. On most days of my life, I find myself holding the reins of these two horses as they pull my cart on this slippery, rutty path. I have told my friends that when I am painting, I’m thinking about what I want to read and write, and while reading and writing, I’m thinking about what I want to paint. Both activities tug at me perennially.

I opened this blog with the quote from Jacques Louis David as I have been reading of the lives of the NeoClassical artists steeped in philosophy and academic pursuits along with their painting. I followed that up with my resumed reading from the journals of Eugene Delacroix, and read this morning his criticisms of one of his most intimate colleagues, Paul-Marc-Joseph Chenavard. Whereas Delacroix, the quintessential Romantic, drew much inspiration from music, and spent quality time in the company of Chopin, Chenavard, steeped in German philosophy, believed intellect to be the main driver of the artist. Delacroix, in one of his journal entries, made reference to “the learned and unfortunately too cold Chenavard. He puts literature in the first rank, painting comes next, and music is only last.”

In a flurry of text messages with one of my artist friends this morning, we discussed the plethora of avenues of inspiration available to the artist, and agreed that we shouldn’t denigrate anyone for pursuing different stimuli from our own. Anyone engaged in the creative task should feel free to open up to the richness of sources available to us.

Long ago, when I was employed in the Protestant ministry, I struggled to balance private academic study with public expression. Frequently, I was asked by parishioners and fellow pastors what I wished to be, a scholar or a preacher. I never understood that false dichotomy, and marveled every time I encountered the sentiment that the pulpit was no place for an academician. Later when I turned to education, I no longer had to face that dichotomy; a teacher was expected to be academically driven.

But once I became active as an artist, I found the wedge once again driven between academic pursuits and artistic expression. Frequently I found myself floundering in discussions with fellow artists who wished to discuss only techniques, materials and subject matter for painting, but not theory. As I studied and taught art history, I found my kindred spirits in that world, Robert Motherwell especially. This man started out as an academician, and when he turned to painting, he brought that world with him. Throughout his lengthy career, he found a way to write, publish and lecture as well as paint and exhibit. In that balance, he has become a personal hero of mine. Every time I feel that there is a conflict between the disciplines, I return to his collected writings, fully understanding his frustrations an he spoke of the difficulty (and rewards) of striking the balance.

I have posted photos of the two paintings I’ve been working on recently. One of them might be finished; I’ve laid it aside for a few days and will look at it later with fresh eyes to determine whether I should push it further. Meanwhile I am actively working on the much larger Union Pacific “Big Boy.” The KATY is a 9 x 12″; the Big Boy an 18 x 24″. In both works, I am entering a fascinating world as I experiment with smoke, steam and atmospheric effects. I suppose the reason for such stimulation is because I do not yet have an established algorithm or series of steps to follow. I feel like a chef in the kitchen experimenting with a little of this and a little of that as I use a spritz bottle, toothbrush and variety of brushes and X-acto knife along with sprinkles of salt and stale bread crumbs to push the pigments around on the dampened paper. And I’m frequently adding new warm and cool colors to my gray mixtures that I’ve never used before, and I’m coming up with several surprises, none of them unpleasant yet. It’s fun to paint with this sense of exploration and adventure.

Thanks for reading.

Shultz reduced

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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