“There are many craftsmen who paint pleasantly the surface appearances and are very clever at it.
There are always a few who get at and feel the undercurrent, and these simply use the surface appearances, selecting them and using them as tools to express the undercurrent, the real life.
If I cannot feel the undercurrent, then I only see a series of things. They may be attractive and novel at first, but soon grow tiresome.
There is an undercurrent, the real life, beneath all appearances everywhere. I do not say that any master has fully comprehended it at any time, but the value of his work is in that he has sensed it and his work reports the measure of his experience.
It is this sense of the persistent life force at the back of things which makes the eye see and the hand move in ways that result in true masterpieces. Techniques are thus created as a need.
It is necessary to work very continuously and valiantly, and never apologetically. In fact, to be ever on the job so that we may find ourselves there, brush in hand, when the great moment does arrive.
It is very possible that you know all these things and know them to be true. I simply recall them to you, to make them active again, just as I would like you to recall them to me, for sometimes our possessions sleep.
All the past, up to a moment ago, is your legacy. You have a right to it. The works of ancient masters, those of the student next to you, the remark let drop a moment ago; all is experience, race experience.
Don’t belong to any school, don’t tie up to any technique.
All outward success, when it has value, is but the inevitable result of an inward success of full living, full play and enjoyment of one’s faculties.
A man cannot be honest unless he is wise. To be honest is to be just and to be just is to realize the relative value of things. The faculties must play hard in order to seize the relative values.
The very essential quality of all really great men is their intense humanity, and they all have an unusual power of thinking.
In these times there is a powerful demarcation between the surface and the deep currents of human development.
Events and upheavals, which seem more profound than they really are, are happening on the surface.
But there is another and deeper change in progress. It is of long, steady, persistent growth, very little affected and not at all disturbed by surface conditions.
The artist of today should be alive to this deeper evolution on which all growth depends, has depended and will depend.
On the surface there is the battle of institutions, the illustration of events, the strife between peoples. On the surface there is propaganda and there is the effort to force opinions.
The deeper current carries no propaganda. The shock of the surface upheaval does not deflect it from its source.
It is in search of a fundamental principle; that basic principle of all, which in the degree as it is apprehended, points the way to beauty and order, and to the law of nature.
On the surface, disaster is battled with disaster. Things change. But all improvement is due to what of fundamental law rises to the surface, through the search made by those of the undercurrent.
The law of the surface is a failure for the same reason that the Wright brothers could not have made their machine fly on the laws of Blackstone, which were never based on a fundamental principle, but rather on certain rights of man, which rights are now questioned.
The artist of the surface does not see further than material fact. He describes appearances and he illustrates events.
Some fractional part of him flows in the undercurrent. It is the best part of him, but he and his surface public underestimate it. He may be conscious of it. He may be conscious of it and ashamed of it. Or he may repress it because it serves his surface interests.
There are painters who paint pictures with spiritual titles, but whose motives are purely materialistic.
Goya painted events, some of his subjects were historical, but I find his obvious subject a thin veil. Beyond the veil we see his realities. They are immeasurable.
We have seen superficial painters rise, have a storm of public approval, and then disappear from notice.
Even that other and very different popularity recently given Renoir and Cezanne I question. If they had not been idealized out of their true characters, they might never have had such a vogue as they have had.
Perhaps in order to make them as popular as they now are, it has been necessary to deny them the very most striking qualities; the very qualities which were necessary to them in doing the fine work they have done.
They have been stripped of humanity. We are told they had no interest in the personalities they painted, and this and that has been taken from them until they are only half themselves.
I have been told in face of one or other of their works that these men had no character interest, that in fact they loftily avoided seeing any such base element in the “motive”.
And yet, of course, on the canvas before us there was a marvelous characterization, an employment of material, the paints and the model in such a rare way as to make us realize deep down into the life of the subject.
The great masters in all the arts have been whole men, not half men. They have had marvelous fullness in all human directions, have been intensely humane in themselves and in their interests. And if they seem to select, it is because they have so much to select from.
It may be that what we take for absence of humanity is the very presence of it, our understanding of the world or the emotion being so different, so materialistic.
Renoir and Cezanne are quite unalike, yet an important likeness does exist in that their search has been toward a truer realization.
Renoir is rather Eastern in his sensibility, and Cezanne possesses qualities both Eastern and Western, and is of the future type. He had intense realization of what is beyond material and intense powers to employ materials constructively.”
“Life and art cannot be dissociated, nor can any artist, however he may desire it, produce a line of “sheer beauty”, i.e a line dissociated from human feeling. We are all wrapped up in life, in human feelings; we cannot, and we should not, desire to get away from our feelings.
In fact, lines are only beautiful to us when they bear kinship to us. Different men are moved or left cold by lines, according to the difference in their natures. What moves you is beautiful to you. To all men, in a general way, human lines have significance.
In all great paintings of still-life, flowers, fruit, landscape, you will find the appearance of interweaving human forms, the forms we unconsciously look for. We do but humanize, see ourselves in all we look at.
Because we are saturated with life, because we are human, our strongest motive is life, humanity; and the stronger the motive back of a line the stronger, and therefore the more beautiful, the line will be.
[FL – Maybe it is not us we are looking for, maybe we are simply looking for life, the forms of which are always the same, constantly and repeated in every form of life. Life is harmony.]
In looking at certain drawings of landscape by Cezanne, I found myself first filled with a delightful sense of intimacy, of warmth and human feeling.
Presently I became conscious that I was looking at a wonderful orchestration of human forms. In the trees, the rocks, the grasses – everywhere – were variations on the human form, fragmentary but interplaying and forming a magnificent symphony.
Critics have written that Renoir was not interested in the people he painted, was only interested in color and form, that the who or what of the model was totally negligible to him. Yet, one has only to look at those little children he painted, the one bending over his writing, the two girls at the piano, to cite instances; and it will be apparent that Renoir had not only great interest in human character, in human feeling, but had also a great love for the people he painted.
Renoir needed new inventions is technique, in color and form to express what he felt about life. His feeling was so great that his search was directed, and the result is as we have seen – great rhythms in form and color.
Because a line is beautiful in one picture is no argument that it will be beautiful in another. It is all a matter of relation.
The line in a great drawing is not a slave to anatomical arrests and beginnings. There is a line that runs through the pointing arm and off from the finger tip into space. This is the principal line. This is the line that the artist draws and makes you follow.
It is not necessarily a line visible to the photographic eye. It is there nevertheless and is hidden in the science of the draftsman. All else that is visible is there only to make you sense this line, and it dominates.
Your eye does not follow the muscle and bone making of the arm. It follows the spirit of life in the arm.
Such a line runs through the whole figure, rising from point to point in measures which are not controlled by the anatomical structure, except in the loosest way. These measures define another dimension – that fascinating forth dimension, if you like – which has to do with your concept of the significance of the whole, that ultra something which has always engaged your interest more than the mere facts of the person standing before you.”
“Keep your old work. You did it. There are virtues and there are faults in it for you to study. You can learn more from yourself than you can learn from anyone else.
After you have made a drawing from the model don’t simply put it away. It’s a thing to study. If you are working from day to day on a drawing, take it home. Put it where you can see it well.
No one can get anywhere without contemplation. Busy people who do not make contemplation part of their business do not do much for all their effort.”