“If you want to be an artist — try being artistic.” This deceptively minor slip of info was given to me by a fellow painter, Maurice Golleau, somewhere in Provence many years ago. I’ve come to realize that it’s the life breath of our business. In other words, don’t just paint the boat, paint the most expressive boaty-boat you can drag out of your reference or your imagination.
How to do that? Here are a few ideas to think about and perhaps apply to your own subject or style:
Most of these are self-explanatory. Some may seem to overlap, but in my mind they all have independent value. Of them all, pattern integrity is perhaps the most important. It means composition. Without careful planning, the artist often has to go back in and rework a composition in such a way that it becomes more artistic. In other words, you don’t want to leave your patterns to the vagaries of nature or the limitations of your initial conception — but rather to your own higher nature and finer sensibilities.
Many people don’t understand paucity either. This means smallness of number or quantity. In other words, “the absence of.” Very often it means simple disappearance — the old lost lines and edges business.
Then there’s abstraction. Unless things modify or become other things, or in some way interact through colour, shape or line, they’re merely the straight goods, which tend to be boring to both artist and observer. Don’t be boring.
PS: “My great longing is to make those very incorrectnesses, those deviations, remodellings, changes in reality, so that they may become, yes, untruth if you like — but more true than the literal truth.” (Vincent Van Gogh)
Esoterica: I drove south from Arles and headed for Saintes-Maries de la Mer. I wanted to go where Vincent, in 1888, had painted some fishing boats. I guess I was looking to see if they were still there, lined up with the same pattern integrity as he had painted them. I was disappointed. The boats were now replaced by plastic ones with Evinrudes on the stern. If I was any kind of an artist I would have brought artistry to the ones I found, but I was, at the time, too much into the past. And besides, that artistry I admired came from Vincent’s mind, and was his solution. It was a lesson.
This letter was originally published as “Artistic license” on March 2, 2007.
“I exaggerate, I sometimes I make changes in the subject; but still I don’t invent the whole picture. On the contrary, I find it already there. It’s a question of picking out what one wants from nature.” (Vincent van Gogh)