The making of art can be divided into three main camps: Subject driven, style driven and idea driven.
Subject matter is a secure camp. There can also be ever-widening sorties to find subjects that provide further interest and challenge. An upcoming trip to Europe builds anticipation that the holy grail of painting may be found in some Spanish village or Irish bog. Many are on this crusade. It’s not without its charms. Great to come back with a full creel — sublimated evidence for the modern day hunter-gatherer.
The style-driven camp forages for subjects suitable for the infliction of their style. Personal style gives personal pride and a feeling of uniqueness. While this camp may be occasionally troubled with the limitations, they name consistency as a virtue and often give themselves more possibilities of commercial success.
Then there are those that break camp and move into the castles of their minds. Photographer Richard Avedon said, “Start with a style and you are in chains, start with an idea and you are free.” In the land of mind, ideas are kings and their vassals need only to search their capabilities for effective ways of illustration. They might even direct foot soldiers to do the slogging for them.
In truth, subject matter and style combine to generate ideas and those ideas in turn generate the miracles of mind. G. K. Chesterton said, “In the long vigil the artist may have to vary his methods of stimulation.” It remains that art is pulled higher by itself. Process prods quality. Quality of thought and quality of execution. In the garret or in the bog it’s valuable for artists to develop an intuition for this: a third eye, a sixth sense — the persistence of wonder.
PS: “What we need is more sense of the wonder of life, and less of the business of making a picture.” (Robert Henri)
Esoterica: Subject matter, when seen as a means to an end, serves. When seen only as something that has to be got right, inhibits. “An artist must actively caress wonder.” (Eric Maisel) “I never get tired of the blue sky.” (Vincent van Gogh)
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Don’t analyze wonder
by Catherine Yakovina, St Petersburg, Russia
I do not like to analyze. I think it is like love. If we begin to analyze this true feeling then love can be destroyed by our reflections. Also it is like the flight of the birds. The birds do not think why they take flight. They do it. The analysis of feelings is a dangerous experiment for any artist. For example, we could separate a flower to different pieces because we would like to analyze it. Will we have the possibility to collect all the pieces again so that it could be the flower again? I think it is not possible. We kill the flower by the analysis.
Beyond our limitations
by Radha (Linda Saccoccio) NYC, NY, USA
Wonder takes us beyond our limitations by providing an expansive breath of fresh air to sustain the soul of creativity, and creativity allows the spirit to thrive.
Wonder in subconscious
by Michael Fenton, London, UK
Our sense of wonder exists in our subconscious. It is natural to being human. We stymie our sense of wonder by allowing in the impedimenta of everyday life. A great deal of the artist’s job is made of filtering out those things that interfere with the sense of wonder. “The unconscious is really most marvelous. Waiting there ready to be tapped is all knowledge, all feeling, all understanding… the artist has only to respect it and let it out.” (Maryon Kantaroff)
Wonder of first framing
by Gaylynn Robinson
I just had the experience of seeing my work matted and framed for the first time. I painted paintings for my three sisters to commemorate five years of a luncheon to raise money for breast cancer. It was a very emotional feeling to be able to honor them this way so the process was very personal. When I took them to be framed it was exciting to choose the proper mat and frame. However, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming feelings that I felt when I saw the finished products. Beyond the excitement and pleasure in the framer doing a good job was the pride and satisfaction that I felt toward my own work. I can not wait to experience these emotions again.
by Jim Rowe
I realize that all realist paintings have subject matter, I just find a tree, rock or whatever a shallow effort to avoid a more challenging subject matter of feelings, I am always looking for art that says something, and all I am seeing is pretty pictures. I guess I feel “subject matter” should be like a subject in a book, and there are books out there that don’t say anything, but I have no interest in them. So then I start feeling like I am the only one in the world and that I am right and the landscape painters are wrong. Another thing what is it with this style, everybody looks like they took the same painting workshop, doesn’t anybody have their own way of painting? Your last letter sort of touched on a bit of what I was thinking, and I guess as I mentioned before I am doing what I am doing, to be apart from everyone else as a way of dealing with my inferiority complex, and the feeling if there were other people doing what I was doing, only better, there was no use in me doing it. I have to be the best in the world in what I do. So far I have found no competition, so I am painting like crazy. I guess the reason I am being over critical of everyone’s paintings is that, in putting everyone else down, I am raising myself up, and this will continue until my self esteem raises to a level that I feel comfortable with. And by writing this letter I have just sorted out the mystery of why I am always putting down everybody else’s art work.
Sister Wendy Beckett
by Joy Cooper, Valley Head, West Virginia, USA
I’ve just gotten Sister Wendy Beckett’s The Story of Art. Seeing the superb reproductions and enlarged details of wonderful artwork is a humbling experience. What ideas, style, and subject matter those masters of history have utilized! This entertaining, readable book is packed with facts, biography, and timelines. Today I’m torn between1. Breaking all my brushes, and 2. Feeling as if I’m a (microscopic) part of the flow of history.
Can’t resist the possibilities
by Debbie High
I love oil paint! Just squirting it out of the tube increases my heart rate. Seeing all those beautiful colors and the thought of a masterpiece. Who is it that can resist the possibilities? Selecting just the right brush, filling it full of that luscious, sensuous oil paint and spreading it on a blank canvas… sheer heaven! Being blessed with the desire to express my thoughts and feeling in such an imaginative and creative way is truly a privilege. Making a painting is both humbling and exhilarating. Making a painting has an elusive quality that leaves you looking over the next hill. Making a painting teaches you a lot about life if you allow it. Making a painting is somewhat of a self-portrait without painting your own face. Making a painting is wonderful!
Change of style
by Moncy Barbour
Oh how I agree with Richard Avedon. My style changes so very often that you can not tell my work without reading my signature. But if one was to view my life’s work then they would, I believe, find my style. I love the freedom of change because I get bored so easily.
by Markus Tessman
The other evening I went to a get-together of painters at a friend’s house. I expected that everyone was bringing slides of recent work, so we could share our latest tangents and get some positive feedback. I was the only one presenting representational images. It was a very unpleasant and embarrassing experience — it was as though I had let off a stink-bomb! Has anyone else had the same experience with art nazis?
by Nancy Dittemore
I recently purchased a Ponyeasel from the manufacturer in Pasadena, California and am very pleased! It is a bench style easel that folds and is portable so I can use it both inside and out of doors. The surface washes nicely so it looks great in my small art studio at home. I’m new to the art world, but thought that this is such a great find, that I should pass it along.
The following are a few more of the 350 or so entries that have come in since the contest was announced. They are not necessarily finalists in the “Free Painting Workshop in Brittany with Robert Genn” contest.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.