The artistic alternative


Dear Artist,


“Night air attack before the Hitler Line”
oil painting
by Lawren Harris, 1946

At no time in our progress do we stop wondering what the secret is. Sometimes I think just knowing that there’s more than one way to paint a tree is the main part of it. The idea is that every work of art has to be worked out in its own way. It’s possible, of course, to keep doing anything in a tried and true manner. But we always have choices. With the artistic alternative, you stand a chance of surprising yourself. You also stand a chance of doing something that carries your personal stamp and unique signature. A little thought, a little contemplation, a little imagination, and you have invention on your hands.


“For What?”
oil painting by Frederick Varley
completed while an official war artist, 1917

Also, there’s not much wrong with being a legend in your own mind. It’s a matter of giving power to the mind’s artist and allowing him or her to imagine some of the ways a given job might be done. The variations are really quite limitless: Bright primer, mixed media, blind palette, glaze gradations, big dumb brush, scumble, scrape out, roll on, chain saw. You know what I mean. The artistic alternative also lurks in the interplay of opposites: form and formlessness, simplicity and complexity, contrived and happenstance, tight and loose, big and small, thick and thin, delicate and crude, bright and subdued, dark and light, lost and found. It’s a long list, and everyone has a right to his or her own. The secret? Artistic licentiousness rivets your attention and brings you back for more. Trained, nurtured and believed in, it also opens you to a giddy self-confidence and the feeling that you can go anywhere, anytime, and pull off just about anything.


“A Copse, Evening”
oil painting by A.Y. Jackson, 1918
Soldiers trudge through a barren landscape of mud and potholes, as lights scan the evening sky – a powerful comment on war’s devastation.

Best regards,


PS: “There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.” (G. K. Chesterton) Esoterica: Applying your personal conception is the greatest buzz of all. If something can be thought, it can generally be done. “Imagination is the power of the mind over the possibilities of things.” (Wallace Stevens) “Imagination rules the world.” (Napoleon)

This letter was originally published as “The artistic alternative” on August 10, 2001. We’ve also included images of war art painted by Canada’s Group of Seven. Today, Remembrance Day, we honour the brave men and women who fought for our freedom.


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The Wall Gorazhde

oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches
by Skip Rhode, Asheville area, North Carolina, USA


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