The other day I happened to be paying a visit to one of my galleries. I noticed a guy moving slowly along a wall — his nose almost dragging on the paintings. “He’s an art student — comes in here all the time,” said the dealer. “He’s studying all the artists and trying to figure out their secrets.” The guy was making notes, lost in his own world.
On the way back to my studio, music turned up real loud, I realized that if someone had an invention, or had developed a new cure for something, the first thing they might do would be to head for the patent office. But it’s difficult to patent a style. A clever lab technician could certainly grind up and reverse-engineer a new pill, but, as that fellow in the gallery was finding, it’s difficult to grind out the real secrets in someone else’s work.
I believe that every one of us has the right and the responsibility to create something that is a bit unique — to develop a look that may be somewhat private and difficult for others to unravel. With all the permutations and combinations possible, I also think there will always be enough uniqueness to go around.
While secrets can sometimes be fairly clear and on the surface, at most times they’re mysteriously subtle. For the artist-inventor who discovers them, they are often hard won. They appear by a variety of means. This includes the order in which work is built, the process and execution, reference methods, self-crit techniques, personal mythology, learned and inherited tendencies, attitude, and a host of other factors like palette, equipment, format, lighting, etc. More than anything, secrets have to do with personal habits and the conscious or unconscious prejudices of the worker. Repetition also plays its part and is a valuable contributor.
An outsider, cruising a wall of art, is stuck with the problem of getting into someone else’s skin.
For those of us who regularly toil at art, it’s clear that glimmers of secrets regularly flit before our eyes. Like butterflies, they need to be netted and examined. This evolved “knowledge” is what electrifies and inspires the better artists — and puts a mark of distinction on their art. Knowing something special, something a bit different, even hazily, means you can claim it. That’s the secret.”
PS: “Let each man exercise the art he knows.” (Aristophanes, 450-385 BC)
Esoterica: For the developing artist — and we’re all developing — a state of honest curiosity is at the root of creative secrets. Like lab technicians, we look to the possibilities of what might happen when we mix this with that. As in most human pursuits, it’s often useful to avoid one-sided answers to many-sided questions. It’s okay to doubt. It’s important to test. The way to discover secrets is to be a student of your own efforts. “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” (Confucius, 551-479 BC)
This letter was originally published as “The secret” on October 6, 2006.
The group show Emergence opens at Dimmitt Contemporary Art in Houston, Texas this Thursday, November 8 from 6-8pm. If you are in the neighbourhood, Sara and Peter will be there and would love to see you.
“Art arises when the secret vision of the artist and the manifestation of nature agree to find new shapes.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Come and paint with me in Lucca, Italy, May 2019!!
My painting holiday workshops are all about the fun of painting in a supportive group environment and is suitable for all levels. Mostly, we’ll be painting en plein air (a nice quiet locale in which to play with our paints!) and enjoying the fresh air. I know Lucca like the back of my hand and will take you to some of my favourites spots!! Each day will start with a short theory session, with an emphasis on quick value sketching then a demonstration of the day’s painting subject out on location. We will also explore subject selection and strategies to tackle complex subjects. After a lunch break, I will let you loose to paint and then come and help each student in turn throughout the afternoon.
After a well-deserved siesta, we’ll meet up for aperitivi and on to dinner; Lucca’s favourite dining spots will be waiting for us with a special menu just for us!
Tuition, meals, luxury en suite B&B accommodation, on-ground transfers and excursions are all included!!
E1895 Euros per painter, no single supplement
For more information email Amanda