All posts by Judith Reeve

Experience and Validation

Often times artists search deeply within themselves to find the very reason why they create what they create. We seem to yearn for some kind of validation that what one creates is of significance. This idea of significance is central to the artist because the artist does not just create for oneself but acts as a vehicle for the manifestation of images that are independent, to a certain extent, of the artist. Images certainly are part of the personal nature of the artist and spring from the well of his imagination, and they also speak of his time and culture. But an image also must express deeply the human condition and simultaneously tap into what is presently needed by modern man to effectively awaken him to his spiritual needs. William Blake states, “The artist is engaged in a spiritual activity whose essence consists in the precise delineation of reality, which is revealed to the visionary imagination.”

This struggle with validation is the artist’s struggle with himself as well. It is tied to self-confidence. When it is validated, the artist feels compelled to expend the necessary energy and internal forces of the imagination on the manifestation of the image. Without this there is no possibility of being able to complete anything. There is no built up force that will allow it to gush forth.

Delacroix constantly struggled with his own personal choices. He states that as an individual, his experience is a unique experience so therefore, it is singular and new in itself, and therefore should be made manifest. “You can add one more to the number of those who have seen nature in their own way. What they portrayed was made new through their vision and you will renew these things once more…Newness is in the mind of the artist who creates, and not in the object he portrays…You who know that there is always something new, show it to others in the things that they have hitherto failed to appreciate…If you cultivate your soul it will find the means to express itself.” (Journal of Eugene Delacroix, May 14, 1824)

If you cultivate your soul it will find the means to express itself. The following video that I found on the web deeply expresses this idea. I felt this artist’s experience was so powerful that I wanted to share it with you.

Re-evaluating an Image

Petals

Over that past six weeks, I have been pulling older work out of the racks. These images I have never shown because they were somehow not the fullest expression of my work. In many ways, they felt incomplete. There are several reasons for this: the image remains unformed because of a technical flaw in the color or drawing. Or the image moved away from its initial inspiration- its root- and diverged. Or sometimes one becomes plagued by the specificity of the model thereby weakening the larger, more important reasons for forming the image. Or one looses the thread, the deep emotional connection to that initial inspiration that compelled you to grappel with this specific image. Or one found that the difficulty of creating the image went beyond the technical ability one had at that moment. All of these reasons were present to some degree in the images that I drew out from the past.

Some images, I found, I had entirely moved beyond, mentally and emotionally and chose to leave these images incomplete. But there were others that I felt still contained a powerful germ that just needed to be released. They were calling to be fulfilled and completed. When one lets an image go, abandoning it for awhile, and then re-approaches it with new eyes, the solution that seemed so elusive is now laid before ones feet. And this is an exciting moment. One becomes entirely free from all the past frustrations. Those visual battles between what one desired and what was unfolding in the moment. Many of these images failed to idealize the model enough, carrying her to an archetypal level that was evocative. Now free from the model, and the specificity of the situation, I could see where I had failed to grasp the essentials. The emotion was still present and activated but it yearned for a dynamic unity that I could not give it at that time. Now I could see the flaws and the path to finish the image.

Luckily, I have kept excellent records of my process. Each painting is coded with a number that contains the date I last worked on it. These codes are recorded sequentially in my color/chord notebooks. So I am able, quite easily, to go through my record books and find all the information on how I developed the image, the specific palette I used, color combinations, mediums, whether it had been varnished and whether there was a color study and a initial drawing and whether I scaled the drawing up or not. The hardest part was finding the drawing in my flat files because I have about 300 drawings that I have saved.

Pulling out the drawing and comparing it to the painting helped re-evoke the memory of that image. Mixing the palette I had used, which sometimes contained colors I had moved away from, was challenging and at the same time reassuring. It is amazing to see where I have come from and many times, what I have forgotten. But all of the work somehow still resides in me- it is me. And it is enlightening to look at oneself in the past as if it was a mirror- seeing oneself as the younger, inexperienced artist and simultaneously, the present more experienced and mature artist. Memory is a powerful messenger, revealing more about who we are detached from past circumstance but yet emotionally potent still.

Images are independent entities that take on a life of their own beyond the confines of the artist. These images, in my rack, waited patiently for fulfilment, to be set free and released into the world. It has been a turning point in my artistic career. I finally have the freedom and the ability to accept that I cannot control the image and that I am just a midwife standing by to bring them to birth. Their life and vitality is not my own doing but comes from someplace beyond my understanding. I am here to set them on their way as they find their place in the world.

Delacroix’s Obsession with Effect

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Eugène Delacroix, Jaguar Attacking a Horseman, c. 1855, Oil on canvas, 23,5 x 28,5 cm, Národní Galerie, Prague

 

“This view, in spite of its multiplicity of separate details, seems nevertheless to make a single, unified impression on the mind.” (Journal, p.319) Delacroix sought in the observation of nature this manifestation of effect. He notes that on his visits to the sea town of Dieppe, that nature always presents an ultimate simplicity of effect where the color, light and details are bound together and harmonized by an over-all unity.

When one, in the early stages of developing an image, attempts to render what is in the mind’s eye, the results exhibit the large movement of the masses and the sweeping compositional lines, the large color notes and the energy of a raw emotion. In the 19th century this was called an étude. It revealed all that the artist intended to capture in the image without detail. It was an image of effect and impact. Delacroix states, “…the general effect inspires an emotion that astonishes even myself. You cannot tear yourself away from it, and no single detail seems to call for special attention from the whole. The perfection of this kind of art lies in creating a simultaneous effect.” (Journal, p.329)

This idea of simultaneous effect is intriguing. But what does he mean? Simultaneous means operating at the same time as well as synchronistically. When things are in synch, there is a harmonious interchange between the various parts. They also appear as a single effect as in music. The sound is singular whether one used a chord or multiple chords underlying the melody. This single, over-arching effect is supported by all the individual notes within the piece.

Analogously, those elements of painting- color, sweeping compositional lines, the beauty of the masses and the emotive touch of the artist, are bound into a harmonious whole through the over-arching effect. When one looks at a painting, no individual part should stand out distinctly alone, but there should be a complete visual effect as well as an emotional response solicited from the image. Delacroix writes, “… Bonnington had it, but especially in his hand. His hand was so skilled that it ran ahead of his ideas. He altered his pictures because he had such facility that everything he put on canvas was charming. Yet the details did not always hold together, and his tentative efforts to get back the general effect sometimes caused him to abandon a picture after he had begun it.” (Journal, p.346)

The goal of effect and therefore painting “.. is not a matter of summarizing but of amplifying where it is possible, and of prolonging the sensation by every means.” (Journal, p.214) This is the key to differentiating what in the image is essential and what is just embellishment for its own sake. Delacroix uses an analogy of architecture, “…on the effect of the sketch compared with the finished work. I said the sketch for a picture, the early stages of a great building, a ruin, in fact every work of imagination of which portions are missing, must have a stronger effect on the mind in proportion to what our imaginations have to supply in order to gain an impression of the work.” (Journal, p.192)

This seeking after the large impression subsequently, also has the effect of inviting the imagination of the viewer to take his place within the image, completing it with his own unique imagination. Our imagination is “…a faculty that enjoys vagueness, expands freely, and embraces vast objects at the slightest hint. Furthermore, in the matter of the sketch as compared to the final appearance of a great building, the imagination cannot conceive anything very different from the appearance of the final object…”. (Journal, p.216)

So it becomes a delicate balance to find a sense of finish and effect without solidifying the forms to the point where the imagination has no room to expand within the image. This is something that the artist must discover intuitively in the very process of painting. But Delacroix’s experience is always available to us if we spend the time to immerse ourselves in his own personal journey of discovery, a lifetime of trials and errors as well as great feats of technical mastery.

 

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