Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An Artistic Team of Rivals

White-throated Sparrow in Staghorn Sumac. Sumi Brush Pen Sketch by Ken Januski.


When the flush of newborn sun fell first
On Eden's green and bold
Our Father Adam sat under a tree
And scratched with a stick in the mould
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen
Was a joy to his mighty Heart
Till the devil whispered behind the leaves,
"It's pretty but is it Art?"
From 'The Conundrum of Workshops' by Rudyard Kipling, quoted in 'Lines from Nature' by John Busby, Langford Press.

'"I have attained," he said, "a form filtered to the essentials."'
Henri Matisse speaking about his later cutout artwork, as quoted by John Elderfield in 'The Cutouts of Henri Matisse', George Braziller.

Every animal, plant, or fish exhibits individual moods compatible with its nature. It is difficult to understand, but once understood their spirit expressed in your painting will be complete -- otherwise you are painting mere likeness. Few artists can express their subjects spirit -- the first rule for this is universal empathy. As you progress in this, not only will you understand the spirit behind the few animal motifs on which you are studying, but every creature will begin to be enlivened with mood and spirit. Later, when you meld the myriad creatures together with your emotions and nature through your brush you attain a 'dissolution of opposites,' a realm where both subject and object are transformed together. Every scene that passes your vision and leaves your brush becomes enlivened with your individual personality. The average person may not recognize this, but other artists will acknowledge your paintings as possessing both feeling and character. At this point painting becomes an art of life, perfected by transforming your disposition. Neglecting to mold your nature inhibits you from attaining a higher realm of painting. This is why abstract art has become an art for this modern, chaotic age.
Cheng Man-ching: Master of Five Excellences, translation and commentary by Mark Hennessy, Frog Ltd.

I recently received the last book by John Busby , 'Lines from Nature' and was struck by the opening quote from Kipling. And I'm not sure exactly what Busby meant since his own work exhibits both direct observation of nature and art based on that as well as more formal aspects. Perhaps he just wanted to show that it is an age-old dichotomy.

Seeing a wonderful film recently called 'A Model for Matisse' about a nun who was a subject for many works by Matisse and was also instrumental in his late works for the chapel at Vence, renewed my appreciation for Matisse. There's no question that his work is ART.

Thus a dilemma: straightforward response to nature, which may or may not be ART, and ART that intends to be ART. I love them both.

So that got me searching through 'Cheng Man-ching: Master of Five Excellences', translated with commentary by Mark Hennessy for some of his thoughts on art. The one I quote is not actually the one I was looking for, about chi in art, but it's good enough and I'm not trying to write a research paper.

My point is really to show how many different attitudes there can be toward making art, and how one person, namely me, but I suspect most other artists as well, are influenced by many of them, even when they can seem contradictory. And out of all those contradictions comes ART. And I think the best art comes from an artistic team of rivals, not from just one source or one school. As I've been noticing so much recently while listening to Beethoven it is out of conflict that the most bracing, striking and honest beauty sometimes comes.

Since this really is more about ideas than pictures it was hard to know how to illustrate this. So I chose the only art I've made in 2017. This is a fairly quick sketch with a sumi brush pen of a White-throated Sparrow eating the seeds of a Staghorn Sumac. Perhaps it will eventually become a print, or painting, or perhaps even a cutout.

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