I was pretty stumped today. I had been working on a painting for the past few weeks, and I could not figure out what was wrong with it. When I walked into the studio, first thing in the morning, the painting sat on the easel and mocked me. I stared back at it, trying to pretend like I wasn’t afraid of it.
Then, instead of picking up my brushes, I picked up a book of Sargent’s drawings. Then I picked up a sketchbook and a few pencils. Then I walked up to the local cafe.
Sitting down with a cup of coffee, I did this sketch over the next hour, copying the original by Sargent. I just wanted to glean something from this drawing, to acquire something from this beautiful sketch, to internalize this drawing, to digest it and to make it my own. In making it my own, I could then take this energy and pour it into my own work.
I returned to my studio, and my painting went wonderfully. I understood things, I saw things, most importantly I felt things.
This is one of the things I love most about painting. I had a question about beauty, and so I went and asked Sargent. Sargent gave me his answer. Sargent had a question about beauty, and he went and asked Velazquez. Velazquez gave him his answer. Velazquez asked Rubens, Rubens asked Titian, Titian asked Michelangelo, Michelangelo asked a Greek sculptor from Rhodes… I had a dialogue, today, with some of the greatest minds in history.
Further along these lines is the notion of immortality through art. I was able to discuss an idea with men that had died millenia before. Dante writes in the Inferno, canto XXIV, that immortality is achieved through literature, in that the dialogue between living and dead continues. Dante goes on to say that if the memory of you lives on in somebody’s mind, then that in and of itself is a form of immortality.
It’s funny, I never find myself contemplating thoughts of greatness, thoughts of fame. But, I am always hoping that I might be part of the dialogue.
“When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than our, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ “
Keats, excerpt from Ode on a Grecian Urn