Beauty Of Subject

In painting for beauty we have two courses open to us. One is to give a beautiful interpretation and rendering of a subject, regardless of the material, and the other is to seek material which we consider beautiful in itself. The latter seems the more obvious choice. But what counts in the end is the amount of beauty the artist can see and interpret.

Among the work of the great masters we find the extremes. Rubens sought beauty on a grandiose scale while Chardin, for instance, with his still lifes, sought beauty in a simple loaf of bread. We visualize Rubens in a huge studio, filled with gorgeous accessories and enormous canvases, with a bevy of helpers grinding his paints, building scaffolds, and possibly even laying in the groundwork of liis paintings. We think of Char-din as sitting by the window of his bedroom, a few objects set on a table before him. But both of these men created immortal works.

In the choice of subjects, a time may come when the artist begins to be governed by his technical skill. There are certain things he likes to paint, not so much for themselves as because they are suited to his technique. There are certain types of lighting that he has mastered. And he may simply have learned to find material that adapts itself to his way of painting. This probably comes largely as the result of experiment, through which he has found out also what kind of subjects give him most trouble. Though it is advisable to continue to experiment and seek to analyze new problems, when a man is painting for his own satisfaction he is entitled to choose subjects that give him the greatest joy to interpret. However the danger that lies in continually choosing the same kind of subject is that the artist may narrow his approach and fail to grow in stature. Or he may merely grow stale.

Since we paint light and form in the same way, it should not make too much difference what the form is, or what material it is composed of. A man can find as much pleasure in painting the planes, values, and colors of a rock as he can in painting flesh. I have heard instructors advise their students to look at all material with a cold, dispassionate eye, on the theory that if we get the form and color we get all there is to paint. This seems a little too methodical to me. It puts too much stress on craftsmanship and not enough on emotion. It might work if all we intend to do is copy what we see, but to me a painting becomes art only when we recognize and stress the qualities that move us and stir our enthusiasm. A personal response is needed to create an individual expression.

Everyone must choose subjects that excite him and immediately make him want to paint them. He can only do that by getting out of the studio, seeing more, taking trips, doing things that might turn up material. Hdward Hopper travels widely in search of subjects that interest him—an old gingerbread house, a bit of landscape. And so do most other artists.

No vacation should be embarked upon without a sketch pad and a color camera. There are al-

Rubens sought beauty on a grandiose scale

Venus and Adonis by Peter Paul Rubens, metropolitan museum of art, new York city.

Rubens sought beauty on a grandiose scale

Venus and Adonis by Peter Paul Rubens, metropolitan museum of art, new York city.

ways worth-while subjects to paint and sometimes we are lucky enough to be at hand when a spectacular effect or event occurs. We used to be told to avoid the spectacular, such as blazing sunset effects, waterfalls, storms, or the brilliance of the sun against the dark clouds as a storm retreats. But perhaps the time has come for the painter of realism to be a little more spectacular. Why not paint the unusual if it strikes you as beautiful? Perhaps a shaft of brilliant sunlight makes a daring and striking composition, something arresting that you have never seen painted before. Have the courage to try it. When we look at the daring of the modernists, anything the realistic painter might do must seem much tamer by comparison than it would have done in the past. Good taste can have force and vitality. It need not always be sedate and clothed in dignity. If a bullfight or the prize ring appeals to an artist, why should he not transfer some of the attendant excitement to his canvas?

While it is true that something peaceful and pleasant might be easier to live with, the tempo of life today is not the peaceful seclusion of the life of yesterday. We need not resort to shock tactics, but some of the excitement of modem life should he introduced into our work.

Beauty of subject is not limited to realism, modernism, or any other school. If you can produce beauty by pouring paint 011 the canvas, I say do it. But make beauty as you see it your goal. There is as much inward joy in creating beauty as in finding it.

Sooner or later every artist has to find an au dience for his paintings. Otherwise he continues to work in a sort of vacuum. While at first he can paint for himself, the time comes when he must feel his work is appreciated, if not by the many, then at least by the few. If we can find out what people love, and interpret these things pictorially, we have made a long step toward having our work accepted. Some of these things are material, some are more or less intangible and abstract, and some are purely spiritual.

Man is motivated to a large extent by experience and memory. He is more inclined to remember happy experiences than unhappy ones. The latter he prefers to forget. A man who has happy memories of open country in his boyhood will probably like paintings of landscape. The boy who grew up on a farm will no doubt react to farm scenes, cattle, horses, and other animals. The boy who went sailing grows into a man who loves marines and sailboats. The small-town boy probably likes "homey" subjects, the corner drugstore, the circus, the town hall, the village nestled in the hills. A man will like pictures that arc related to his hopes, his ambitions, his life, and his loves. The appeal of portraits is perhaps the most self-evident.

People are not likely to change greatly in their basic habitual likes and dislikes, no matter what kind of art is served to them. They will always be motivated by basic emotions, memories, and associations of personal experiences. When we can add technical beauty to something which is already appealing in its nature, we double the response of the viewer.

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