The President’s Palette
No one is born a painting genius. Painting is a skill that is acquired through study, patience, discipline, the practice of painting, and understanding. Making a painting is an exercise in problem solving from beginning to end, always keeping in mind what you, the artist, want the painting to communicate. Our problem solving tools are simple: Value, composition, color, edges, and paint qualities of thicker or thinner. Over years of practice and much thought, we learn to wield these tools. And yet, we reach a point where we know that further study and practice cannot lead us on to a higher level of artistic expression. Something else is necessary. It is the intangible concept that underlies each good painting, which is understood through artistic sensitivity.
David Leffel has the following to say about creativity and sensitivity:
“Sensitivity must be cultivated immediately. But you cannot be taught how to become sensitive. Just asking “how” puts an end to sensitivity. Becoming sensitive is like learning to listen instead of just hearing. Listening is the beginning of becoming sensitive. Seeing without a screen of assumptions is also being sensitive. Sensitivity is the opposite of security. Security implies a certain self-satisfaction and a deafness to others.”
What we are dealing with is an intangible that cannot be quantified or taught. Sensitivity and creativity are intangibles that must be attained alone by each unique artist. I have found through experience that I have my most creative ideas when I put all distractions out of my mind so that I am able to focus my mind and emotions on the subject or problem at hand. Other artists refer to that state as being “in the zone.” It helps me to get into the zone by putting one of the Beethoven symphonies on the sound system. The music carries me away with its beauty and pushes out of my mind all other distractions. I can then focus on the subject matter, usually a still life setup, before me. Being in the zone allows me to have empathy for the subject that goes beyond intellectual understanding. Not being limited to simply seeing the subject with my eyes and mind, that deeper “seeing” and “feeling” results in a more emotional understanding of the character, texture and even weight of an object. This is of critical importance because we will never be able to communicate through a painting what we do not both see and feel. The end result of learning to be sensitive is a more powerful painting that communicates an intangible concept that is greater than the sum of the literal objects in the painting.
In conclusion, every good painting should have two subjects. One is the person or still life or view, while the other is what you, filtered through your artistic sensitivity, want to say about the person or still life or view.