The painting I'm posting to illustrate Roberts' principle in this chapter is a perfect example of non-authentic work because it not only lacks my "voice" but also excellence in technique. I completed this painting over a decade ago under the influence of many other artists who had painted this same lighthouse keeper's house on Monhegan Island, Maine where I used to summer. Obviously, it lacks all the elements of a "good" painting and is totally uninspired.
So, what principle does Roberts offer us in Chapter 5 of his book Creative Authenticity? Your craft and your voice. It's a relief to me to find a chapter in this book that I can agree with from beginning to end. In it, the author makes three points: 1) we find only within ourselves that which we need to express in our paintings (a.k.a. our "voice"), 2) mastering painting technique allows us to effectively and successfully express our voice, but technique alone is never a substitute for self-expression, and 3) learning technique and learning to express our ideas should simultaneously develop.
He cites many great examples for his points and the one I can identify with utilizes the budding musician. I may have touched on this notion in an earlier blog, but I'll state it better here and use a personal example that parallels Roberts'. I am fortunate enough to have parents who provided me with a formal education in both the visual and musical arts. I started piano lessons at the age six and stuck with it. When I reached my early thirties, I hired a concertizing coach who recognized my advanced technical ability but thought that my performances lacked musicality. After only a few months of coaching, she showed me how to express myself in music - how to make the piano "sing" and how to "color" the music. It was a like a light-bulb had turned on in my head and I finally saw what music is supposed to be. I had found my own voice. I began to interpret what another had composed to make it something new, something personal. And, as I learned to add my own voice to my performance, I also gained greater technical mastery. These two aspects advanced together and I rapidly improved.
But, the second point that Roberts makes and that I understood as a musician, is that I couldn't achieve that level of mastery as a pianist without a solid foundation. As a visual artist, this also rings true. If I don't have enough technical mastery when I paint, my ability to effectively express the intended meaning will be inhibited. I used to hate practicing scales on the piano, but my diligence paid off and enhanced my ability to play Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, etc.
Technical mastery and self expression need to develop together. One cannot be substituted for the other and result in a successful painting. As Roberts points out, sometimes too many flaws in technique can obscure the message. But, he writes, if the message is powerful enough, a few flaws won't diminish the work.
So, what's wrong with the painting I posted? I had absolutely no inner motivation for painting it other than the fact that every other artist on the island was painting the lighthouse. I had no personal connection and it shows. The painting lacks passion. It's stiff, poorly composed, and ... well... I guess you could throw the entire book of criticism at it! I keep this painting as a reminder of what not to do.