The Laws of Nature

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Point of Departure

The Little Dancer, Robert Henri, 1916-1918

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

Thanks to all of you who commented on yesterday's post! I gleaned gems from each of you, and want to highlight what our good friend Margaret wrote: I consider each artist's production, work, efforts etc. in visual art as an individual contribution to a larger reflection on the world as we live it today. Stick to your interests, make good work and send it out into the mix. I'd say that's a good argument for painting for yourself! And, our good friend Casey's blog post entitled "Artist, Know Thyself" is a must read. I suppose I'm guilty of beating the same drum about the importance of speaking in one's own voice through art, but I believe that it's essential and, possibly the only real "rule" in art.

Speaking of "rules," here's a passage from Henri's book:

As different as ideas and emotions are, there can be no set rule laid down for the making of pictures, but for students found working in a certain line suggestions may be made. there is a certain common sense in procedure which may be basic for all, and there are processes safe to suggest, if only to be used as points of departure, to those who have not already developed a satisfying use of their materials.
(p. 21)

I think that every art instructor should begin a class with that statement. Telling students that there is a set of rules that must always be obeyed hampers creativity, authenticity, and innovation. Whereas, informing our students about the principles and elements of design and color theory in the context of useful tools that they may employ when needed is less confusing. It's really the difference between playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata as it's written and interpreting the same piece through jazz. The latter approach requires intimate knowledge of the sonata as it's written, but depends upon the musician's ability to break the rules and play a unique interpretation.

I like Henri's use of the phrase point of departure. Usually, our work is inspired by something - a sight, sound, memory, feeling, etc. It's the place where we begin, and if we aspire to create only an exact replica of the inspiration, our work can suffer from it. But, when the inspiration is used as a point of departure to send our imagination on a voyage that leads us to unique expression, then we have the greatest chance of creating unique and meaningful art. As Jasper Johns once said: Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that.

And, in order to use the point of departure we must first "depart." As Henri wrote:

Those who cannot begin do not finish. (p. 22)

Your thoughts??


Margaret Ryall said...

I add my support to the comments of Henri and Cartwright. How could you argue with such sensible commentary? The term "point of departure" allows you to explore your initial inspiration and to interpret how you present it using the principles and elements of design. you can only win under those conditions.

Margaret Ryall said...

I'm back to address my rude behaviour... Thanks for referencing my comment from yesterday's post. It is a comment I made in a very different environment before. It always bothers me when other artist's make derogatory comments about someone else's work . They may not like the technique or the content. You have to honour all creative output as a form of communication. I would never dream of insulting the content of someone's conversation or how they chose to express it. This is probably a simplistic view on my part but I stand by it.

RHCarpenter said...

There is so much to think about when one becomes (or is) an artist. Do you paint for yourself? Do you paint to get into that show or competition? Do you want to be well-known or rich, or well-known AND rich? If someone said you cannot create 2D or 3D art ever again, would there be a lacking in your life or would you go on to something playing a musical instrument? I find myself obsessed with creating something - I'm not sure what it is or where it's taking me, but I'm enjoying (mostly) the ride. There are times, though, when I want that golden apple of fame and fortune (or at least steady income). I find that, to ever get that, I had to learn the rules and learn how to work within a framework set down for me by teachers who came before. The bottom line is I feel a creative need inside me that has to come out on paper. If that creation is appreciated by another, it's a bonus, but not as necessary as the creation. BTW, reading a wonderful book called No More Secondhand Art by Peter London.

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for recommending my post, Katherine. I think the link is broken, though.

You are finding so much more in Henri - I must break out the book! Today I hope to be in the studio, but I will work hard to fit it in.

Kathy said...

Hi Margaret - I've never thought of you as "rude!" Just the opposite :-)
I don't think your view is simplistic when it comes to the content of other artists, as long as theirs is a sincere expression. I must confess, however, that I'm not that kind about those who mock art by creating insincere work.

Hi Rhonda - the only way I know of to generate a predictable and reliable income as an artist is to become a salaried art teacher in a school, college, or university. Otherwise, there may be a cycle of "lean" and "fat" years. At least, that's how it is for me. Getting rich from my art is not on my agenda, since I think it would be unattainable and cause me too much stress to attempt it. I seek only a comfortable income. Thanks for the book recommendation - I'll look into it!

Hi Casey - I fixed the link; thanks for letting me know. I'm cherry-picking the gems that apply to this blog from Henri's book, so I'm leaving out a lot of his advice concerning technique and specific types of painting.

Stan Kurth said...

I'm good at the "point of departure" but I don't always get to the destination I intended.

hwfarber said...

This is "de part" I like--departing.

I don't think I'll have anything to add or argue with--Henri said it all. I am enjoying your additions.

Kathy said...

Hi Stan - I know what you mean!!

Hi Hallie - funny :-))

Dan Kent said...

I spoke to a student in a watercolor class who was very frustrated because the instructor was very restrictive - they could not draw, they had to trace his drawing; they had to do things his way. I don't think that instructor would get my money. I much prefer Henri's approach.

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Mary Paquet said...

I just came from a display of art related to saving an old theater in a small town south of my home. It's obvious that each artist came from a common start, but each piece is unique. I love how everyone expresses their own personal response and emotions for a unique statement about a common subject.

-Don said...

I like how you wove Henri's points of departure regarding procedures and processes in with your points of departure regarding inspiration and aspiration.

I'm glad to say my ship has departed from its comfortable point of origin and is in some pretty challenging waters right now as I'm doing what Jasper Johns suggested - but, I wonder right about now if I maybe should have learned how to use a sextant first... hmm... Well, anyway, I hope that when I finally land in port somewhere my cargo will be found of some value in the marketplace. If not, well at least the trip was fun.

Happy Creating!


Kathy said...

Hi Dan - yikes!! What a terrible disservice to the student.

Hi Pam - what are you rebelling against?? I'm curious to know.

Hi Mary - I agree. It's exciting to see the differing interpretations, and so vitally important to art that these differences are expressed!

Hi Don - we artists, in our innovations, are like the earliest voyagers who had a reason to depart in their leaky vessels, and even a goal, but arrived somewhere quite different from where they intended. Sometimes they arrived at a better place, and sometimes they didn't. And, sometimes their ship sank! In your case, it seems like you're on course to paradise!! At least, I'm enjoying being a passenger on your boat :-)

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Kathy said...

Hi Pam - you go girl!! I've been through the process you describe and have arrived at the other side. It's the best place to be, since being yourself is the most important way to exist. Embrace the process :-)