My Approach to Art
Artists have various ideas about what it is that they are attempting to accomplish but for me it is reflecting our human experience of spirit, life and wonder. Each term is significant.
Some say that it is the function of art to hold a mirror up to life. Actually it’s the artist’s experience of life that is reflected in the work of art. That experience is shaped by such things as culture, tradition, history, outlook and other people’s reported experiences.
So it is experience rather than ideas, theories or arguments that are to be reflected in my art. It is a misuse of art to use it to promote commercial interests, religious systems or dogma, political or philosophical ideology. That is not to say that the artist’s experience will not be influenced by dogma, ideology or religion. All I am saying is that art is corrupted when deliberately used to promote these rather than to reflect human experience.
Art is a peculiarly human activity. No other animal engages in artistic pursuits. It is possible only because we have a shared humanity. Ever since the Renaissance, human experience has provided the subject matter for artists in the Western tradition.
A person’s experience is unique. You can tell other people about it, and that’s what we usually mean by sharing our experience. Or several people can experience the same event and in that way share an experience. But no one can actually have another person’s experience. What the artist can do is to reflect his or her own experience in such a way as to evoke an experience in others. The artist cannot control the viewer’s experience; all that can be done is to suggest something.
It is the artist’s own experience that is reflected, but unless it is to remain purely private and idiosyncratic the experience has to be one that other people can relate to. Hence I say that it has to do with our human experience, not just my experience. That’s why art is so closely related to culture. Different cultures have different ways of expressing themselves. As a form of communication art requires not only an experiencing artist but also an experiencing viewer.
But what aspect of human experience am I to reflect? You could try to answer that by describing the diversity of subjects that art deals with but for me it is summed up in three words – spirit, life and wonder.
In painting, it is my task to reflect the spirit of a scene, a person, an incident or whatever the subject may be. Using physical materials like paint, canvas, paper, brushes, etc I seek to reflect something intangible. That, I believe, is what all great artists have sought to do.
What do I mean by the artist’s experience of spirit? What is spirit? Spirit is the power to make an emotional, intuitive, non-physical impact. It is present in the relationship between what is viewed and the viewer. John V. Taylor calls the Holy Spirit the Go-between God. Spirit is always the go-between. It is the essence or mood of a scene as it impacts on the artist. It stirs the soul. But it also has an intuitive and symbolic intellectual component.
Spirit is intangible; so also is life. For all our human delving and analysis life remains a mystery. It is the task of the artist to reflect some aspect of that mystery. So I seek to reflect my life experiences in my painting. But more than that, I seek to reflect life as I see it. The choice of subjects is unlimited.
And wonder comes into it. To produce a real work of art one needs to have a sense of wonder, surprise, even fascination for the subject. First of all something has to grab the attention of the artist. It may be colour and form, but something has to pique the artist’s interest. The artist is intrigued, aware of something special, drawn into it, touched by a sense of mystery, filled with feelings of awe and amazement. I think W. H. Auden was on the same wave length when we wrote,”A poet feels the impulse to create a work of art when the passive awe produced by an event is transformed intoi a desire to express that awe in a rite of worshiup.”
Art and Religion
To speak of art as a rite of worship reminds us that both art and religion have their origins in the same sort of experiences. If we delve beyond rituals and doctrine, creeds and clergy, systems and institutions, culture and tradition, we find that religion, at its heart, is the expression of our human experience of spirit, life and wonder. This, then, is where art and religion meet; not in the painting of overtly religious subjects, but in having a common origin in these great aspects of human experience.
To accomplish what we set out to do in art means being as proficient as we can be in the techniques required of that medium. So learn everything possible about colour and form, composition, perspective, focal points, tonal values, style, drawing, contrast, balance, negative space, hard and soft edges, design, brushwork and the peculiarities of the different mediums. However technique is never an end in itself; it needs to be placed at the service of the artist’s experience of spirit, life and wonder.