In the movie “Renoir”, the great painter describes to his last model how his friend in Aix is not interested in the figure, he prefers to paint apples—they don’t move. (Of course he is referring to Cezanne.) Renoir on the other hand wanted mostly to paint flesh. He said: “I look at a nude. There are myriads of tiny tints. I must find the ones that will make the flesh on my canvas live and quiver. When I’ve painted a woman’s bottom so that I want to touch it, then [the painting] is finished.” His last words about painting at age 78: “I think I’m beginning to learn something about it.”
I’ve learned a lot this week watching people and trying to help interpret the visual language of the artist they’ve chosen emulate. The biggest lesson in this exercise concerns “seeing”. How well do we really see what is in front of us? Next comes the beginning of an understanding how an admired artist’s technique is created and how it might be used for effect. Then once you’ve experienced that, you make it your own and use it, or not. It all fosters the conversation.
The process remains a dialogue— with the canvas, with the paint and with your own heart and mind. And hopefully it becomes a passionate discourse: “In painting, as in the other arts, there’s not a single process, no matter how insignificant, which can be reasonably made into a formula. The work of art must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself and carry you away. It is the means by which the artist conveys his passion. It is this current that he puts forth which sweeps you along…” (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
Jackson Pollack once famously said: “Technique is a means at arriving at a statement.” Whether one paints apples, or bottoms, or drips or thickly slathers the paint, what we hope to do is experience the appreciated technique of those who have gone before and then see if it can assist us with our own passionate statement. We can’t formulize it, but it can communicate certain wisdom.
We don’t need to know what our “statement” is at the start, we just need to begin “speaking”.