The Artist’s Path
Searching for ways to be unique and innovative has been a quest for every artist in history. There is a wonderful quote from a great American Artist and a founder of the Artist Student League of New York, Robert Henri. In his book “The Art Spirit” he makes a very profound statement -- “Artists are born, not made!” This was a statement that I argued against for many years as a student. The day I completed my theories of Matricism however, I asked myself how I ever could have accomplished something so many have said was next to impossible, discovering a new style of painting? The scientist in me always viewed Henri’s statement from the simplistic perspective of genetics vs. environmental influence. The older, more seasoned and wiser me understands that it just isn’t that simple. Is it what others call karma, destiny, God,s will? I’ve come to believe that a born artist will be just that, born to do what they do. In addition, the influences they need, the tools they use, and the opportunities they require to complete their destiny will be provided when the time is right. Henri’s was a spiritual statement that I now accept as a literal truth after living the experience myself.
I was born the son of an architect, artist and great art historian. A pencil was in my hands before my earliest memories started. My path for learning was dictated by him from day one. I grew up in a home full of creativity, inspiration and knowledge. Our home was full of history books, art, and music. This same type of environment was evidenced by many artists of the past. Sargent grew up in an artistic family that went on sketching and painting trips. He learned to draw like an angel by the time he was seven. Like my own father, Dali’s father was an architect. You see that influence in the fantastic command of form and color, arguably the greatest painting technician of the twentieth century. The math and engineering used in architecture was a huge influence on my path as an artist. It focused my explorations in the science and technical side of creating art. My father had agreed with Motherwell in his opinion that the era of innovation in painting was over. Therefore the only path he saw to achieve a successful art career was to simply be the best painter in the world. As so many mothers and fathers, his concern was my survival and ability to provide for my needs. This was something far harder to accomplish than I had expected when in art school. His advice to me was “Son everything has been done. Since the modern criteria for historical recognition is innovation, the opportunities for you to make a contribution to the history of painting are impossible. Your only option is to simply be the best and to do that you have to be better than anyone else out there.” He had one other saying that echoed in my head my entire life. He only said it once but it has remained with me. I was about six years old and I had just completed a drawing for which I was quite pleased. When I showed it to him, he made some critical remarks and I started to defend my work. He cut me off, saying, “Are you going to be satisfied with being number two or do you want to be number one? If you’re satisfied with being number two then don’t bother me!” And he turned back to his paper. That statement compelled my path through my art education. It continues to give me the drive to never be satisfied, to continue to strive. I take the attitude every time I approach the canvas “This will be my greatest masterpiece!”
Another concern for a parent is how they can provide their budding young art student with a world-class education in the arts. It is the artist in us all that our schools have forgotten how to teach and it is entirely in your hands to provide it. In my next statements, I speak only of the visual art of painting. The education needs of a student of painting will not be found in our public institutional schools, they are geared to the masses and not the gifted. Even at a rudimentary level, I don’t know of one university in the U.S. that teaches the science of color, and that is the primary tool of a painter. The universities provide a good opportunity to experience many different art forms and can give a student a good foundation from which to launch their chosen area of art. When they decide that painting is their chosen field of study, they will need to seek private study under a series of good teachers. There are a couple of fine private schools of color on the east coast and it is not difficult to find private lessons. I advise every student to study under several instructors so they have the opportunity to take from each what they want and evolve their own independent style and not becomes a clone of one master.
As I reach the end of my career time seems to fly by faster than ever. Like most of us, I start to count my blessings and I have had more than I ever dreamed possible. Was it accident or walking a destiny, I could never say for sure, but I do believe that Henri got it right. So these days when asked what advice I would give a young artist, the best response has already been given by the wonderful writer on myths and religion, Joseph Campbell. When a young student asked him what he should do with his life, his reply was “Follow your bliss!”