Charting a Pathway as an Artist / by Jeannine Cook

In the early 1550s, writing to Philip II, King of  Spain, the new imperial ambassador to Venice, Francisco de Vargas, described a conversation he had with Titian in his studio.  Vargas apparently expressed surprise at the large size of paintbrush that Titian was using and enquired why he did not use the smaller brushes popular with other artists who worked in a more "refined manner".


Titian. The Rape of Europa, 1559–62. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts
Titian's reply, quoted in the marvellous 2012 biography on Titian by Sheila Hale, responded:  "Sir, I am not confident of achieving the delicacy and beauty of the brushwork of Michelangelo, Raphael, Correggio and Parmigianino; and if I did, I would be judged with them, or else considered to be an imitator.  But ambition, which is as natural in my art as in any other, urges me to choose a new path to make myself famous, much as the others acquired their own fame from the way they followed."
By the time Titian told Vargas of his optic on this pathway he had chosen in his art, he was a celebrated artist, whose works had been commissioned and collected by Popes, Dukes, Princes, Doges, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and his son, King Phillip of Spain, amongst many others.  So he had forged his own approach to painting to a hugely successful level, as the ensuing centuries have confirmed.
 Self-Portrait, Titian, 1550/1562, image courtesy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

The simple message that comes through this statement of Titian is a wonderful reinforcement of the value of each artist forging an individual path.  Working intelligently and diligently to find one's own methods of creating art, believing in oneself and working out what is the best approach to ensure one's individual hallmark as an artist are all terribly important aspects of being an artist.  In today's extremely crowded art world, this approach is even more valid.  Finding one's own voice, working out how best to reach out, find and respond to one's publics - they are all aspects of an artistic philosophy that each artist has to address.
In Titian's time, the number of artists competing for the commissions from church bodies, the Pope, princes and potentates was smaller. Nonetheless, there was still a hard struggle to make one's mark, to be accepted as a widely respected and sought-after artist.   The gallery system and the digital revolution are adjuncts to today's artist's choices, but they still come after the initial choices each artist makes about pathways to art-making.
 Self-Portrait, Titian, 1562. Image courtesy of the Prado Museum, Madrid
 
Trusting one's own inner voice about what path to follow as an artist is a decision each of us has to make.  Titian gave a wonderful insight into these types of decisions and actions.  His chosen pathway is certainly an inspiration.