Artistic Philosophy

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. 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

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 revolutionare 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

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.

Art and Oxygen by Jeannine Cook

Yesterday, I was listening to a doctor talk about the value of oxygen for someone who is suffering from heart problems and resultant breathing difficulties, even if it is just creating a "bubble" of enriched oxygen around the mouth and nose of the patient. Better breathing, a heart that feels more functional and thus an increased feeling of well-being – a simple, but important path to an improved quality of life. But of course, in order to have the supply of this extra oxygen, you have to set up either a tank or machine, and take the time to get the oxygen treatment.

Today, I was reading the December edition of ARTNews, with a feature article on Marina Abramovic and her upcoming presence at MOMA, New York. She was quoted as saying, "Artists have to serve as oxygen to society." Her objective is to get people to stop and gain a sense of time through her performance art, and thereby alter their perspective and perception of their surroundings, world and life in general. In essence, she becomes the oxygen tank.

Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic

I think that just about every form of art - visual, performance, musical, whatever - can have this intrinsic value of causing people to stop, even momentarily, and thus alter their perception of the world around them. Perhaps that is why people have created "cabinets de curiosités" and then museums full of wonders – they provide the oxygen to allow societies to breathe deeply, reflect, learn and enrich life. A beautiful photograph, a wonderful painting, a drawing, a piece of music - I know that my life has been made rich beyond belief by seeing or hearing such art, and that frequently the image or the sound has stayed with me long after.

No wonder Ms. Abramovic used such a metaphor of how to maintain or engender a healthy life or a healthy society.

The Power of Images by Jeannine Cook

The power and influence of images is a huge and fascinating subject, over which countless experts pore. Professor Georges Didi-Huberman, who teaches social sciences at the Paris School of Advanced Studies, specialises in this subject. He claims that images only possess power when they are being used, and since their juxtaposition to something else inevitably alters them each time, all is relative. Carrying on this line of logic, he asserts that art history has been too lineal and monolithic (and he will be advising a fresh presentation of the art at the Reina Sofia Contemporary Art Museum in Madrid in keeping with this thesis).

Instead of art becoming ossified, he asserts that we should all draw on our past to create our present, like Picasso always remembering El Greco or Malevich being nourished by Russian icons. Interestingly, Didi-Huberman, in a long article in El Pais ( of June 2nd, 2009, talks of expecting very little from contemporary art, since it is predicated on money-making and networking in galleries and the art market, an "academic system". He contrasts it to the world of flamenco, where an enthusiast expects a great deal - "at a minimum, that flamenco talks of life and death."

Kazimir Malevich -  Black Cross, 1915, Oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm, Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Kazimir Malevich - Black Cross, 1915, Oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm, Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

That art should ideally talk of passion and "life and death" goes back to my belief that in as many instances as one can manage, an artist should listen to his or her inner voice and be true to it. It is not always possible, of course, but when passion has driven the creation of an artwork, people know it. And they respond to it, even if they don't really know why. Things can go in and out of fashion, but good art rings "true". Dean Valentino, a television executive in Los Angles, was being interviewed in January 2009 in Art + Auction magazine and talked of today being a "time of connoisseurship" where every piece of art created needed to "justify itself" to art that had been created previously, in the same way as Didi-Huberman described Picasso, for instance, drawing on the heritage of El Greco.

Another expert art dealer, New Yorker Jack Gilgore, specialising in Dutch, Flemish and 19th century French paintings, put it more succinctly in a June interview in Art + Auction, ( : "Art is a form of communication and the pictures must have a soul. They have to have something special. You know it when you see it."

How to create an image of integrity, passion and power? That is the eternal challenge and goal for each of us artists!