A Passion for Drawing by Jeannine Cook

Three exhibitions in New York, each by a superb artist in a different century, but all united by a lifelong passion to draw, draw, draw, anything and everything. For an artist, these current exhibitions are a wonderful reaffirmation of the central role drawing potentially plays in the development and creativity of an artist. Gainsborough, Delacroix, Wayne Thiebaud - three very dissimilar artists, yet they are all on the same page in a drawing book.

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Camille Claudel, so talented, so heart-wrenching by Jeannine Cook

Camille Claudel lived in Nogent sur Seine as a teenager, and from there, she was launched into her career as a sculptor, her talent carrying her to Auguste Rodin’s studio and into another complex world. The recently-opened Museum in Nogent sur Seine holds an important number of her sculptures, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of late 19th and early 20th century French sculptors.

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The Passion to Create by Jeannine Cook

Recently, I was listening to an interview Diane Rehm did on public radio with David McCullough, Jr.  At one point, he remarked that creative passion cannot be taught.  It can only be caught.  I thought that was so true.

Everyone needs a passion to create something; it is the fire that burns to get one going, to get one out of the bed in the morning.  A dear friend of mine, alas, has lost any passion for anything, let alone anything creative, and she is seriously adrift.  Another friend reminded me this week how important a passion for needlepoint was for her.  Not surprising, as she creates the most wonderful art with her skillful needle.

Perhaps artists of all descriptions are very fortunate to burn with a passion to create.  It gives coherence and meaning to life, even if it does mean that one is driven by a sometimes stern taskmaster. I am not sure that such passion even implies that the artist has clearly defined objectives on all occasions.  Sometimes one blindly gropes, only knowing that you have to start work on creating something.  With time and experience, the artist knows that that small inner voice will help with the creative process, acting as guide and critic.  Nonetheless, it is the energy from passion that motivates and drives the artist to work.

There are so many examples of artists, in all disciplines, who are driven by their passion.  Degas, for example, was single-minded in the extreme; he devoted his entire life to drawing and painting, even as his eyesight hindered him more and more. As he remarked, "No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing."  But he drove himself. His series of studies of dancers was a huge part of his opus, a passion to which he returned again and again.

Dancer adjusting her shoe, 1885, Edgar Degas, pastels

Dancer adjusting her shoe, 1885, Edgar Degas, pastels

  Edgar Degas, A Dancer at the Bar, charcoal and white chalk.

  Edgar Degas, A Dancer at the Bar, charcoal and white chalk.

Passionate or obsessive - sometimes it is hard to differentiate for the outsider who is observing the artist.  The drive to create can sometimes seem like an extreme - think of Beethoven as he composed magnificent music whilst struggling with his deafness.  I am sure that the passion/madness of Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous of cases of visual artists driven to go on working.  The years 1888- 89 were the example of a time when Van Gogh was into the most astonishing mark-making, requiring such energy and application.  Clinging to his art, he worked and worked at these drawings, in the sunlit countryside around Arles, mostly using a reed pen and ink.  Here he was returning to his belief that drawing was "the root of everything." 

Vincent van Gogh, 1888,  Garden with Flowers,  pen & ink

Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Garden with Flowers, pen & ink

Vincent van Gogh,  The rock of Montmajour with pine trees , 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh, The rock of Montmajour with pine trees, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh,  Olive Trees in a Mountain Landscape , black chalk, brush, brown ink, Saint-Rémy: June 17 or 18, 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees in a Mountain Landscape, black chalk, brush, brown ink, Saint-Rémy: June 17 or 18, 1889, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

As one's own passion to create is sometimes dimmed by the quotidian, with daily life chipping away at time and quiet, it is good to remember that the flame inside can still burn.  It may burn less brightly at times, but it is still there.  That makes life very special.

Passionate about your art by Jeannine Cook

Life drawing today made me think about a quote I read at the beginning of the year in Artist's Magazine by T. Allen Lawson, a wonderful sensitive landscape painter.  He was quoted as saying that "the depth of your art is in direct proportion to the love of your subject. If you truly understand your subject, your painting will reflect that."

It is so true.  Every time I find myself trying to paint or draw subjects that don't really "turn me on", I later assess the work as less than good.  Perhaps it is because art is an extension of one's inner self, a voice to express one's passions and interests.  It is frequently an unconscious expression, but nonetheless, the knowledge of your subject matter, the experience you have had with it, all feeds into a more powerful and convincing work, whatever the type of art.

Why I thought of this quote today was that we had a new model posing, a good one, but one with whom I had no connection, as yet.  Her poses were interesting, but somehow I felt outside the necessary dialogue with what I was drawing, not caught up in understanding what I was trying to do.  Of course, I left the session irritated with myself, but I then reflected that sometimes, life drawing does not have to be about "love of your subject".  Instead it is just a very good drawing exercice!  So perhaps I need to regard today as working towards future passion to be translated into a good life drawing.

More Thoughts on Creative Passion by Jeannine Cook

I was fascinated to listen, this morning, to Krista Tippett's programme, Speaking of Faith, during which she was interviewing Adele Diamond, a cognitive developmental neuroscientist who currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

During the wide-ranging conversation, Dr. Diamond alluded to passages of various books which she had assembled in a book to present to the Dalai Lama whom she saw at Dharamsala, India, during a Mind and Life Institute dialogue. She cited one that made me reflect on what I had been saying in my blog yesterday about passion driving artists in particular. She quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel from his book, "God and Man" and whilst the passage talks of a poet or a musician, the excerpt applies absolutely to visual artists too.

"Deeds set upon ideal goals, deeds performed not with careless ease and routine but in exertion and submission to their ends are stronger than the surprise and attack of caprice. Serving sacred goals may change mean motives. For such deeds are exacting. Whatever our motive may have been prior to the act, the act itself demands undivided attention. Thus the desire for reward is not the driving force of the poet in his creative moments, and the pursuit of pleasure or profit is not the essence of a religious or moral act. (My emphasis.)

At the moment in which an artist is absorbed in playing a concerto the thought of applause, fame or remuneration is far from his mind. His complete attention, his whole being is involved in the music. Should any extraneous thought enter his mind, it would arrest his concentration and mar the purity of his playing. The reward may have been on his mind when he negotiated with his agent, but during the performance it is the music that claims his complete concentration. (My emphasis again.) Man’s situation in carrying out a religious or moral deed is similar. Left alone, the soul is subject to caprice. Yet there is power in the deed that purifies desires. It is the act, life itself, that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good.”

What caught my attention was the issue of being totally involved in the act of creation, and not thinking of anything else like monetary reward, for instance.

Self-Portrait, 1659, Rembrandt (Image courtesy of the National Gallery)

Self-Portrait, 1659, Rembrandt (Image courtesy of the National Gallery)

Self-Portrait at the age of 63, Rembrandt.1669, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery)

Self-Portrait at the age of 63, Rembrandt.1669, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery)

So often one hears of artists caught up in having to paint in a certain fashion because previous versions of the painting/drawing or whatever have sold well, and pretty soon, the art being created ceases to have the same impact and nears the situation of "pot boiler". Yes, of course, there are definitely economic considerations, especially now, but nonetheless, there is always this danger lurking of "arresting concentration and marring purity". In other words, the passion for creation has been dissipated.

Branding, images and self-promotion by Jeannine Cook

Just recently, it seems that every programme I listen to on National Public Radio or any magazine I read alludes to the necessity of branding in these times of high unemployment and economic woes. Very understandable, but as an artist, this is a topic that comes up, right from the moment one starts being an artist.

Listening carefully to the advice proffered and stratagems advised, I am often left thinking that the one thing I don't hear much talked about is passion. And yet, in the art world, without the passion to dream, plan, create and - frequently - promote, it is very hard and difficult sledding. So often, too, the passion that an artist feels is the best platform for other people to connect with the art created, making the artist the best sales person for him or herself. "You exist only in what you do" is a true observation when it comes to branding yourself in the economic and creative marketplaces. Federico Fellini, the wonderful Italian film maker, was very accurate in this observation.

Frederico Fellini in the 19560s

Frederico Fellini in the 19560s

Being true to a vision and belief in oneself means that there has to be a dialogue with that small inner voice that each of us has. The magic of any creative venture is that since each of us is different, responding to different experiences and environments, the art produced will most likely be individual and distinctive. That art can become a branding vehicle to make that artist's work recognisable, a vehicle to promotion if need be. In some strange way, too, an artist who is passionate and committed about making art creates work that rings true to the viewer, no matter what the type of art. Passion is one of the most fabulous attributes of a human being, it seems to me – in every realm of life – the essence of being alive. As Fellini also remarked, "There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life."