Monday, July 16, 2012

A number of years ago, as part of an art course I took, I became involved in analyzing the paintings of masters. I chose Paul Gauguin as the artist I would study and located prints of his work. The project consisted of placing tracing paper over the prints and charting the elements of them to determine the artist’s use of color, light, mass, line, etc. in the compositions.

I diligently worked through a number of Gauguin’s paintings. As I did so, I tried to imagine what thoughts went through the head of Gauguin as he worked; why did he choose this or that element, how did he decide the importance or the emphasis he placed on one thing or another; how did he analyze his own compositions?

A vague thought began niggling at the back of my mind as I worked. The longer I kept at my task, the more defined the thought became. How were the paintings actually done?

How were they done, Paul Gauguin? How did you paint? Did you work out your designs? Did you work out line, mass, color, chart your course according to some formula devised by some great master, or even by yourself? Did you plan the design, Paul, the composition, in all its parts beforehand, and then begin painting, placing the elements according to this preconceived arrangement?

Or did you just paint, Paul, laying the color in as you felt it, molding, forming, building as you saw the figures and the scene before you, giving them life of their own in the world created in your mind, leaving on the unconcerned and indifferent surface beneath your brush a depth of dimension and feeling that is more than can ever be charted and graphed?

Is that the way it was, Paul? Is that the way you created—as you saw it, as you felt it, as it was, as it should have been, and leaving to others to analyze what you have done as they will?

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