A Description of an Elusive Subject

“Beauty is no material thing. Beauty cannot be copied. Beauty is the sensation of pleasure on the mind of the seer. No thing is beautiful. But all things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at sight of them. This is beauty.” ― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I dislike the question "How long did that take you?" when showing people my work. The questions comes in other forms as well. "What kind of pigments are those?" "What mediums are you using?" Questions of this sort. They are honest questions that usually degrade a conversation of art to its technical aspects.

"I was playing trying these colors. I was experimenting with compositions I saw from artist so and so. I think the proportions are a little off..."

Then more questions follow the same vein. "Do you make your own stretchers?" "How much do you spend on materials?"

Again these are honest questions. Honest but missing the mark. It is like asking a monk in meditation about his posture and the clothes he wears.

"First, one seeks to become an artist by training the hand. Then one finds it is the eye that needs improving. Later one learns it is the mind that wants developing, only to find that the ultimate quest of the artist is in the spirit." Larry Brullo

The details these questions provide can be important. Especially for a student attempting to learn techniques and finding a way to work. For most though, the technical discussion of colors, pigments and even composition is mildly interesting and mostly irrelevant. Even between artists, a conversation on technique can only persist for so long before interest wanes. The artists are not talking about their art, only their craft. These are questions about a product which we subtly use to avoid questions about art itself. One cannot mistake "the how" for "the why" as if understanding the technical details alone will allow one to produce an earnest piece of work.

It is not art in the professionalized sense about which I care, but that which is created sacredly, as a result of a deep inner experience, with all of oneself, and that becomes 'art' in time. - Alfred Stieglitz

The production of Fine Artwork is unique among crafts in that it begins as a technical process but ends as a spiritual one. There is a difference between design and expression. Design formulates work from the laws of composition, the limitations of materials and the forethought and skill of the craftsman. The movement to Fine Art requires a movement of faith.

My hand is entirely the implement of a distant sphere. It is not my head that functions but something else, something higher, something somewhere remote. I must have great friends there, dark as well as bright... They are all very kind to me. -Paul Klee

Creation of fine art becomes a mystical experience in the concept of surrender. Conscious Ego traps an individual in fear; fear of wrecking the work already done, fear of rejection. Ideas and concepts are filtered in the conscious by fear. The artist must relinquish control of the idea and the direction at some point in the creation of the work. Surrender transforms the making of a piece of art into a dialogue in which the painting is only a transcript.

The question arises, "In dialogue with what?" This is always a problem when describing spiritual movements. The only useful descriptions are not accurate, only metaphorical. They must be described in negation or only hinted at from the peripheral.


“The true work of art is born from the 'artist': a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.” ― Wassily Kandinsky

The artwork represents the subconscious self. It can represent an archetypal reality beyond any individual self. Throughout one's lifetime, the brain records, absorbs and connects a seemingly infinite amount of data. Only a fraction of the hard drive is held in the RAM for our conscious use. The data is still there. The act of art making must become a kind of surrender to it. It is a meditation. The direct agency of the consciousness, its conception of intent and the vision of a finished product is abandoned in a spiritual movement. Movement, color and feeling become autonomic. The meditative state allows for information and feeling to percolate from outside of the ego constructed barriers of perspective and enter the artists conscious reality. The work produced thus becomes nearly as mysterious to the artist as to a viewer in its origin.

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual- become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.” ― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The experience is induced and once it is tasted, the kind of expression is addictive. For me, it is akin to the experience of a religious service in another language. It is mysterious and the feeling is one of connection to something outside of my own direct memory and experience. The word is Awe. In Art, it allows for the freedom from the self consciousness compared to a photographic reality alone. Artwork is allowed to transcend its bonds to imitation even when maintaining representative subject matter. Reproduction of external reality gives way to the recognition of spiritual reality. The eyes are no longer hostage to physical truth and the development of the inner eye begins. Subject matter is no longer simply seen. It is understood through the eye of the spirit. It is reproduced as a vision and interpretation. The process requires a relinquishing of selfhood. The process is necessarily ego shattering and thus, it is a spiritual exercise.

**Image: Detail of 'The Burial of Count Orngaz" El Greco 1586

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