Artistic Inspiration – The Muse

For this insight writing an examination of the concept of the muse has been an interesting task to undertake; I have trawled through a range of dusty old tomes and consulted the Delphi Oracle, as well as using the modern technology lying at my fingertips in order to gather enough information and research to meditate on thoroughly and to write a post about.

The main reason for my investigation of the muse is to better understand the history of the idea, in order to better understand my own personal interpretation of my muse. This undertaking will provide some scope on the subject but I don’t intend to write an entire book about it, so it may be brief in parts.

To begin this short pilgrimage through the philosophy and ideology behind the muse, it’s probably best to start at the beginning, or the beginning of the concept of muses anyway.

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The Renaissance Workshop

When I think about what is probably my favourite era of history; the Renaissance period, aside from the superhuman skills and mastery of most of the artists alive in that era, one of the things that I find the most inspiring is the concept of La Bottega, or the workshop.

The Renaissance was undoubtedly one of the most profound moments of enlightenment, discovery and achievement in human history and a big part of me thinks that something that helped enhance the creativity of this period was the workshops.

Raphael - The School of Athens - 1509-11
Raphael – The School of Athens – 1509-11

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Is Artistry a Selective Talent?

With most things in life that people are good at, all too often the hard work, commitment and training of the individuals are brushed off simply as “talent”. With that in mind, I got to wondering if this natural aptitude or skill truly is the case, or is a person’s proficiency in something the result of an intense commitment to their particular craft?

I’m thinking in artistic terms for this particular insight, but following another trail of thoughts on the same topic (which is a very broad ranging topic); would any of the world’s most renowned thinkers and men of science amounted to anything had they had no former education? Can a boxer win the heavyweight without any training just because he was “born to be a boxer”? I personally don’t think that could ever be the case and helps to form my argument that “talent” is the result of a vigorous routine of learning and training.

There are some exceptions to the rule especially when it comes to child prodigies who defy all expectations and say for example, can memorise and play entire Beethoven sonatas on piano at the mere age of five years old; one particular account of this was featured in the Daily Mail a couple of years ago. Now these rare occurrences could make me eat my words but on the contrary, these are very few and far between and not common enough to count for the overuse of the term “talent”.

Leonardo da Vinci 

Leonardo da Vinci - Self-Portrait (ca.1512) Red Chalk on Paper
Leonardo da Vinci – Self-Portrait (ca.1512) Red Chalk on Paper

Let’s use the most world famous artist and genius who is the very epitome of the word Renaissance as an example for my theory. Born on the 15th April 1452, in Vinci in the Florence region of Tuscany in Italy as the bastard son of a wealthy Florentine legal notary; Leonardo’s future prospects could have seemed quite bleak, illegitimate children were not entitled to formal education or highly esteemed careers and usually lived and died as peasants.

Leonardo however grew to be a polymath; he was a painter, inventor, sculptor, architect, scientist, musician, geometer, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, astronomer, cartographer, botanist, philosopher, historian and writer. A very extensive list of attributes and skills indeed and all of these things Leonardo excelled in. He was not born as any of these things, they were all a result of his life, circumstances and interests that pushed him towards a lifetime’s work of genius.

Growing up as a young boy in the Tuscan hills of Vinci, Leonardo took an interest in the natural world and spent a lot of time studying it and sketching, he was also fortunate enough to receive an informal education in Latin, Geometry and Mathematics. His true education started once he reached fourteen years old and become an apprentice to the master Verrochio in 1466. By the age of twenty, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of Saint Luke; a guild of artists, doctors and medicine.

Without now writing a complete biography of Leonardo da Vinci’s life, it’s clear to see that his circumstances; despite being born out of wedlock, and his interests drove him forward to become the man he did, he dedicated his entire life to his work and worked harder than most in doing so. Leonardo da Vinci died on 2nd May 1519 aged sixty-seven and his dying words of modesty were “I have offended God and Mankind, by doing so little with my life.” – that quote alone could be a very interesting topic for a post and debate.

With all this in mind, Leonardo was obviously a talented man but his life’s work can’t be simply put down to “talent”; it truly is the result of a lifelong servitude to his curiosity and thirst for knowledge, sacrificing both relationship commitments and children (not in the pagan sacrificial sense) in order to become the world’s most diversely skilled man.

My Theory

As may already be evident with what I’ve already wrote, my belief or theory is that “talent” in respect of the connotation it carries is a non-existent force. A person’s talents or attributes/skills as I prefer to call them are the result of a series of different elements:

  • Circumstances – Where and when one is born and grows up have a massive effect on who one is as a person and who one becomes in later life. The same goes for events in one’s life. Circumstances play a huge role in more than just what skills and attributes one acquires but it is definitely a key element responsible for such things.
  • Interests – Interests also play an important part in the skills one acquires, without interest in a subject one wouldn’t be willing to learn about it and even if one tried it would be extremely difficult to take in. I have this problem with sports history, I love history beyond most things but as soon as sports history is mentioned I’m looking out of the nearest window and seeing random familiar shapes in clouds. Without interests in a subject, it’s highly unlikely that one would bother with it in the first place, let alone excel in it.
  • Time – The most valuable thing in the entire world and the one thing no one can get enough of; on the flip side of that though, when it comes to time we were all created equal. Both you and I and everyone else for that matter have the same amount of hours in a day as any of the old masters whether that is in art, science or any field. In order to excel in one’s field though, time must be taken and used wisely to commit to the preferred field of study. If Artist A and Artist B both started studying at the same time and at the same level of experience, but Artist A spent one hour per week drawing whilst Artist B spent one hour per day, it’s pretty hard to imagine that Artist A would become the more proficient draughtsman of the two.
  • Willingness – Along with the previous three elements, willingness is probably the father of all of them, without willingness there is nothing. The willingness to dedicate oneself to their field of study is paramount to the acquisition of any attributes and skills.

These elements; and there are definitely more, combined with the blood, sweat and tears of a hard worker are the key ingredients for the recipe of a skillset. So where does that leave “talent”? As stated before, talent can be used as an interchangeable word for skill or attribute and thus that is the recipe for talent; talent in the more common use though, as a natural ability one is born with is left as a non-existent entity as far as I’m concerned.

To suggest that artistry is a skill of a selective nature only to be given to a certain percentage of humans makes it seem quite an elitist craft, one that can only be entered into if you were fortunate enough to have been born the recipient of such a skill. It also suggests that if you can’t pick up a pencil or paintbrush and create a work of art instantly then there is no point endeavouring to learn, even if you are extremely interested in it; this puts me in mind of art historians, such formidably knowledgeable people, but most of which never bother to learn to create art due to a sense of inadequacy because of a previous experience of attempting a drawing or painting and it not coming out how they had envisioned it. Personally I think if certain art historians did dedicate themselves to learning the craft, they would have the potential to initiate a new world Renaissance of art.

Questions for Readers

So what do you think about this topic, is artistry a natural talent only gifted to a select number of people in society, or is this skill available to be learned by anyone that holds a keen interest in the craft and who is willing to dedicate their time to learning it?

Do you have a similar or differing theory to this one, or do you perhaps share this theory on talent?

Please feel free to add any comments with answers to these questions or to have a discussion about this topic, I’m all ears (or eyes as my laptop suggests) and more than happy to engage in discussion.

JGlover

Caravaggio vs. Rocco Normanno “David and Goliath” – Compare and Contrast

Another repost of an essay I wrote in 2014 whilst at college.

Caravaggio - David and Goliath - 1599 - Oil on Canvas (110 x 91cm)
Caravaggio – David and Goliath – 1599 – Oil on Canvas (110 x 91cm)
Rocco Normanno - David and Goliath - 2006 - Oil on Canvas (150 x 150cm)
Rocco Normanno – David and Goliath – 2006 – Oil on Canvas (150 x 150cm)

For this compare and contrast essay, I have chosen two works of the same title “David and Goliath”, both painted with oil paint on canvas, but 407 years apart. The first of the paintings was done by the master painter Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio in 1599; the second by Rocco Normanno in 2006. Both of the artists were/are Italian, Caravaggio was born in a town of the same name in Lombardy, northern Italy. Rocco Normanno was born in Taurisano, Lecce. In this writing I am going to pick them apart for their similarities and differences.

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Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederic Leighton – Compare and Contrast

For this essay about modern and contemporary art, I have chosen the Victorian era and two classical-subject painters from this era to compare and contrast; divulging how they were influenced and inspired by the happenings and world around them. Before comparing a piece of work of each artist, I intend to look into how their lives and contextual issues affected them as both men and artists, shaping the way they became and moulding them into artists who chose to depict classical subjects as opposed to following along with the other movements of the time; movements such as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism; Fauvism and Expressionism, which came into being later on in the artists’ careers and would have been an easy bandwagon to jump onto.

The two artists that I have chosen for my subjects are Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912); and Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-1896); and their works chosen for this writing are Alma-Tadema’s The Triumph of Titus: AD 71 (1885) and Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus (1869).

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Inside my Sanctum of Study

“An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

For this week’s post I thought I’d do something a little different and show the place where the magic happens, my Sanctum of Study. All of my artwork is carried out in this room; formerly a spare bedroom containing a bed and pink walls. Once I started becoming serious about becoming an artist towards the end of 2013 I started making changes, got rid of the bed and put a small desk in there; a humble space where I spent a couple of hours a week drawing.

As I began to spend more time drawing and started painting, I realised that I needed the space to be more appropriate for what I wanted and then the work began. I painted the room, white walls rather than pink which is much more appropriate and I began collecting art materials which gradually built up over the course of time. I’ve also collected art prints and ornaments from Paris, Rome and various art galleries.  My wife then bought me a unit; purpose-built to house a computer but adapted to house my art materials and books. The great thing about this unit is that once everything is finished with and put in it’s place, I close the unit and the studio no longer looks like a bombsite.

Thus the spare bedroom became a Sanctum – A private retreat from which most people are excluded. 

Art-Studio-Study-Artist-Josh Glover

This picture shows the unit once closed and everything’s away where it lives. Cut off on the left are my two desks; I usually use these to draw and paint on as I need a higher chair to reach the desk inside the unit comfortably.

The drawing of the Arc de Triomphe is a print that I bought whilst in Paris, I find it really inspiring to surround myself in artwork and this is the perfect place to do so. Also on the side of the unit, although it may be too dark to make out properly, is a spray painting of the Colosseum that I bought from a street artist in Rome.

Art-Studio-Desk-Artist-Josh Glover

This view shows the desks better; excuse the paint marks all over the desk I was going to clean it again but I thought it may add to the atmosphere of this being an art studio. A fellow artist and friend of mine is a very hands on messy painter, a strong believer in a messy studio and would see my particular set up as unused, however I’m sure he’d be proud to see that I left the paint splatter on the desk for the photograph.

Also something to note, the window is North facing and I get good light in this room, something that is certainly taken for granted, had this spare room had a South facing window things would have been very different.

Art-Studio-Artist-Josh Glover

Here’s the workstation open, it holds all of my materials, sketchbooks, art books, canvases and more. I have also stuck up various art prints, photos, maps and a calendar. This is my box of inspiration and a gift from my wife that I’m eternally grateful for. Before having this unit I couldn’t have appreciated the value of such a thing, but since having it I couldn’t be without it; ease of access and tidiness is priceless when it comes to creating art for me; when inspiration hits, the last thing I want to do is spend two hours searching for that number 2 Filbert brush which “I know I left over there somewhere next to the thingy!”.

I should add that this room doesn’t look anything like this when I’m actually working, I have stuff all over the place; several palletes of paint, pencils, charcoal, water, coffee, energy drinks, paper scattered everywhere and paint all over the walls. This is just how the room looks between projects or works. Also if I’m in there reading, I don’t make much mess when I’m doing that.

Art-Books-Studio-Artist-Josh Glover

On the subject of reading, this is my collection of art books that I keep in the workstation, well most of them are art books some are more for reference or have artworks depicted in them. This collection started around January 2014 when a friendly lady at an evening art class gave me the Pre-Raphaelites book after a discussion about the types of artwork I like. I hadn’t heard of the Pre-Raphaelites back then and in the time since then it’s unbelievable to think how much I have learned, not just about that particular group of artists but the art world in general. I have the college course to thank for that, there’s been an awful lot of research to do over the last year and it’s taught me alot.

The Eminem book that is in there is actually not art related as such and is there because it doesn’t fit in my other book case which contains smaller books that are not art related. In fact, I have an obsession with buying new books and need to get a large book case soon, eventually purchasing a lease on a library at the rate I’m going.

Art-Books-Study-Artist-Josh Glover

This end of the room is a bit messier than the rest at the moment, it shows my other bookcase and various pieces of my artwork and an art print of the Mona Lisa and one of the Eiffel Tower.

Also on top of the bookcase is a replica statue of Michelangelo’s David and a brass Roman soldier. One problem that I have is that I’m a trinket collector, whenever I go somewhere I feel the need to bring a piece of it back with me, usually in the form of art prints or ornaments but it’s a habit that could easily run away with itself if I’m not careful. Still though, it’s probably more acceptable than having a studio full of dead animals and human skulls as I don’t think that would go down too well.

Anyway, that’s it, that’s an insight into my Sanctum of Study, a slight difference to the usual set ups most men like to have like a shed full of tools and a workbench or a garage with a pool table and a bar often referred to as ‘Man Caves’; this is my sanctuary and a place of learning, peacefulness and creativity.

Although slightly cluttered it provides the inspiration needed to carry out my work and never suffer from artist’s block, in fact I’m not at all sure what that feels like I think there’s too many creative options available for it to even be a recognised problem but that’s just my opinion.

As for the quote at the start of this post by Leonardo da Vinci, I find that I agree with it completely, having worked in large studio spaces it’s certainly easier to become distracted, discipline of the mind is vital in this trade and shouldn’t be underestimated.

JGlover

Featured Image: Gandalf searching the manuscripts of Minas Tirith searching for information about the One Ring – Screenshot from The Fellowship of the Ring directed by Peter Jackson based on the books by JRR Tolkien.

My Artist Statement

Foreword

It’s taken me a little while to get around to writing this, partly due to searching out the direction that I intend to go in; also the fact that I’ve spent the last two years in the education system, there has been little opportunity to create the types of work that I personally wanted to create. Throughout college I have worked with the themes and projects I’ve been given and turned them into work that is personal to me, it’s more so the fact that there wasn’t the time to spend on one particular piece of work. The closest I came to creating a narrative artwork in college was my final major project “Coffee Comes to Europe, 1615”.

Anyway, now that I’ve had the time to gather my thoughts and reflect upon the road that I wish to take in this artistic journey, I have finally written my statement and any future works will be true to it; because at this point if you were to look through my portfolio and saw the work that I’ve got in there it could be thought that my work isn’t true to my statement. This small factor will be amended over time with the more work that I produce now that I’m free to work on a personal level.

The Statement

I find myself driven by a split-personality consisting of a deep thinking, self-analytical perfectionist and an inventive artisan motivated to utilize my creativity ceaselessly. My over-active mind doesn’t allow me to cease thinking and planning creative ventures; at any time I’m not physically producing artworks, I’m mentally creating them.

Through the work I produce I explore the concept of the artist as a storyteller, making narrative artworks and breathing a fresh lease of life into some of the oldest and most ancient legends, myths and folklore of the British Isles, resurrecting onto canvas the tales that have been passed down from generation to generation. In harmony with that, my interest in world history provides me with a wealth of inspirational sources to work with.

In addition to narrative artworks, I also intend to create landscapes in a wide variety of locations; more often than not with my landscapes, I tend to search for a hidden story within my scene, evoking myth and legend into what could otherwise be depicted simply as a scenic view.

My preferred style of painting is traditional or classical, a style that I am currently working towards and learning more about with every stroke of the paintbrush and mark of the pencil; using either oil or watercolour as my preferred media. In light of that, I have no intentions of merely duplicating the styles of old masters; I wish to build upon a knowledge of traditional methods in order to excel my own technique as an artist, working towards a new age of classicism.

The achievement I hope for is that I can make works of art that communicate with the audience, evoking emotions and inspiration, bringing them so close into a narrative that they are as much a part of it as the characters depicted in the unfolding scene. I want my work to leave a lasting impression upon all who partake in this communion of visual storytelling to the point that the audience will describe their experience to others, thus passing the tales on as has been the custom since the dawn of mankind.

Afterword

Well that’s it, relatively short as is the usual custom as far as I’m aware but to the point and descriptive of my objectives and goals as an artist. The next step now is to create more artworks harmonious to my statement and get them published as soon as possible. I’m currently working on a five part project based on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ which will culminate in a narrative painting that I can be truly happy with.

Jglover