Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
With Brush in Hand
By William Morris Hunt (1824–1879)
 
[Born in Brattleboro, Vt., 1824. Died at Appledore, Isles of Shoals, N. H., 1879. W. M. Hunt’s Talks on Art. Jotted down and Edited by Helen M. Knowlton. First Series. 1875. Second Series. 1883.]

WHY draw more than you see? We must sacrifice in drawing as in everything else.
  1
  You thought it needed more work. It needs less. You don’t get mystery because you are too conscientious! When a bird flies through the air you see no feathers! Your eye would require more than one focus: one for the bird, another for the feathers. You are to draw not reality, but the appearance of reality!  2
 
  In your sketches keep the first vivid impression! Add no details that shall weaken it! Look first for the big things!  3
  1st. Proportions!  4
  2d. Values—or masses of light and shade.  5
  3d. Details that will not spoil the beginnings!  6
 
  You can always draw as well as you know how to. I flatter myself that I know and feel more than I express on canvas; but I know that it is not so.  7
 
  This doing things to suit people! They’ll hate you, and you won’t suit them. Most of us live for the critic, and he lives on us. He don’t sacrifice himself. He gets so much a line for writing a criticism. If the birds should read the newspapers they would all take to changing their notes. The parrots would exchange with the nightingales, and what a farce it would be!  8
 
  Work as long as you know what to do. Not an instant longer!  9
 
  Be carefully careless!  10
  Avoid certain petty, trivial details which people call “finish.” They are of the nature of things with which one would confuse a child, deceive a fly, or amuse an idiot!  11
 
  The struggle of one color with another produces color.  12
 
  I tell you it’s no joke to paint a portrait! I wonder that I am not more timid when I begin! I feel almost certain that I can do it. It seems very simple. I don’t think of the time that is sure to come, when I almost despair; when the whole thing seems hopeless. Into the painting of every picture that is worth anything, there comes, sometime, this period of despair!  13
 
  I have disliked pictures so much that I afterwards found were good, that I want to hint to you that you may, some day, want an outlet from the opinions you now hold.  14
 
  The fact is, we must take, in the works of these men, what you call faults, and ask ourselves if they were not perhaps qualities.  15
  What a time has been made over Michael Angelo’s “Moses,” with his horns! Michael Angelo felt that Moses must have horns! To represent him he must have something more than a man with a full beard, and you must accept these horns just as you would a word which some poet had felt the need of, and had coined. As Michael Angelo was the greatest creator that ever worked in art, hadn’t we better decide that we’ll wait fifteen minutes before passing judgment upon him, or upon what he did?  16
 
  The painter knows what is necessary in literature better than the littérateur knows what is needful in painting. Shakespeare could not paint with brushes as well as I can write a poem. A painter is necessarily a poet; but a poet is not a painter. Emerson can describe a forest in words better than I can; but I can make one in paint better than he. If he is a full man he will understand both; and if I am a full man I can understand his description as well as my own.  17
  That’s where Cambridge is short! Such knowledge counts for nothing. They forget the song that painting has sung, and listen only to Homer. A Greek professor who doesn’t know what Greek Art is, isn’t a Greek scholar. I don’t know just what Greek was a ruler during a certain period, but I have some literary science and ensemble. Ignorant as I am, I know more about Homer than a Greek professor can know about Pheidias. He might tell me when he was born. Well, a rat was born about that time.  18
 
  Emerson says, “It is better to write a poor poem than a good criticism.”  19
  True. And I had rather paint a poor picture than write a good criticism. It is the critics that make us so timid. You don’t quite dare to paint as you see and feel. You can’t get rid of the thought of what people will say of your work. That’s why you struggle so hard for form. But you must not work for that alone. That is what the academies, the world over, are striving for; and when they get it, what is it worth?  20
 
  Don’t mind what your friends say of your work. In the first place, they all think you’re an idiot; in the next place, they expect great things of you; in the third place, they wouldn’t know if you did a good thing. Until we come to study Art, we are not aware of the ignorance there is about it. Artists have to create their audiences. They have to do their own work and educate the public at the same time. Nobody cared for Corot’s pictures at first. He had to teach people how to like them. The same with Raphael. His pictures were not understood; but he went on painting, and in time he was appreciated.  21
  I like painting on panel for a change from canvas, and on rough canvas for a change from smooth. Anything to keep you from a “way” of doing things. After you have been painting for fun for a while, it’s good to do some hard digging. And the reverse is true as well.  22
 
  Why are you doing that?  23
  “You told me to, the other day.”  24
  Well, I didn’t tell you to do so forever.  25
 
  If you are determined to paint, you won’t mind what kind of things you use to paint with. I remember when I sketched that ploughing-scene I had only a butter-box for a palette, a brush or two, and a palette-knife. For rubbing in a velvet coat, sometimes nothing works better than the palm of your hand.  26
 
  Get your mind off of your work for a minute, and then go at it like a cataract.  27
 
  Perfect simplicity of expression! In this country only martyrs attain to it. Abraham Lincoln had it. John Brown had it. I saw the latter refuse oysters once at a party, because “he was not hungry.” I said to a friend,—and Brown was not celebrated then, not having been hanged!—“There’s something remarkable about that man! Did you ever know a man to refuse oysters at a party because he was not hungry?” He did not take champagne, because he was “not thirsty.” Held the glass as you would hold a doll for a baby. Was not going to gorge himself,—a man with such a destiny and such a work before him!  28
 
  Here is a photograph of my “Bather,” which you may call Youth, or Summer, going forth, seeming to walk miraculously on the surface of the water, but supported by a power which has reached firm footing; balancing himself gracefully, it may be a long, long time, but never getting anywhere until he has made his dive into the Unknown.  29
  I was thinking of this subject of Eternity the other night, when I looked at the moon, and saw, before it, a church-spire, a finger pointing upward into space. Next the spire, the moon. Beyond the moon, a fixed star. Next—what? Eternity.  30
 
  A ripple closes over us.  31
 
 
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