You thought it needed more work. It needs less. You dont 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!
This doing things to suit people! Theyll hate you, and you wont suit them. Most of us live for the critic, and he lives on us. He dont 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!
I tell you its 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 dont 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!
What a time has been made over Michael Angelos 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, hadnt we better decide that well wait fifteen minutes before passing judgment upon him, or upon what he did?
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.
Thats 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 doesnt know what Greek Art is, isnt a Greek scholar. I dont 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.
True. And I had rather paint a poor picture than write a good criticism. It is the critics that make us so timid. You dont quite dare to paint as you see and feel. You cant get rid of the thought of what people will say of your work. Thats 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?
Dont mind what your friends say of your work. In the first place, they all think youre an idiot; in the next place, they expect great things of you; in the third place, they wouldnt 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 Corots 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.
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, its good to do some hard digging. And the reverse is true as well.
If you are determined to paint, you wont 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.
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!Theres 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!
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.
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. Nextwhat? Eternity.