The painting above is by Bierstadt, an artist from the Hudson Valley School.
Each Saturday that it doesn't rain, I meet a bunch of artists to paint in the outdoors near my home. It's not an incredible landscape we look upon, but sometimes, I get incredible paintings from going there. This past saturday, my painting was just ok, nothing spectacular, just ok. I didn't follow my usual pattern of facing the sun...which may have made the difference. I've written in here before that I am usually the only one facing the sun. Everyone else paints what the sun is illuminating.
But on Saturday, there was one artist facing the sun and his painting was pretty spectacular. It was dark except for one slice of sunlight on a patch of grass illuminating the island. I asked him why he had chosen that particular subject when there was all the fall color to paint. He mentioned the Hudson Valley School and that they had one thing in common: they all painted light from a mysterious source. Then he mentioned that his choice of painting light illuminating the darkness came from his beliefs.
The Hudson Valley School is known for reverent, religious renderings of nature. You do get a sense of their beliefs when you look at the paintings. And yes, there is always a depiction of light coming through darkness. Was this on purpose? Did they intend to give a religious message? Or was the landscape just so beautiful that they wanted to catch the quality of light? I believe that my artist friend was correct. They were painting light from a mysterious source to communicate a message to us. They were asking us to pay attention to this one quality of their landscapes.
When I sing, it doesn't matter what the subject matter is, I always sing from the same place. I sing from my core. I sing knowing that I am an instrument and the music is coming through me. It's not about me up there on stage, if it was, I wouldn't be able to utter a note. I'm much to self-conscious and nervous to sing in public. But, I can do it when I sing from this core belief.
I have never applied this to my art in a conscious way. Nearly always, I will see the finished painting on the canvas before I ever apply the first brush stroke. So I can talk, joke and just use technical skills to finish the work, without too much effort. Occasionally, and much more recently, I haven't been able to see any painting on the canvas at all! That's when I get nervous and lose confidence in myself. I call it "being connected." I'm not connected when inspiration doesn't come easily. When I can't "see" the painting. A similar feeling comes over me when I can't "hear the music." It's disturbing and I feel very alone at those times, ungrounded almost.
These are very personal things. I don't know if all artists go through them. I have heard music in my head most of my life. Usually it's songs I'm working on, or just classical instrumental works. Sometimes, I'll get a commercial jingle stuck in there and I'll have to consciously think of something more appropriate to get it out of my head. Otherwise, it will loop over and over again and drive me mad. On the visual side, I will see things that need to be captured. I'll slam on my brakes, turn around in the middle of traffic and go back to take a photo. One time I pulled over to watch the sunset so abruptly that a car pulled in behind me on the side of the road. When the woman got out, I started to tell her that I just pulled over to watch the sun set. And she said, "So did I!" And we both turned to watch this amazing flaming orange light fade into the horizon.
It's this state of astonishment that brings me back to what I believe. I was astonished that my artist friend chose to paint a single sliver of light when all around him the trees were aflame with color. But this is based on his belief. A belief that light illuminates the darkness. And in his painting that day, there was much darkness and an astonishing sliver of light.