Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Introducing "In Studio With Masters": Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall. Self-portrait with seven digits. 1913

This post introduces a new rubric on this blog, “In Studio with Masters”. 

Engagements with great artists of the past are an essential part of my studio practice. They can be brief – limited to a single painting study, or long – resembling rather a full-scale semester-long course, and they usually combine reading and thinking, looking and actual painting.

This autumn, I will be working with Marc Chagall, and so the first installment of this series, to run till the end of 2012, will be devoted to him: his work, his thoughts, and his life. This time, I’ve decided to try and make a serious effort to share this engagement and its educational value on the Internet, in three ways.

1. I will record my studies and my reading regularly, here once a week, on Wednesdays, and nearly daily on the dedicated Google+ page, hoping for a feedback and discussions. 
2.  I am inviting other artists, in all media, to participate in “Chagall challenge” on Google+, a continuation of the “Picasso challenge” event we have had there last year. The idea is to make a Chagall-inspired work (in any sense, including a study of an individual painting) and to share it on Google+ to create a virtual exhibition.
3. And I am also offering help and feedback to aspiring painters who don’t feel confident enough to participate in the challenge on their own, but would like to study Marc Chagall with me.

In this introductory post, I would like to say a few words about why I do this and how I approach these studies; why I submit myself to these powerful and overwhelming influences and what I hope to achieve and to learn. 

In this, I will rely on a model of Art introduced by Wassily Kandinsky in his book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”. Before I outline this model, though, I have to stress that neither mine nor Kandinsky’s use of the words like “spiritual” and “soul” depend on any religious interpretations. Rather, they refer to the basic, universally perceivable, aspects of human condition: the existence of the world of concepts, thoughts, ideas, emotions, etc. and its bilateral links to individual human beings, their perceptions, their internal life.    

Kandinsky distinguishes three aspects of art and artworks:
  • The artist's unique personality, their individual impact on their work; this aspect, he believes, is inevitable – not a goal to be achieved (as often assumed in the contemporary discourse on arts).
  • The imprint of time in which the artist lives, which is also inevitable, and essential for their ability to connect with the souls of contemporaries
  • And finally, the eternal and universal "artistic spirit" (as mentioned above, this concept is independent of any other aspects of world view, like religion, insofar as it is derivable from universal properties of human mind and senses).
The last aspect, which transcends both individuals and their time, is the most essential one, although it is inaccessible in any way other than an individual and unique human being rooted in a specific time and place and working their way towards the universal. This is what makes art capable of affecting us even after the artist is long dead and their time with its peculiarities, hot issues, and stylistic idiosyncrasies is over. Kandinsky even suggests that we perceive the art of the past in a "purer" form than the contemporaries, because these "temporary" components are already stripped away (and so "invisible" to us).

For me at least, long-term in-depth engagements with work and thoughts of great masters of painting constitute one of the most important ways to delve deeper into this spirit of Art, to strengthen my own links to it, to connect with the universal and eternal as opposed to the individual and temporary.
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