Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mutter and Growl

Eyewitnesses said that when John Singer Sargent painted in watercolor, he “groaned, swore (if no ladies were present), exclaimed, whistled to keep his spirits up, growled in rage when things went wrong, and then shouted in triumph as he completed his work to his satisfaction. It was a noisy performance.”


Another observer noted that he talked to himself: “This is impossible,” Mr. Sargent muttered. “You can’t do it. Why do you try these things? You know it’s hopeless. It can’t be done.”

Then: “Yes, it can, yes, it can, it can be done—my God, I’ve done it.”
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From “Art: A New History,” by Paul Johnson, page 521.
Image: "In the Tyrol," 1904, 21 x 13 inches, image courtesy Art Renewal Center.

17 comments:

Jobot said...

I cannot count the number of times I've been told to shut up in art classes or figure drawing sessions.
For me, this habit continues when I'm alone, as well--so it isn't just a performance for attention. I find that when I do talk to myself, out loud, while creating things, it helps me to make conscious decisions throughout the process instead of letting my intuition take control.
It's reassuring to hear that I'm not the only one who does this.

mdbauman said...

I agree with his feelings for watercolor, but that even a great painter such as Sargent struggled with the medium gives me hope.

silvina said...

What a revelation! To know that Sargent struggled and became frustrated at some point during the painting process suddenly makes him human- not just an untouchable virtuoso.
A New Art History sounds like a book I'd like to add to my collection.

Kurt said...

I need my wife to read this post. So she won't give me a hard time; because I talk to myself all the time while I paint.

DavidStill said...

I sometimes shout out loud when I'm really frustrated. Then I go tell the wife that I'll NEVER be an artist, to try to get some sympathy points, which of course fails.. Back to painting I go...

etc, etc said...

More JSS lore:
"When he was very excited, [John Singer] Sargent would rush at his canvas with his brush poised for attack, yelling, 'Demons, demons, demons!' When he was particularly angry or frustrated, he expressed these feelings with 'Damn,' the only curse he allowed himself. He once had the expletive inscribed on a rubber stamp so he could have the satisfaction of pounding it on a piece of paper."

Kurt said...

BTW my copy of Color and Light came last week, and I have been delving deeply into it. Love it James, great stuff. Thanks for all your work.

billspaintingmn said...

Thank you for putting the book Color & Light together! It will help me get a better understanding of things, I just know it!

Stephen Southerland said...

A fine reminder. Remember that we never see the records of the times that colossal painters like Sargent completely botched things. "Great Failures Of The Great Masters" would be an interesting exhibit, if the resources still existed intact.

Jim G. said...

So...what does James Gurney mutter when he's painting?

I found this blog two or three years ago when I googled "plein air painting". I love it!

Dean H. said...

Ah...The struggles within that try artistic souls. Thanks for the reminder that even the Greats went through it.

Love your blog.

Steve said...

Another self-deprecating Sargent quotation, expressing his interest in painting battle scenes during World War I:

"But would I have the nerve to look, not to speak of painting? I have never seen anything in the least horrible -- outside of my studio."

Laura said...

Very encouraging to read this, especially as I face a difficult watercolor mountain to climb today!

Erik Bongers said...

It's good to hear these stories.
Sargent's watercolours look like they have been made in virtuoso-mode, without much predetermination.
This story however, shows that Sargent was extremely concentrated and even very fearful of failure.

The Surfin' Squid said...

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who does this...as I see several other people have shared the same sentiment.

I also vocalize (speak, laugh, grunt--never actually sing) while I play the piano, which seems counterintuitive, but it really does seem to help with the creative process, somehow. With both visual media and music, if I'm really getting into what I'm working on, I somehow get an urge for vocal emotional release to accompany the creativity my hands and eyes are occupied with.

(Oddly enough, my creative self-talk is rarely negative. Even when things aren't going right, I tend to take a reassuring and optimistic tone with myself, which stands in stark contrast to my attitude toward myself the rest of the time.)

Kyle said...

HAHAHAHA!!! That's great. I feel the same way, Mr. Sargent, when I paint. Whether it be oil, or my new medium of watercolor.
Thanks for posting this, James.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

So reassuring to know one is not along in muttering non-stop while cretaing! I'm most vocal when sketching when alone. However I try not to talk to myself too much when in company!