Brushstrokes Of Genius
That student and I were both looking at brushstrokes. I wonder what it must be like to see these paintings without a knowledge of how they were painted? Without knowing the flow of toothpaste-like paint over canvas or how to apply a glaze? So I stood there and watched Rembrandt paint. I saw him do glaze after glaze of the dark background (I have no clue what he would have called the brown color, but we call it burnt sienna) and I saw him slowly build up the light layers, starting from the parts furtherest away from the viewer; the values getting lighter as he progressed from the background to the face and hands. I saw him, perhaps as an afterthought, zig-zag his knife on the hand to shoot in some highlights. I saw him dab the small dot of white on the tip of the nose and that, I would guess, was the last brushstroke he made on the painting.
I saw the pressure he must have used when laying down parts of the painting and I saw the angle he held his brush at. I even saw the shape of the brushes he used and the consistency of the medium that he cut his paint with. There are art students that labor over re-creations of these masters' works just to learn the brushstrokes, the paint, the value. Those students have no talent. They can't see. I stood there and recreated paintings in my mind, storing the information for later use. Am I arrogant in thinking any artist who knows what he or she is about should be able to do likewise?
Aside from seeing Rembrandt paint, I saw his genius. Compared to painters today, who have refined the techniques of the masters, one might see a Rembrandt and not be at all that impressed with it. The Timken museum perhaps realized this as well, and they put Rembrandt's contemporaries on the wall next to him. The contrast was stunning and very obvious. Rembrandt's contemporaries were more detailed but also lacked any sort of life. Rembrandt's (and Rubens') teemed with life. If you cut those paintings, I'm convinced they would bleed. If you touched the canvas, it would be warm. The others were merely....pigment on cloth.
Back to the point. How do non-artists view these paintings? I saw a master at work but do plumbers see what I see? Do non-architects just see a pleasing shape of a house and not the beauty of it's construction? The cleverness of wall angles set just so? I suspect that is the case, for the most part. We all have our talents and we all have something that we can see 'behind the curtain' of. I've always taken my artistic talent for granted, but today I became deeply thankful of it.
The Apostle Bartholomew Rembrandt van Rijn
Portrait of a Young Man in Armor Peter Paul Rubens