The Golden Thread

As a student in New York, I remember engaging in discussions with fellow ignoramuses on the subject of “It:” Whether and which paintings at the Met had “It,” or whether any of our teachers' work had “It.” Later, as students in the R. H. Ives Gammell atelier, we were asked to name the top five painters of all time; a daunting exercise in analysis for anyone, but especially for a novice still in doubt about the very elements of painting itself. (Gammell quoted one of his mentors to the effect that “When you're old, it's Titian” - a position getting easier and easier to concur with.) Yet among my personal conclusions on thinking this question through was that while there are a handful of great masters, the works of these individuals were simply not all masterpieces. Ogden Pleissner, an Art Students' League of NY painter friend of Gammell's (whose oeuvre contains some of the finest compositions in the annals of American art) said something like: “We paint our pictures, and sometimes are fortunate enough to actually produce a masterpiece.” To the developing neophyte, the question of what constitutes a masterpiece is a far more critical question than who is the greatest artist. Instead of idolizing individuals, the wise student of painting will search out the greatest paintings they can find, using comparisons to continually and intuitively improve their grasp, and think about forming their artistic character along lines common to them all. They need to set themselves on the quest for the very definition of art, and what makes the real thing lasting in value, and timeless in worth. In short, they need to remember what it was that inspired them to paint in the first place and reconnect with their every fiber to the qualities in the works that manage to maintain their “It"- ness, no matter how old one gets and no matter how much one has experienced. What one wants to do with one's painting life, in short, is to search out and understand the nature of one's art, the nature of all that has earned the name “art,” tracking the golden thread that runs through it all, and trying one's best to deliver works of similarly lasting merit.

For the good, the beautiful and the true,

"The Entombment of Christ," Titian,  1520

"The Entombment of Christ," Titian, 1520