When I was in school the artist Joaquin Sorolla had become popular again, nearly a century after his death. A visit to the home of an art history professor revealed several rare books on the artist, and I vowed then and there that if ever I could afford one, I would own a Sorolla book of my own. The day finally came when I purchased "The Painter Joaquin Sorolla" by Edmund Peel, hardcover, pristine dust cover, for the ungodly amount of nearly $400. I didn't care. I had magic in my hands and just touching it, the feel of the paper beneath my hands and being able to press my nose right up to the images was worth every penny that I'd paid.
Ironically it is one of the books I don't allow in the studio for fear that I will mar the pages with oil paint smudges from my fingers. So I have taken to studying bits and pieces, internalizing the information and following Sorolla's lead as best I can.
I learned that what I admired most about the artist - the freshness of his surfaces, the images that were so full of spontaneous life - were the result of days and weeks spent in preparatory work, through oil sketches, color combinations, working out the details until he was ready. He would pose his models and paint furiously, out in the sun without regard, laying down the colors and forms in an inner competitive duel with his friend and rival Sargent.
And, most vividly, I learned that Sorolla believed "Painting was a state of mind."
I don't think it matters much which artists we study, as long as we feel a connection to what they were - or are - trying to accomplish. And because we live in our own time, when the modernism driven by the critic-influenced 60's lead to a period of post-modernism that commercialized the idea of art nearly out of existence, we are now seeing a rudderless homogenization of ideas. Of catch phrases characterized by ambiguity. Perhaps we have lost the idea of what constitutes art. Perhaps we have focused so intently of satisfying an equally ambiguous public that we've allowed ourselves to be influenced by the lowest creative denominator. No risk, no need to explain or defend, no challenge to the status quo. But here we live and if we have any hope of steering ourselves forward then we must find the rudder, the philosophical point to what we are trying to do. What conversation am I trying to continue? Why am I called to walk this artistic road, to dance to music that others have not heard?
This is dancing with Sorolla. Or dancing with the artists that speak the most sweetly in your ear. This is your life.