Art workhshops in Provence
Picasso, Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, Museum of Modern Art

You the Emitter: intention!

Now let’s talk about intention, having already discussed about knowledge on our last post. In art, knowledge and intention walk hand in hand and “serious” artists deal with these two important concepts when confronting their works of art. If not, they are not making art, but are just imitating, mimicking reality as when they reproduce the reflection of that chickadee in a mirror. In this case, artists are not artists, but illustrators and there is nothing wrong in being an illustrator. When doing art, you need a plan. With the best of your knowledge, you need to identify an action that will help you attain a specific result. Ultimately, your work of art should reflect your end, your purpose, in brief your intention.

In 1906-07, at the age of 25, Picasso intended to change the course of painting. He bought the best linen, the best pigments and armed with his vast knowledge on modern art he developed an audacious plan that led to the creation of Les demoiselles d’Avignon. It took him a year and more than 500 sketches. And it was the same for all the great artists of the 20th century making sure that something worthwhile had to emerge.

As a much more experienced painting and art history professor, I reflect this way and I have to share my knowledge with my students. During the last 10 days, I met students from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States here in Tuscany. I had a choice: should I let them paint freely, merely copying the Italian landscape in front of them? Or, should I start my teaching day with a specific purpose such as: “the purpose of this exercise is to use a set of analogous colours so you may realise that you do not need to use all your colors”. Or, “I intend, through this exercise, that you convey the mood of mystery”. Of course, these are very simple goals, reflecting the nature of a plein-air art workshop, hence the notion of context which I will tackle in another post.

Back to Les demoiselles: Picasso aimed to transform painting through the concept of “art is you” instead of “art and you”, a concept which was the norm for the last 5 000 years.  Picasso’s intention was to bring back shamanism into painting, something which was lost since the birth of history (or writing) or this painting The dance of the bulls from the Lascaux caves in France.

To conclude: as I said, knowledge and intention walk hand in hand. Therefore, small knowledge will bring forth a modest intention, resulting in a work of art of limited creativity.  But vast knowledge can produce a deeper intention, and at the end, a greater work of art. But we shall never forget, artists with a small or vast knowledge have the final word on what they decide to do. It is simply a matter of choice, a Nietzschean choice.

My following posts will try to explain my understanding of art and its role in society. By doing so, it will also clarify the way we instruct during our painting workshops in Tuscany, the reason why we have, at Walk the Arts, so many returnees.

10 thoughts on “How I see Art (4b)

  1. Yves,
    Thank you. This post is interesting, as is this site.
    I am new to this site.
    Two things twig my curiosity?
    1) I liked that distinction between Intention and Knowledge as it suggests to me an aware and conscious approach to the organization and process of ordering the “that which” surrounds our daily connections AND, perhaps, it also alludes to the tacit dimensions of our awarenesses that we catch ourselves acknowledging when they peek at us from beneath the surface.

    Could you unwrap for us what you intended by the expression “Nietzschean question”. (Perhaps this was made clear in a previous post, if so point me in the right direction.)

    2) Have you, or Walk the Arts, ever organized or facilitated an extended trip/tour of Eastern Europe (say, Germany and points of artistic interest eastward) ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In reply to bob.

      Sorry for the waiting. I am so busy here! Firstly, as for a trip in Eastern Europe, we are seriously thinking about it. Bruxelles, Berlin, Vienna maybe Budapest.

      Secondly, what do I mean by a Nietzschean choice? We could write and write on the question, but Nietzsche’s notion of choice is settled in his notion of free-will (the “libre arbitre” in French), and in the notion of the “master and slave moralities” (The Genealogy of Morals-La généalogie de la morale). The artist living in a specific art-world has always a choice dictated by his will: to paint “this” or to paint “that”. What he or she will paint will reflect if she or he is a “master” or a “slave” in the field of the fine-arts (according to Nietzsche’idea).

      The “master artist” has an open-mind, he is courageous and truthful. He knows himself, in full recognition of who he is; he is authentic. Let’s not forget that “authenticity” is the first criteria of art. He believes in self-actualization and is aware of the will to power. For example, Marcel Duchamp is indeed a master with his work entitled Fontaine, or Barnett Newman with his Voice of Fire.

      On the other hand, the “slave artist” resents the master. Slave morality being the inverse of master morality, the artist owning it is pessimistic and cynical. The essence of slave morality is utility; his art must be useful, it should decorate. Still today, so many artists with a “slave morality” think Duchamp is a fake, criticize Damien Hirst for being a millionaire and having people working in his studio (just like Ruben’s). Amidst the population, do you remember when the National Gallery of Canada bought Voice of Fire, a purchase that creates a storm of controversy?

      Today, we must accept that most of the artists bear this type of morality, and there is nothing wrong in this. According to Nietzsche, they are simply “followers” and these artists made a conscious choice to be followers in the arts. We cannot be all Picasso, Pollock, Duchamp, Hirst, etc. We must sincerely accept this fact, and with humility.

      During our painting workshops, I DO stress this notion of both Nietzschean moralities, and I keep saying that you must be aware of it. When we do art, we have the free-will to do the best we can in accordance to what we know and what we intended to do; and all this, in accordance to how we perceive our own “art-world”.

      To conclude, having said that, one of our participants returned to Australia with Nietzsche’s notions in her mind. She told me that that lecture in Tuscany was inspiring. Consequently, she made a conscious choice to paint according to her art-world, Port Macquarie. Today, she is very successful, because she knows herself, her works and most important, her public. Is she going to be part of the National Gallery of Australia’s collection in Canberra? She certainly knows that she will not; but she is happy and her collectors are happy.

      Am I going to be part of the National Gallery of Canada’s collection? No! But I am happy.

      This is what I mean by a Nietzschean choice.


  2. Yves Thank you for taking the time … your response to the ‘Nietzschean choice’ points me in the right direction.

    Re. NY trip (in a subsequent email) … this does seem interesting, especially the guided tours that are suggested. I am looking at it with interest. Is the Frick part of it? Is there a free morning/afternoon/evening (when the Frick might be open) for a few hours during which one could add a side visit … say to the Frick or one of the Hispanic museums or whatever the knowledgeable might recommend as worth seeing.

    Thanks again Bob



  3. Thank you for your kind reply Mr. Larocque. I really do appreciate it. I agree with you. Everything necessarily comes from somewhere. You make an interesting reference to Darwinism; presumably, artists evolving an adaptation to their environment. Perhaps we can argue that Paul Cezanne was the Cubist mutation that caused gene replicators Picasso and Braque to thrive?


  4. N’oubliez jamais que l’acte de peindre implique tout un orchestre dirigé par un cerveau en un état émotif dans un environnement particulier. Il implique aussi le médium plus ou moins sophistiqué. Sans oublier les impulsions intuitives du moment. Bref de quoi soumettre un projet de doctorat pour le décrire. Ce mélange de combinaisons presqu’infini suggère l’unicité de l’artiste.

    Bravo Yves de m’avoir inspiré dans mon évolution.

    Ton élève Clarence (Paradis ) Simard


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