Monday, October 31, 2011


(The Potter, George de Forest Brush, 1889, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas)

I love this painting.

It speaks to me in a very intimate way.

But before I tell you about my personal feelings, we need some background information.

First of all,  many of our prominent painters of the American Indian - Frederic Remington and Charles Russell are but two of these artists - often depicted male natives in the act of conflict with white men.

Certainly that was a fact of life for these people and one not to be glossed over nor forgotten - least of all by anyone who was caught in the middle of these struggles.

Still, it seems to me that genre scenes of Indian warfare serve to stereotype American Indians primarily as a war-loving people.

Here's another thought:

These same artists - and others - painted American Indians who were nearly always engaged with the natural world in one way or another.

For example, a popular theme was the depiction of American natives traveling across the heat of the desert on horseback.

In addition, depictions of the physical rigors of battling and conquering buffalo were favorite subjects as well.

Finally, painted scenes highlighting native customs and culture were frequently favored by Old West masters.

Obviously, there is a place for each of these themes in American native art.

But I sometimes wonder if these sorts of subjects haven't been over done a bit.

I think it's possible.


In time, George de Forest Brush entered the world of American native art.

And with him came his masterpiece, "The Potter."

Brush, a native of Shelbyville, Tennessee, spent three years in Paris studying at the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts.

Now, let's take a closer look at our Indian potter.

Examine his taut muscles and his finely detailed bones.

Only a master of the physical form could depict such attributes so perfectly.

Dr. Rick Stewart, a senior curator at the Amon Carter Museum, has said:

"Brush's academic training was grounded in the French tradition, which focused on the idealized human body.  Brush drew and painted the human figure with meticulous precision."

No kidding.

But that's not all.

When I first encountered "The Potter," I thought it was a photograph.

That's because the colors placed on the subject's body were so true to life.

As I peered at the painting, I became entranced with the shimmery texture of the man's skin.

I nearly expected the potter to rise up off his teal-tinged rug and walk toward me.

I'm glad he didn't.

But, needless to say, Brush brought a highly defined talent for depicting realism to his work.

And - please excuse my personal musings - I am a huge fan of realism.

The current powers that be in the world of art would not necessarily approve.

According to many of them, realism is old school and, thus, infinitely boring.


Perhaps those same powers that be should open their minds a tad more frequently and make room for beauty wherever it's found.

Just a thought.

Here's another one:

Our American native is shown as a solitary figure.

He is, of course, creating a work of art.

More often than not, the act of creating art REQUIRES solitude.

An artist must be able to think.

And an artist must be able to feel.

A serious creator can't perform either of those acts if someone is jibber-jabbering in her ear.

I can testify to that.

I am a writer.

I create flows of words on a page.

Some of those flows may be effective.

They may serve to enlighten my readers' understanding of the subject at hand.

Some of them may miss the mark completely.

My point is this:

In order do create those word flows, I must be able to think and I must be able to feel.

So when I am in the act of writing, I can not be disturbed, distracted or otherwise disengaged from my work.

Fortunately, I live with a person who understands this.

So does our native potter.

He is intently focused on the work at hand as he glazes his vase.

Please believe me when I tell you that the green glaze on that vase catches your visual attention with lightening speed.

The white glaze - swirling as it does across the body of the pot -  adds to that dramatic effect.

We could say that "The Potter" is a simple painting.

After all,  Mr. Brush has painted an economy of things on his canvas.

We see one man, one rug, one animal skin and three pots.

Not a lot of stuff, to be sure.

And that's a good thing.

Because all we need to see is that focused human being in the act of creation.

Human beings have been destined to create since day one.

The act of artistic expression is one of the attributes that distinguishes us from other life forms.

Creation brings light and life to our lives.

It brings hope, understanding and joy as well as a myriad of other virtues.

Art matters.

It speaks to our spirits in ways that edify our fragile humanity.

That is why art excites me.

With "The Potter," we see a single, solitary individual creating a work of art with his heart, his mind and his hands.

For me, that is a godly image.

A sacred image that refreshes my spirit daily.

1 comment:

  1. You paint with words. This is a great summary of why you love art.