What is known as the ‘creative’ process is a mysterious act that engages theorists and analysts, academics who specialise in rational thought and review outside of the artists’ world. It is as if they might know. Yet the attempt to establish some sense and understanding of the process is still made. One wonders why, because it has frequently been pointed out that the process is not a matter of applying any rules or patterns of thought to a situation, no matter how inventive these might appear. The artists’ act is more than reasoned invention.*
Occasionally artists write about their experiences and try to offer insights into their different world. Their efforts to explain their emotional journey, their ‘creative’ enterprise, seek to elucidate events for others to comprehend. Only once in his life did Lucian Freud write about his experience of painting. Towards the end of Freud’s life, Geordie Greig tried to get him to once more write about his art. Freud was reluctant, and, after some thought and time, simply confirmed his previous text and added a few cryptic notes to it. Greig published these comments along with the original writing in the Tatler.
The following are a few notes on the subject recorded from Breakfast with Lucian A Portrait of the Artist by Geordie Greig. It is interesting to read the words in association with some of Freud's paintings.
Lucian Freud, in spite of his unique lifestyle, liked his privacy. He hated to be watched. He disliked blatant promotion, but did enjoy its outcomes in spite of this position. He wrote about his act of painting only once, in Encounter, [‘Some Thoughts on Painting’], a publication edited by Stephen Spender.
Lucian had not seen a copy of Encounter for decades and enjoyed seeing reproductions of his pictures . . . As we sat in Clarke's (the breakfast venue) I read aloud part of his 1954 essay . . . 'My object in painting pictures is to try and move the senses by giving an intensification of reality. Whether this can be achieved depends on how intensely the painter understands and feels for the person or object of his choice.'
His views had barely altered . . . The original words, Lucian said, had been hard-wrought, chosen with the same perfectionist zeal with which he applied paint, almost chiselled from his mind. He had expressed disdain for abstract art, arguing vigorously the case for the superiority of figurative art: 'Painters who deny themselves the representation of life and limit their language to purely abstract forms are depriving themselves of the possibility of provoking more then an aesthetic emotion.'
He believed the human body was the most profound subject and he pursued a ruthlessness of observation, using the forensic exactitude of a scientist dissecting an animal in a laboratory. . . .
I carried on reading: 'The subject must be kept under closest observation: if this is done, day and night, the subject – he, she, or it – will eventually reveal the all without which selection itself is not possible; they will reveal it, through some and every facet of their lives or lack of life, through movements and attitudes, through every variation from one moment to another.'
Queen Elizabeth 11
The essay was a justification of his way of life. 'A painter must think of everything he sees as being there entirely for his own use and pleasure. The artist who tries to serve nature is only an executive artist.’
. . .
His ambition, he had written in Encounter, was to give ‘art complete independence from life, an independence that is necessary because the picture in order to move us must never remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own, precisely in order to reflect life.’
. . .
His new, very short manifesto contained his final published words. ‘On re-reading it [‘Some Thoughts on Painting’] I find that I left out the vital ingredient without which painting can’t exist: PAINT. Paint in relation to a painter’s nature. One thing more important than the person in the picture is the picture.’
Freud started painting from one point, finishing the parts as the picture developed
. . .
On the walls of his studio were scribbled three words: ‘urgent’, ‘subtle’ and ‘concise’. He explained how those words defined his purposes: (see p. 130 - 131)
Breakfast with Lucian Vintage Books, London, 2015: p.128 – 129
'the greatest British painter of the past one hundred years.' TOM WOLFE
‘He said that the important thing in painting is concentration; he stressed this as if it were a revelation.’ (p.161 BWL) #
Lucian aimed for a higher truth through intense observation . . . ‘Lucian saw the world more differently than most. There was an acuity and a penetration in his scrutiny of your face and in his search for the smallest details of appearance as a clue to character.’ (Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate) . . . ‘I hope that if I concentrated enough, the intensity of scrutiny alone would force life into the pictures,’ (Lucian Freud) (p.163 BWL)
Goodhart's law is an adage named after economist Charles Goodhart, which states: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." This follows from individuals trying to anticipate the effect of a policy, then taking actions which alter its outcome. In art, the 'law' becomes: once something useful has been measured and applied, it ceases to become useful.
The description of the traditional craftsman's method is: Having concentrated, he set to work.