L'École Marchutz

The Lovemaking of Art

Marchutz Fellow

During a discussion with the class, Alan Roberts, Director of the Marchutz School, read a piece by Rembrandt on drawing. He began reading one particular sentence, "One must leave the paper the power to act by itself in order to give birth...” and then stopped suddenly. "Woah, wait a minute...I thought we were drawing, now we’re giving birth?!"

I thought about it for a moment, and it made perfect sense to me. The art we make is a result of an intercourse between the artist’s vision and the motif.

One of the first lessons we learn at Marchutz is that our art is not meant to be an exact illustration of the motif. It is common for students to struggle with this notion in the beginning. They arrive thinking that every finger and toe of the model they are drawing needs to be placed on the page exactly how it is in space. Instead we encourage them to look for “essential relationships,” some sort of visual drama, tension, or theme that unites the entire form of the model’s body. 

Finding those “essential relationships” is a process that has the artist’s senses intimately interacting with various elements of the motif such as light, color, and volume. Students are encouraged to spend lots of time looking at a motif. They are encouraged to devote attention to its every part, closely following every brushstroke contour, color, and value without forgetting the entire motif as a whole. With patience and commitment, the motif, as if by seduction, will begin to reveal more of its true, innermost nature.

Nineteenth-century French novelist Honoré de Balzac mentions this artistic process of seduction in his short story, “The Unknown Masterpiece.” Toward the beginning, master painter Frenhofer explains to another artist, “You don’t delve deeply enough into the intimacies of form. You don’t pursue them with sufficient love and perseverance in all their disguises and evasions...The victorious painter is never deceived by all those subterfuges, he perseveres until nature’s forced to show herself stark naked.” In addition to the theme of love and an erotic portrayal of nature “showing herself stark naked,” his use of phrases like “disguises and evasions” and “deceived by...subterfuges” suggest the initial barriers a suitor might face in the act of seduction. 

Furthermore, a word I frequently find myself using when assessing a motif and before painting is "conceive." I ask myself, "how am I going to conceive the leaves on the trees?" or “how am I going to conceive the wrinkles in her blouse?" I’m not literally deciding from an array of stroke styles which would be the most appropriate to paint leaves, but rather performing a more subconscious search within myself for the art that I am about to create and how my artistic intuition is processing and developing it. Kind of like a self-administered pregnancy test...kind of.

Given these notions of attentive love, seduction, and conception, it is not entirely astonishing that Rembrandt used the word “birth” to describe creating a work of art. Lovemaking and painting share similar elements as processes and both result in the miracle of creation. 

-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow