The Master, R.V.R.
This is how he came to power as one of the greatest artists of all time, an artist who could bring life to his creations as if they would talk from the canvas he created them on. I was the first one privileged to see him mounting his brightest star and carry it to where it, never fell – his creations, that is. For him in his identity as a mortal man – well, that’s another tale in which all reasons will reveal themselves.
And how and when did this star begin to rise that has never fallen but 400 years later continues to inspire and awe those who view and participate in his creations – his paintings, drawings and etchings? And why was I the first to witness this brilliant seed blossom into a continously unfolding flower, culminating into a high aesthetic power that permeated earth with its spiritual beauty?
I was brought into being with his decision to be a great artist. With that decision I sparked into his universe and have never left – as his muse, an amused muse, bent to share in the playing of his life of all good and bad and in between. I suppose you could say one of my duties was to occasionally tease him with thoughts he would think his own and start to create upon them. And I would generate certain emotions – the whole scale of them – just to make it interesting. I should make the point that in this journey, I maintained constant amusement through the good and the bad. After all, that is also part of my job.
So he made the decision. That answers “how” this star began to rise. When? It’s not that important at the moment, but it was a while ago. Let’s say it was a lifetime in a place called Holland, mostly Amsterdam. Sometimes dreary, sometimes drab and depressing with streams of joy trickling through when you could grab them.
As a child brought up by a family of meager means (his father was a miller) he exhibited a high interest and fascination of everything around him, but mostly of people. Old people with wrinkled faces, noses with warts, sunken eyes, scraggly hair under worn-out hats – all kinds peaked a passion of interest. He began sketching on any kind of paper he could find which he kept loose in a spot by his bed. He loved the look of the landscape, especially in the mist or rain, with far-off trees or bridges with houses dotting around. He sketched his mother and father, bringing their spirits alive on paper. He sketched with an energy of not only the young but as a being with a mission.
One sunny April day, as a teenager, he sat in a corner mending some bags inside his father’s windmill. When he finished he looked up and watched rats that had been captured and rustling around in wire nets hanging from the loft. The light through the small windows above showed slightly hazy light in the air surrounding the hanging cages. The air was different in color on each of the sides and behind and in front, whereupon he realized that everything has an “air or light” around it and that perhaps all this space, all this air really has a color and could be possible to translate that color into terms of paint. But from that moment in his father’s mill he was convinced that every object in the world is surrounded by a substance of light or air or space or call it whatever you like, which somehow or other it must be possible to express in terms of light and shade and a half a dozen primary colors. He considered he was a mathematician who works in vegetable matter and who started out with a formula and who is now trying to prove that it works and that it is correct. Yet, what he wanted to know before he died is how did he happen to get those effects, how did he happen to create those effects using paint…i.e. that man is actually sitting on a chair in a room, not leaning up against a mere background of chair and room. Anyone can learn to paint things that are there. But to paint the things that one merely suspects to be there is the sort of task that makes life interesting.
His perceptions were keen and clear. He would not only see the surface of a person or object or vista, but would permeate through, seeking the soul of what was there. He had said that nothing counts in the world except the inner spirit of things, meaning the immortal soul of everything that was ever created – tables and chairs and cats and dogs and houses and ships. But only about three or four, maybe five, in every hundred would understand that and the others who don’t “will let us starve to death.” From this, one could see he “knew” in the truest sense but at the time perhaps didn’t understand the breadth of his power.
Through the years he realized there were those who were not cognizant of the greatness of his work and others who would take advantage of him and tried to pay him almost nothing. Most of the wealthy bourgoise were vain in the extreme and were upset to find their portraits “unflattering” due to his painting them as they really were and so suffered rejections. They couldn’t see the spirit in things and so didn’t have a clue what they were seeing when they saw his work of them. Still, through word of mouth and meeting people in the pubs and on walks and so forth, he flourished as a painter for several years as a younger man. He loved dressing in costumes and dressing his wife or other models in costumes for paintings. He spent hours finding used and old things like helmets, velvet clothing, satins, furs, jewelry, tankards, feathered hats — all for his pleasure of playing and mocking up paintings. These were his happiest times. Oh, and I had something to do with that, too.
He said “I get interested in a subject. I see or rather I feel a lot of things others don’t see or don’t feel. I put them into my picture and the man who sat for his portrait and considered himself a fine fellow gets angry, says the likeness is not there or I have given him a look in his eyes that will prove to his neighbors that he is a miser or mean to his wife, and in the end he either refuses the picture or he will offer to pay me half of what he promised. And many people are hoping to say ‘he has lost something in his pep and stamina’. And what they mean of course is that I am beginning to paint them as they are and no longer as they want to think that they are.”
While musing, I have noticed that there is a false idea floating in cultures about artists and that is that they should “suffer” and “suffer for their art”. And some artists, being so intent on creating and painting beauty into their work, pay little attention to money and things of survival for their bodies because creating is itself outside of the “real” universe where the artists’ genius lives. Unfortunately, there are those who don’t understand this and have become so imbedded and fixed into the money, that it makes them blind as to the true value of the art they see and so take advantage of that aspect in some artists, When they commission or purchase an artist’s creation, that aesthetic will be with them far longer – even a lifetime – and give them and those viewing it more pleasure than what was spent. That aesthetic just doesn’t hang on a wall, it permeates the space it is in. Take it away and see what the room feels like. In this way, an artist’s suffering can be created by the bourgoise, whether intentional or not. At any rate that kind of thinking can stifle support of the artist in any culture and has for centuries. The more the artist is supported the more cultures come alive and flourish. Imagine if there were no art anywhere, no aesthetic to sooth souls – how dead would it be. Artists inject life into cultures and so need support to continue injecting that life.
I watched him through his hardships. He had absolutely no understanding of the value of money, died bankrupt and had paintings rejected. But he maintained his integrity of painting what he saw and ignored any hints that he should do otherwise. As he said, “Painting is seeing.” And he could truly “see” more than was physically apparent.
Moreover, even though he may not have been totally cognizant of the fact at that time, he could perceive the spirit of a subject and communicate it in his work. He injected life into his work. And even though he had said he didn’t know how he did what he did, that was and is his power. And that is the Master, R.V.R, Rembrandt van Rijn.
Respectfully and Amusedly Offered, The Master’s Muse 8/31/10
(c) Anne Fewell 2010. All Rights Reserved