Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Relevance of Rembrandt - Lessons in Artistry and Sticking to What You Know

Academical Figures of Two Men
Rembrandt van Rijn - 1646, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam  (Netherlands - Amsterdam), Height: 20 cm (7.87 in.), Width: 13 cm (5.12 in.), Etching
Rembrandt van Rijn was, is, and always will be my most favorite artist. There is an openness in his work that makes me feel that I can really see what he was thinking. In many ways, he did not polish or refine the image of humanity, but endeavored to cast a tender light upon its imperfections. He was a man who knew both the joy and sorrow that life has to offer; with success's ecstasy and loss's disillusionment. I was able to study his work a lot as an undergrad, and while I may no longer have the voices of my professors to instruct me, I will always have a teacher in Rembrandt!

Here are some things I have learned about being an artist, and a graphic designer, from his work and history.

The Little Children Being Brought to Jesus ("The 100 Guilder Print")
Completed 1647-49 (150 Kb); Etching and drypoint, 1st state, 27.8 x 38.8 cm; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam







Lesson 1: Compose your ideas from what inspires you

During the crafting of both etchings above, Rembrandt would have been in his mid- 40s. He was a man who experienced life; who went from being a millers son to one of the most popular artists of the Dutch Golden Age (art's Baroque Period), to a teacher, father, husband... and then widow. Historians have their own ideas about what made Rembrandt great, but as for me, I feel his art holds the answer. His work had become an honest description of humanities fallen state and its need for help and love.

Looking at the etching of the two academic figures, they are used as a reflection of the lightly drawn figures behind them (an elderly women and a child). The men are dressed (or un-dressed!) in the same manner, almost as if to say, 'we are the same, old and young'. Again, while the etching above is called "the little children being brought to Jesus"... both the old and the young are being brought to Him, because we are all someones child, even at 92! This is the light in which an aged Rembrandt now sees the world around him. He infuses it into every subject matter he depicts, whether it is biblical or artistic. Every artist should do the same!
The Artist's Father 1631 Ashmolean Museum - University of Oxford  (United Kingdom - Oxford) Height: 14.5 cm (5.71 in.), Width: 12.9 cm (5.08 in.), Etching
 
Lesson 2: Don't take the 'mundane' for granted

No matter what field you are in, the finest work you will produce will be that which involves YOU in it. Here is what I mean.
 The portrait etching above is of Rembrandt's father. Out of all of the portraits he made, whether of aristocracy, soldier, and others, only this one could hold the skilled knowledge of a model intimately understood. I'm not saying that he was on best terms with his father (I don't know), but I can see the slight smile hidden beneath his fathers mustache, the quiet demeanor of his expression. He may be dressed in finery, but he is a man who seems to be cut of simpler cloth. These are suttle elements of his character that only Rembrandt could have shown, because it was his everyday knowledge. So there are things that you know that will make you the very best teller of a certain story, or depict-er of a moment, or singer of a song.

Adoration of the Shepherds: A Night Piece
Rembrandt van Rijn - circa 1652,  British Museum  (United Kingdom - London),  Height: 14.9 cm (5.87 in.), Width: 19.8 cm (7.8 in.), Etching and drypoint
I leave you now with the Adoration of the Shepherds, one of my favorite etchings. Who would have know that with so much ink and lines, that the artist could show such luminosity! It is a lush, velvety scene; a quiet moment, as a small explosion of light chases away the darkness from the faces of the shepherds, coming in from the night.

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