PHILOSOPHY STATEMENT: Notes on What Informs My Esthetic and Approach to Art Making
Douglas “George” Prisbe-Przybysz
I am a purist. I am old school. I am a proud subscriber to the American Landscape Tradition. I feel a debt to the artists that have gone before me. I am cognizant of the history and honor of my profession, and believe there to be none greater.
“Approach your work, like a priest to the altar.” Ernest Hemmingway
These things combine to form a belief that there are too many “artists” - too many people claiming the title without having earned it, too many anointing themselves as artist, or poet, or musician, without demonstrating a will to apply craft. I do not believe that I am an artist. However, I am diligently working toward that end. It is my hope to reach this goal, and find myself worthy of the title – Artist - before I cease to be.
“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He, who works with his hands and his head, is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, head, and heart is an artist.”
The paintings that find their way from my easel have a value and measure of life beyond that of my own existence. That is why I am here. Painting – making objects that access that part of the heart which cannot be explained – is all that I am capable of doing well.
“To do what you love and feel that it matters.” Katherine Graham
I don’t paint to find meaning to life, but to create meaning. In fact, I am not entirely certain who or what is the author of my paintings. It is from my hand - through my heart - that they come to be, but some other force is at work. Over the past several years I have given my creative spirit over to the genius of Ludwig van Beethoven and Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. To them I extend credit. I thought I understood genius. I thought I knew passion. Beethoven has given me example and insight to a higher esthetic and Corot has given me vision.
“Growth in art is primarily a matter of increasing truthfulness.” Willa Cather
These influences have inspired me to a pursuit of beauty. Beauty in art was once more relevant than it seems to be today - both in terms of esthetic discussion and application. Now, it is either simply passé or a subject to be avoided, much like the term decorative. The artist that admits to either is often rejected as being irrelevant or somehow not worthy of being taken seriously. Though I do not paint with the single intention of creating beauty, it is inherent to my subject matter. Beauty is inherent to nature and the landscape. It is from this beauty that I am inspired to paint. My works are meant to be both offering and altar – an homage, from me, to the indescribable forces that comprise nature and a shrine to remind all that view my work of just what is worthy of worship.
“Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye – it also includes the inner pictures of the soul.” Edvard Munch
I am not ashamed to admit that my aim is to appeal to the mind though the filter of the heart. This worked for the American painter Thomas Moran. He, like so many other landscape painters before and since, sought to raise the consciousness of the viewer toward a greater appreciation of the natural world. I hope to direct the viewer to a place of reflection, where the mind will be informed by the heart - to a place of quietude where all things are put in proper perspective and our place in nature is justly revealed and we see ourselves in a light borne of insignificance and humility which gives birth to understanding.
“The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Aristotle
Still, the scenes that dominate my attention are not chosen for their intrinsic beauty but for a subtlety of spirit. Call it mood. Call it soul. Call it whisper. My intent is to draw upon the questions and answers that nature puts forth, and summons the viewer to visit that place of conscience that one often encounters in a subnombulic state of tranquility when truth is best revealed.
“There is only one valuable thing in art; the thing you cannot explain.” Georges Braque
To achieve this, I have become a student of tonalism – an approach to painting that was popular in America from about 1880 to 1920. This was a style typified by focused views of intimate and unpopulated landscapes, executed with subdued harmonious modulations of color, unified by tonal values, and infused with spirituality, mood, and emotion. Many of the tonalists studied in Europe, influenced by the Barbizon School, of which Corot was a major figure. I like to imagine these artists attending concerts of Beethoven’s music, either across the ocean or here in the United States.
“I hope with all my heart, that there will be painting in heaven.” Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
My connection to and affinity for, the tonalist tradition feels natural and melds perfectly with my personality and sensibility – both toward nature and art. The vehicle of tonalism is of particular relevance in its ability to portray my feelings for the geography of this, my native state. Just as Corot never painted scenes beyond the region of his birth, I am content here. My works are not meant to mimic or authentically recreate every identifying characteristic of tonalism, but rather exist as interpretations of this movement, thus the title - Dakota Tonalism Series.
“Wherever you are born, your birthplace offers more beauty than you will ever be able to paint during your whole life.” Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
Art, and the making of art, regardless of its relevance, is not central to my existence. I could not have always made that statement honestly. Anyone looking for an artist who will work into the wee hours to meet a deadline, or sacrifice other joys of life . . . well, to quote Bob Dylan, “it ain’t me, babe.” My passion for painting – for all art making – has not diminished, nor have I lost the tingling sensation I feel in my arms, when I have a painting “on the run.” Rather, what I am seeking is balance and a nurturing cycle wherein all my interests – books, music, nature, birds, hard work, gardening, my dogs, my family – allow me to find beauty.
“Work apace, apace, apace, honest labour bears a lovely face; then hey nonny nonny, hey nonny nonny.” Thomas Decker
As a young man, my delusions of grandeur rivaled those of any artist. Time changes everything – the loss of a father, the arrival of grand children, and suddenly the lens of life changes focus. My time for being discovered and recognition is past and equally extinct is my desire for either. I simply want to produce authentic, honest, fulfilling quality works. The many different paths my artistic exploration has taken, all seem to have synthesized into what now seems a pre-ordained destination. I am at home, comfortable with my voice and breathing easier with the possibility of one day being deserving of the title: ARTIST.
“The secret to a successful creative life is to feel at ease with your self.” Paul Schroeder
ARTIST’S STATEMENT: Dakota Tonalism Series
D George Prisbe – Przybysz
Tonalism was a minor movement in American art history practiced by artists, of various disciplines, from approximately 1880 to 1920. It is often referred to as American Barbizon painting, because many artists of the day studied in Europe, and brought back the influences of such noteworthy painters Jean-Baptiste-Camille-Corot – a personal hero of mine. Characteristic of this style is the use of a toned palette of subdued colors, soft edges, and glazing techniques. The typical subject matter was landscape, with an emphasis on intimate scenes, as opposed to the vast panoramic scenes typical of the Hudson River School. Particular attention was given to dawn and dusk scenes – often resulting in quiet, calm, moody images. Tonalism typified a desire to capture the spiritual and emotional essence of nature – which was also portrayed in the work of contemporary poets such as Thoreau and Whitman. Though most every landscape painter of the time produced some tonalism works the foremost practitioners were George Inness, Charles Warren Eaton, J Alden Wier, William Morris Hunt, Henry Ward Ranger, Ralph Blakelock, and Homer Dodge Martin.
My tonalism series pays homage to these painters and their style. However, I have prefaced tonalism - in the title of this series - with the word Dakota. This is done to convey my dedication to the South Dakota landscape of my birth, and to properly reflect my “interpretation” of tonalism. These works offer more detail than traditional tonalism paintings. I learned a long time ago, that it is best to surrender to (and accept) the intuitive personal meme, than to artificially impose a method of painting that does not come naturally.
Following the opus number for each painting is an individual title, with reference and reverence to another artist (either painter or composer); to gods and figures from Greek or Roman mythology; or artistic terminology (usually music directives). I paint, exclusively, to Classical/Romantic music - mostly Beethoven, but also Brahms, Wagner, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Mozart.
“Wherever you are born, your birthplace offers more beauty than you will ever be able to paint during your whole life.” - Rembrandt