The master artist told his pupil it was time to study value.
“Do you know what value is?”
The pupil replied, “The study of light.”
“Very good,” the master artist said.
The pupil asked the master artist, “But what about values, since a particular value exists on a scale?”
The master artists smiled.
“Yes,” he said. “Values. But first, we begin in black or white. Or, rather, grey. We begin our study by drawing in charcoal.”
“Why?” the pupil asked.
“Because it’s a monumental leap – transferring values from black and white to all the colors of the world. The realm of color – in tint, shade and tone – is an entirely different realm of existence and only a select few artists are prepared to present the world in all its glory of color.”
The pupil began sketching with his stick of charcoal.
“A masterpiece employs a full range of values,” the master artist said.
“Yes,” the pupil said.
“Including color, when the artist is ready.”
“Yes,” the pupil said again.
“And what are the 7 elements?” the master artist asked.
“Line. Shape. Form. Value. Space. Texture. Color.”
“Very good,” the master artist said. “And, due to its complexity, color always comes last. Due to its difficulty to master. Due to the difficulty of balancing warms and cools. The difficulty of mastering the effects of colors upon one another. It is difficult, but, when done well, it is brilliant.”
“It sounds difficult,” the pupil said.
“Yes, it is difficult to use color to represent objects. And even more difficult to balance color as an essential element of the overall composition. The values of colors compose objects. They form the object, while all of them combined – all the objects and their colors – compose the work of art. In the hands of a master artists, the combination of colors delivers far more than the objects within the work.”
The pupil continued sketching.
“Harmony,” the master artists said. “Harmony of all the colors representing objects.”
“Yes” the pupil said.
“A masterpiece is harmony. Harmony in the interplay between all the elements.”
“Yes,” the pupil said.
“Seven elements seems slight. But, if you now anything of numbers, the combinations are vast.”
Still sketching, the pupil again said, “Yes.”
“Greys are something. They give form. Many objects and compositions can be represented in greys. They can represent 3 dimensional space. In this way, tints and shades are similar, yet something else altogether.”
The pupil agreed.
“Do you understand?” the master artist asked. “Truly understand?”
The pupil put down his stick of charoal.
“Yes,” he said. “And I hope to be so skilled someday.”
“I hope so too,” the master said.
“But tell me,” the pupil asked, “Are all these things learned? Are the mastery of color and composition and harmony gained through practice? Are they gained and granted over time through familiarity and effort? Or, is mastery a feeling the artist comes to possess? Is mastery more than a pure understanding? Are these skills – this knowledge – more intuited than grossly understood?”
The master artist didn’t answer.
“Perhaps I should ask in a different way,” the pupil said. “Is the creation of art more a matter of the mind or heart?”
“That I do not know,” the master artist said. “I can only guess, but, if pressed, I would say both.”
“But you are a master artist,” the pupil said. “Surely you must know, for, whatever it is, you experience it yourself. You know where it comes from. You must feel it percolating from either your mind or heart or both. And in what measure.”
“Yes,” the master artist said. “I experience it. Yet, I still don’t know what it is.”
“If you don’t know, then how will I ever know if I too have become a master?”
“Your art will speak for itself. That is the only way of knowing.”
“But speak for itself to who?” the pupil asked. “You? Patrons? Critics?”
“To yourself first,” the master said. “Honestly. And to yourself. Be your harshest critic. And allow your most honest critiques to drive you to be better.”
The pupil began sketching again.
“Thank you, Master,” he said.
“And thank you too,” the master artists replied.
“For what?” the pupil asked.
“For trying. For trying, with a pure heart. For trying and committing and taking the risk with the understanding that it may all be for nothing.”
“Nothing? How can it be nothing?”
“It may be nothing more than a pursuit for your own glory. Your work may be nothing more than expression – a symptom – of your own vanity.”
“And how will I know?”
“That’s the difficulty. You never will. With the other artists and patrons and critics all weighing in, you never will. That is why I urge you to be your own harshest critic.”
The pupil put down his stick of charcoal again.
“What?” the master asked.
“Maybe that is the truest art,” the pupil said. “Many can render many an object in many different mediums. But the art of understanding one’s self. And having the tools for expressing it in the world, beyond the stricture of the self.”
“Very good,” the master said. “Very good.”
“And knowing that criticism of self comes from some understanding first.”
“Yes,” the master said. “I am reminded of what my master told me.”
“What was that?”
“That art is insight. It should always seek to give insight. It must seek to illuminate. It must seek to illuminate the world. Or the darkest corners of the artist’s heart. But it must seek to illuminate for the sake of being real, not gross vanity or glory. For, if the artist succeeds, it is the world, including himself, that he illuminates. And it is always the world around him that deserves the attention. Not him.”
“Like an archeologist,” the pupil said. “What he unearths is far more deserving of the public’s attention than him.”
“I suppose so,” the master artist said.
“But it is so difficult to understand ourselves beyond our illusions of ourselves and all our excuses for ourselves,” the pupil said. “It is as difficult to understand and execute as color, perhaps.”
“Yes,” the master said. “You must understand yourself and others in your greys before ever moving on to color.”
“And, understanding yourself first – then others – and then maybe even the world.”
“Truly seeing, then representing the world in its broadest and most beautiful spectrum of color,” the master pondered.
The master instructed the pupil to put down his drawing board.
“I think we are finished for the day,” he said.
“But I’ve barely begun,” the pupil said. “Have I done – have I said – something wrong?”
“No,” the master said. “It may be time for me to think a bit. And maybe learn.”