Several weeks ago my friend Rebecca and I were caught in a rainstorm while strolling through Central Park. Naturally, we made a mad dash for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had no umbrellas and so arrived soaking wet, but we were not the least bit disappointed by this unexpected turn our day had taken. No matter how many times I visit the museum, those wide echoing halls and long corridors always hold something new to see.
On this particular afternoon, Rebecca and I headed to a special exhibit on the American painter John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). He is known as the leading portrait painter of his generation, producing some 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors in his lifetime. The exhibit in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery in London displayed just 90 of them: gallery after gallery of some of the wealthiest and most brilliant minds of the Edwardian era.
Sargent earned his living from commissions of the rich and famous, and several of those impressive portraits were on display. Here, for example, is Sargent’s imposing likeness of French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
And here is a striking charcoal of William Butler Yeats that Sargent sketched for the frontispiece of a collection of poems.
Most of the paintings in this collection, however, were quite different. They were intimate portraits of his family and close friends. Some of these he had kept for himself, others he had given away as gifts. They were casual snapshots of moments caught in time, perhaps painted in an evening after dinner or on a picnic or while relaxing in the garden.
And who were Sargent’s friends?
Here is a painting of Robert Louis Stevenson, pacing back and forth in his parlor, perhaps while he explains the plot of his newest novel. Sargent was also a life-long friend of the writer Henry James.
Here is one of Claude Monet, quietly painting by the edge of a wood.
And here is one of my favorites. A beautiful watercolor of Wilfrid de Glehn, a famous British impressionist painter, and his wife Jane, also a distinguished portrait painter.
As I walked through the exhibit, I was struck by the fact that those in Sargent’s circle of friends weren’t just famous people, but were famous specifically because of their creativity. Almost all of them were artists in some way: either painters or writers or dancers or composers.
“Do you think,” I asked Rebecca, “that Sargent just came from a well-connected, high society family, and that’s why he had so many impressive friends, or do you think that creative and talented people are drawn to each other?”
Does talent attract talent?
Does artistry attract other artists?
Or does surrounding yourself with artists, with those who are passionate about honing their skills and contributing something beautiful to the world, stir up the artist within you?
Perhaps it is a little bit of both.
It does seem that nearly every up-and-coming artist who is eventually successful often owes part of that success to friends and mentors who are already masters of their craft. Those friends challenge the budding artist to never stop developing his talents. They also provide him with invaluable connections and opportunities that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Sargent would never have made such a strong circle of friends if he had not taken the initiative to pursue his calling as a painter with passion and enthusiasm. In his time, that meant studying at the premier art school in France and producing an incredible volume of work.
In our time, the internet makes it easier than ever to connect and become friends with other creative people, to build an audience for whatever art we are creating. Blogs are one of the most powerful ways to do this. But, just like Sargent, we have to devote time to producing art that we can share. And then we have to be intentional about sharing that art.
So here I am, starting a new blog, in hopes that by writing a little each day I too might build a circle of creative and inquisitive friends, that together we might inspire and encourage each other.
I hope you will find the posts here useful and entertaining and that you will keep coming back for more words. Happy reading!