Jamie Kirkland Art Studio

Let the beauty we love be what we do. ~Rumi ~


I discovered this lovely book in the gift shop of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Softening edges has been an important part of my painting process for many years.  When I am painting I always step back to look at the work and I am often surprised by the physical reaction my body has if there are too many hard edges.  It feels like a jolt.  I have had an awareness of this almost obsessive compulsion to soften edges and have wondered why  am I so compelled to do it?  I do think the moves we make as artists which are often unconscious have a much deeper meaning.

What a treat it was to discover an entire volume devoted to this particular aspect of painting, written primarily about two of my favorite painters James M. Whistler and George Inness.  I was so disappointed to discover that I missed the exhibition at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 2008. The book was published in conjunction with this exhibition. http://www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/whistler/content/home.cfm

I went to Amazon.com to grab a picture of the book cover for this blog post and I discovered to my amazement that the volume I paid a little over fifty dollars for was selling for over two hundred.  I had to scrape a couple of spots of gesso off mine.. whew!!!

This book primarily explores the work of Whistler and Inness starting with Whistlers moody, beautiful, and stunning Nocturne series.  A quote from the dust jacket states, ” Through an innovative manner of handling paint, a group of American artists around 1900 created deceptively simple canvases that convey images of shimmering, transience, visions suggested rather than delineated.  Focusing on this singular aesthetic characteristic -softness- Like Breath on Glass explores the painterly phenomenon of fifteen important artists.”.

Another meaningful excerpt from the book is, “A painting’s truth, by extrapolation, is measured not by portrayal of contour or structures or surface pattern within a fictional scene, but by the picture’s ability to be felt as true by the sensitive observer.  By inscribing ambiguity onto the world, these painters enabled a multitude of viewers to approach a picture and accept its representations as valid, thus broadening the audience who would be able to feel  in it the richness, or what James might call the” thickness” of the world.  Softly painted art allows the observer to revel in the world’s ambiguous edges, to feel the manifold potential of a perception released from theology.  It’s maker’s articulated motives could be aesthetic, spiritual, scientific, philosophical, or a combination of them all. although the aspiration towards various truths lay at the core of most.”

Perhaps your local library will have access to this book. The many reproduction plates and the elegance of the art critique make it a worthy addition to any painter’s library.

In addition to the book cover I have posted images of Whistler’s “Lagoon” and my favorite  Inness painting “Hazy Morning Montclair”.

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3 thoughts on “Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness and the Art of Painting Softly

  1. Really enjoyed reading this Jamie!!!!

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  2. Thank you for sharing this book with us. Like you, I love the soft edges and am inspired by Whistler’s nocturnes. And your work inspires me, too.

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  3. Just found your blog and so enjoyed this post! As an abstract painter I have noticed my own desire to “soften the edges” sometimes struggling with having no distinct focal point. Now I understand that this softness in visual expression is valid. Thanks for sharing your passion.

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