It has been a long time since I wanted to write on this topic, but I guess I did not get upset enough, or often enough, to really get down to it. But now I am. Upset, that is. Before I hack and slash into Romanticism, let us define what I refer to exactly.
To most of you, Romanticism is about giving girls flowers and knowing how to prepare a dinner which comprises candles. Know it now, this will not be the Romanticism dealt with in this chapter. To others, Romanticism calls to mind the date 1780-1820 and a few names like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysseh Shelley (what's up with that middle name?), Lord Byron, John Keats, and others. While the Romanticism whose bung-hole will be enlarged is related to that classic Romanticism, it isn't exactly that either.
Romanticism, the classic kind, was based on the individual, his or her emotions, feelings, nature, etc. Poets thought of themselves as "translators" of sorts, who tried to put into words emotions and feelings and nature. It is what any teen naturally does when they try to write poetry, and I am not exempt from the dire attempt. In many ways, classic Romanticism built itself upon bases that all of us can share, I guess, but that are pretty stupid, I think. Why? Because the wind passing through the leaves of a tree is not an emotion, and neither of these are words. What I mean is that your poem is a poem, your creation, and not some translation of another entity. There is no poem, or painting for that matter, to "naturally" derive from anything out there. You have to create it.
Let's take the case of an imaginary young poet. He is full of emotions, who isn't, and he writes poems. Now, his first mistake is to believe that his emotions actually have a connection to what he writes. In other words, he believes that the more he feels, the better his poem is. That young poet then shows his poetry to others, who are not familiar with the poet's emotions, and thus, all they can see is a shitty poem. They say so as politely as can be, and the poet takes offence, and that not because of what the poem really is, but because he does not separate what he feels from what he writes. There's one major mistake. If you happen to commit this mistake, give it ten years, then read your old poetry again. By that time, I hope, you will have lost the "emotion" of it and will be able to read the actual poetry you wrote. And that's when it strikes you that this sucks horribly. And I speak from experience.
In these days of glorified individuality, we all have to disenchant the self and actually get to work. What makes a poem is you writing it, not you feeling anything. You could feel a lot, and be a crappy poet; you could have a stone in lieu of a heart, and be a great poet. Those things do not have to be mutually dependent.
The "muse" and other inspirational nonsense have a lot to do with this kind of Romanticism. People expect the "something" to write a poem, paint an image, for them. People share the same sort of nonsense about the "gift". If you want to paint a great painting, it will take practice, lots of it, not a muse, not inspiration. It's work, not magic. Of course, people who know nothing about painting and see awesome works of art don't know that it's actually work and practice, and they can't figure out how anyone could possibly paint so well, and that's how you get the "gift" thing. You could argue the same for "inspiration".
I will now relate the little event that made me want to write this chapter. I was looking for information on how to buy liquid white, an important ingredient of wet-on-wet oil painting, when I stumbled upon a forum in which some artist was explaining why watching painting lessons on TV was horrible. The artist explained that if you "want a real connection with Nature, you must paint in it. Painting in front of your TV is just really lame, and pathetic." Nature is another thing to place beside the muse in this affair. And by "Nature", I mean the human concept, not anything concrete, because as far as I am concerned, it's all "Nature". How arrogant do we have to be to think ourselves all that separate from those things we don't create? We didn't create ourselves, for all I know, so we're just as much "Nature" as a squirrel or a goddam bush.
Now, out of curiosity, I decide to look at what that artist actually paints. This guy was spitting on Bob Ross' method and paintings, and his own work looks like utter shit. Utter shit. But he paints outside, like the Impressionists, and that makes all the difference, except Monet rocks, and that guy doesn't.
That's where I put together the Romanticist bullshit: emotions don't write poems, and painting is about painting, not "Nature" or anything else. I watch TV lessons on painting not because I want a connection with "Nature", but because I want to learn to paint. If I wanted a connection with nature, I'd go outside for a walk. You don't need a palette or canvas for that, that's for painting. All of this seems very obvious to me, but there are assholes out there who need some talkin'.
Moreover, you can't disrespect Bob Ross, and certainly not in front of me. That other guy, the artist, which I'll refer to as the Romanticist from now on, well that guy is a moron. That guy seems to believe that if you learn to paint a tree, you will get to know how a tree feels or thinks or whatever. Here's how I see it: if you learn to paint a tree, it'll make you good at painting trees, nothing else. And guess what, that's just what I am going for when I watch a painting lesson on TV or elsewhere. The fact that Bob Ross can paint skies, mountains, lakes, snowy prairies, grass, happy little clouds and bushes without any need for actual references, that doesn't make him any less an artist than any of you Romanticists. I'm tired of those people wallowing in pseudo-spiritualities which don't do much except give them some sort of security coat about the fact that they're not good. Seriously, if you're more interested about connecting with nature, when you're painting, then you're not all that into painting. These aren't the same things, to me, and they aren't the same things, period. Of course, you may adore nature and paint it, but these are less related than the Romanticist would like it to be.
Another typical Romanticist is the treatment of pain as food. Here's how it works for them: you got pain, work it artistically, and out comes a poem, painting, etc. It's like eating food, and having a natural intestinal process going on. Interestingly enough, the product of both of these processes is shit.
Suffering per say does not add to your artistic talent. If it did, we'd all be amazing artists. A lot of people learn nothing from their pain, it only makes them bitter and worse. Others deal with it differently, and it makes them grow and mature and learn. But that reaction is up to you. Anyway, as for the poem above-mentioned, the more you suffer will not make your painting any better, because pain is not a colour or a shape, and it's not applicable on canvas. The process is far more complicated, and while pain can be at the origin of your wanting to paint a specific painting, or poem, that's as far as it goes: you still do the work.
I believe a serious artist, no matter what art, must focus on the art itself, and leave alone those phoney ideas. A connection with nature will not make you a better painter, but painting lessons will help. I could spend ten hours in a forest, I would not come out of it knowing how to paint any better, unless I spent that time observing the trees from a painter's perspective, but notice that, from a painter's perspective, not from the perspective of someone who tries to connect with nature, whatever that means. And yes, you can learn to paint, it's not a gift, it's a skill that you can practice, and it has techniques that you can learn. It's not magic. As Bob Ross said, you didn't jump in your car the first time and knew how to drive: you had to practice. It's the same with painting, and most things, really.
So don't be a Romanticist, but please use the term because I think it's pretty nice, and will not be confused with Romantics, which we'll reserve for the classic poets and others.