Some Thoughts on Painting (1954) by Lucian Freud
My object in painting pictures is to try to move the senses by giving an intensification of reality. Whether this can be achieved depends on how intensely the painter understands and feels for the person or object of his choice. Because of this, painting is the only art in which the intuitive qualities of the artist may be more valuable to him than actual knowledge or intelligence …
The painter’s obsession with his subject is all he needs to drive him to work. People are driven towards making works of art, not by familiarity with the process by which this is done, but by a necessity to communicate their feelings about the object of their choice with such intensity that these feelings become infectious. Yet the painter needs to put himself at a certain emotional distance from the subject in order to allow it to speak. He may smother it if he lets his passion for it overwhelm him while in the act of painting …
A painter must think of everything he sees as being there entirely for his own use and pleasure. The artist who tries to serve nature is only an executive artist. And, since the model he so faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture, since the picture is going to be there on its own, it is of no interest whether it is an accuarate copy of the model. Whether it will convince or not, depends entirely what it is in itself, what is there to be seen. The model should only serve the very private function for the painter of providing the starting point for his excitement. The picture is all he feels about it, all he thinks worth preserving of it, all he invests it with. If all the qualities which the painter took from the model were really taken, no person would be painted twice.
The aura given out by a person or object is as much a part of them as their flesh. The effect that they make in space is bound up with them as might might be their colour or smell. The effect in space of two different human individuals can be as different as a candle and an electric light bulb. Therefore the painter must be as concerned with the air surrounding his subject as with the subject itself. It is through observation and perception of atmosphere that he can register the feeling that he wishes his painting to give out.
A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art. The promise of it is felt in the act of creation but disappears towards the completion of the work. For it is then that the painter realises that it is only a picture he is painting. Until then he had almost dared to hope that the picture might spring to life. Were it not for this, the perfect painting might be painted, on the completion of which the painter could retire. It is this great insufficiency which drives him on. Thus the process of creation becomes necessary to the painter perhaps more than is the picture. The process in fact is quite habit-forming. (Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, pp. 219 – 221)