8. The Visual Language Of Art : Developing Personal Content & Style – Part 1

We are all artists.  Creativity is within every human being who have all their faculties, and have the physical means and availability to express themselves.

I’m not saying we are all created with the same natural abilities, or with aptitudes for painting and drawing… What I am saying is that we are all uniquely designed, then fashioned by likes and dislikes; honed by culture and conditioning to think like we do.  We can all find a cogent way to interpret and express our points of view, and the arts provide a wonderful pathway to communicate with one another in deeper, often more soulful,  ‘archetypal’ ways.  In other words, on a deeper psychological, and even soulful level; some call the realm of “Higher Art”.

Throughout the years I have begun to view the artistic journey as similar across the arts, no matter the media.  I'd like to explain how I’ve witnessed these similarities in how we develop as artists, no matter our media or particular art form.

I chose hunting imagery to help explain this development.  I hunted for many years, and have had the pleasure and privilege of having two great hunting horses; one bay and one grey.  Both were used to help my paintings.  Many say that only by painting from personal experience can our work have that certain “edge” of authenticity and power, but I think this is only true when we are painting for representation and likeness.  When using horse imagery and content as symbols for ideas more personal, or more emotional, this is not the case.  Power of conviction, passion for the idea, and selecting elements from the language of art best suited to execute that idea are of the highest priority when the content is derived from our emotional or psychological creative well.  (In subsequent lessons I will be sharing the vocabulary for painters of the ‘visual language of art’.)

I’d like to share the following metaphors to further explore this point of view:

The ABC’s of becoming an artist. (Writer, painter, musician, etc.)

The First Stage : Joyful noises & marks!

  • In The Art of Writing:  As very young children, we make a mark and everyone is thrilled.  We soon learn that certain marks make sounds and people can recognize our marks!  We learn our ABC’s
  • In The Art of Painting: The painter’s correlation would be the markers and crayons of childhood.  Think of the grandchild slapping outrageously colored paint on the neighbor’s wall and legs (that was me.)
  • In Dance & Music:  Even very small children find it impossible to keep still while music is being played.  They wiggle and sway with the music and rhythm, joining in by yelling (singing) and banging along with any available objects.

The Second Stage : People understand your work!

  • In The Art Of Writing:  We know that a certain mark makes a thing called a letter, and then lo-and-behold, we are taught to string them together and they form a word.  A word symbol that represents our pet dog or cat.  We write it and everyone understands.  Our first written words are met with enthusiasm.
  • In The Art Of Painting:  We begin to draw clumsy outlines of things that we see and people recognize them as the sun, the house, the dog, the flower….The Huntsman!  We realize that we can replicate life with visual symbols.  At this stage, paintings are often simple narratives of something that has attracted the would-be artist, as it did me in the examples below.
  • In The Art Of Music: We are introduced to songs and simple instruments, and we assimilate a knowledge of melody. We soon can repeat the sounds we’ve heard and people recognize the songs we’re imitating.

Vail Of Lune Huntsman by Lesley Humphrey. Simply a record of a wonderful day when the hunt posed for us at Myerscough College, Burscough. Finished from photos.

The Third Stage:  Developing our crafts.

  • In The Art Of Writing – It seems somehow magic when we realize that these words placed together in sentence form allows us to describe the world via statements and prose.  Sentence structure is refined and developed as we mature.  (If we’re lucky, as I was growing up in the north of England, we will be encouraged to write and express ourselves with sentences rippling with creativity, imagination, flourish and joie de vivre, before we are taught accurate punctuation and sentence structure.)
  • In The Art of Painting – We are taught to use a wider range of materials with increasing dexterity, and introduced to rudimentary color and application theories.  As a result, we develop increasing ability to more faithfully represent the world we see, or produce symbolic representations of the things we wish to express that are easily recognized by the world at large.  Just about any technically accurate painting comes to mind that explains “This is the landscape, horse, barn, pot of daises, etc.”
  • In The Art Of Music – Instruments are introduced/selected according to our preferences and musical tendencies.  The students learns to read music, and develop instrumental skills that enable the musician to produce increasingly complex songs or musical pieces.  Fingers, mouths and breath is trained to improve as technique improves.
  • In The Art Of Dance –We are sent to the local dance instructor who teaches us certain steps and techniques that enable us to develop our bodies to respond in ways that are recognized as dance

The Huntsman, by Lesley Humphrey. 36 x 36 oil on canvas. I used to hunt with this gentleman. I painted this from a photograph.

The fourth stage:  Advanced Development & Personal Style

Gone Away by Lesley Humphrey. 24 x 26 oil on canvas. Painted the weekend my first child went away to college. I imagined that I painted the mournful sound of "The Gone Away", the Huntsman blows when a hound is lost, beckoning it home.

  • In The Art Of Writing – We reach a point where technique, punctuation, grammar, writing instruments, and writing methods are now second nature.  It is only when we allow ourselves to forget about the techniques of writing entirely, can we not merely describe our world, but express powerful ideas, writing from imagination and creativity, bringing something new into the world that never previously existed.  When the technical mind is no longer strongly engaged, creativity, and the very essence of one’s personality becomes revealed within the work – if the writer has the courage to reveal himself, exploring issues and ideas outside of popular themes.
  • In The Art of Painting – Without having to think any more about how to mix color, which color to choose, how to control the nuances of this media or that, or accurately measure the structure of a horse, or the contours on a face, we can paint with a certain power and grace, natural to ourselves.  Our strength of conviction, and the courage to play within the media and technique reveals itself when technical considerations are no longer forefront.  No longer compelled by the need to faithfully recreate a representative image, the artist will select colors, lines, shapes and symbols that enhance how he “feels” about the subject, rather than how the subject “looks” drawing upon his internal mechanisms of instinct and creative ideas, rather than copying the forms outside of himself.

The Huntsman. 13" x 7" watercolor by Lesley Humphrey. With "How to paint horses" no longer forefront in my mind, I could explore other media, leave stuff out, and use more creative, spontaneous design elements to enhance my ideas.

  • In The Art Of Music – Competent with his/her chosen instruments, the musical artist begins to rearrange known music and infuse it with elements of his own personality and unique sound.  Later, not satisfied with repaying the music of others, an artist begins to create new songs, new sounds, new ways of pushing his instrument that reflects his own psyche, his own life, creating new music.  In jazz and blues I’m thinking that the ‘less complex’ would be someone like Kenny G., compared to the rare, often misunderstood late career Miles Davies.  In classical music I’m thinking of Schoenberg and his departure even from melody (inspired by relationship with Kandinsky.)

As he/she moves toward the title of ‘artist’, the craftsman develops a style and way of sharing their art that may resonate with certain groups of people that others find uninteresting or even repulsive!  The more popular forms are often simpler, more recognizable as ‘normal’, and appeal to a broader, more conservative audience.  Similarly, different types oftheatrical, musical and literary forms align with different groups of people and are endearing to some and offensive to others. 

It seems fair to say that the more complex the artistic forms become, fewer people understand it. Often, even so-called experts in a particular genre thwart the attempts of those artists willing to “leave the fold” of the traditional way of doing things.  (Even I have been a victim of this type of prejudice and criticism!)

Kenada Song by Lesley Humphrey. At a major exhibition, my painting was showcased in a very prominent position, behind the podium. I overhead an "expert" saying "I cannot see what they like about this artist. He is far too loose to be considered a proper sporting art painter." (They always think I'm a male) Needless to say, I ran out and never came back. Being even just "a little different" can be painful at times.

It may be important for us to consider, and maybe question why it is that the more ‘authentic’ and personal the art becomes, the less willing the population at large are willing to embrace it.  This is not because it is not ‘good’.  Rather it is not popular and readily accepted/understood by society at large.  I wonder why we’re not educated to accept and embrace the different, deep, brave, extraordinary content?  Why does it unsettle us so? 

Trinity. 36 x 36 oil on canvas by Lesley Humphrey. An Arabic gentleman visiting the Kentucky Horse Park was offended by this piece. Perhaps he sensed that this painting is not about hunting or huntsman. Hunting imagery is used as metaphor for the underlying idea which is also hinted at in selection of colors, placement, etc.

Want to see the process in action? Click below.

Final Word….



My life is a living testament to the old statement “What comes around, goes around”’; or “What you do for others in an act of generosity, comes back tenfold”.  In honor of this code, I began writing down everything I know in these lessons in 2011 and began to offer them out, for free…. But it’s very valuable information.  The lessons constitute a lifetime of learning, and are lent to you as an act of generosity to help you on your artistic journey.  If you find this material helpful, continue to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing this website with others so that they too can be inspired with Art through "Lessons With Lesley."

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