Continuing this series of posts on the artist’s studio with the most speculative one yet. A few themes are explored here; my favourite is the relationship between the painter’s creativity and dreams, a strand of my research.
The Mental Studio
“The studio is no more than a container, a kind of equipment, a room in which to paint or sculpt, a necessary space. In its isolation the artist watches a painting or sculpture, adjusts it, instinctively responsive to pigments, colours and materials, resolving their conflicts, bringing them together. In this way the studio is also an arena in which controlled yet instinctive and unpremeditated discovery unfolds. It is both a space apart and an essential arena for action.” 
The studio is also a space for thought as well as action: a place in which the mental processes of the artist can be sensed, especially if it is a studio taken over by another artist. However, usually, it is the haunt of one artist who has the opportunity to turn the space into anything he or she wants. It could be treated as a sleek, efficient machine with every component in its place; it could be a dirty, dishevelled eyesore with pots and implements left in chaos; it could be a threadbare, almost minimalistic space; it could be a studio that spills over into a voluminous library full of books and sculpture. The ways in which a studio can appear are infinite…
Studio Space and the Mind.
We shall consider symbol later, but let’s remain with space, especially as related to metaphor. We might like think of the studio as the the brain of the artist. In this lithograph of M.C. Escher (1935) , we see the artist and his studio captured in a glass globe held by a hand, a juxtaposition that immediately invites associations between the operations of the hand and the eye, as the globe is an optical instrument. Both hand and eye are directed by the brain, and retaining the studio as brain simile, with Escher the impression is created of simultaneously looking into his brain whilst being physically separate from it. More adventurously, we could read Escher’s hand –eye coordination governed in terms of where his identity is in space. In the twentieth- century, scientific ideas might have influenced the way artists showed themselves in their studio. For example, Picasso did a series of images of the artist’s studio in which the painter and their model are treated in a very abstract way, as we shall see later on. It’s tempting to say that Picasso’s studio is in Einsteinian space rather than Cartesian space, with its mind/body dichotomy. As an example, compare Poussin’s Louvre Self-Portrait done in the age of Descartes to Picasso’s spatially fragmented studio.
Studio and Dreams.
Connecting this metaphor of studio-as-brain with symbol, we could think of the objects within representations of the artist’s studio as thoughts, impressions or dreams, not yet realised in some kind of gestalt or ordered pattern, as in a composition. Once we start to think about this, it doesn’t seem so strange because the studio may be a place, not only of painting-making but also a place of fantasy and dreams. In a remarkable representation of his studio, the 19th century English painter of fantasy, John “Fairy” Fitzgerald, shows himself asleep in front of his easel. He is deep in a dream, probably hastened by artificial stimulants! His magical and artistic dream is cloudily presented as the artist – out of his body- painting a woman in white at an imaginary easel. Back in the real world, creatures from the artist’s dreams crouch around his sleeping form. One creature, painting at an easel that Fitzgerald has abandoned, admires his alterations with the affected pose of a proud artist, thus connecting the real painting to the dreamed painting, whilst at the same time confusing them. In this striking image, the association between dreams, hidden in the artist’s mind, and the reality of the studio is mediated via the easel. Usually, an easel at which an artist sits or stands, can be seen in some corner of the studio. One of the most famous easels is the large one in Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour), which the artist stands beside. Velasquez has stepped back from his easel and his paint brush seems to be suspended mid way between himself and the canvas. Usually when an artist shows themselves at a distance from the canvas they are working on, (e.g. Rembrandt’s Boston Self-Portrait), it indicates the meditation and thought that accompanies mechanical execution. In Velasquez’s case, we are not certain whether he has stepped back to add a final touch to the work, or whether he has even begun it and is pondering on how he should start. Returning to the studio and the life of the mind, we might try an experiment in which the canvas functions as a “screen” onto which the artist’s thoughts are projected: the initial marks of paint that Velasquez is about to make - or has made - on his canvas could be seen as the equivalent of painting’s dream thoughts metamorphosed, or ‘translated’ into visual images within the representational system exposed in Las Meninas. There are problems with assuming that painting in its unformed and embryonic state mimics the operation of dreams which can’t be gone into here. However, Fitzgerald’s studio image suggests that the easel in the studio could be regarded as a studio prop that crosses over into the world of dreams, and the private space of the artist’s mind.
Symbolic Death and Literal Death in the Studio.
Fitzgerald’s painting shows the process of creativity in the studio, but in the nineteenth-century such glimpses into the private domain of the artist were forbidden. The best illustration of the mystique of the studio is told in a short story by Balzac: Le Chef-d’oeuvre (The Unknown Masterpiece), published in 1831. This story concerns an artist, Frenhofer, who is working on his masterpiece in his studio, safe from prying eyes. However, two other painters persuade Frenhofer to open up his studio and show the work that he is creating. Eager to see the work, and fully expecting to see a great painting, Frenhofer’s companions are utterly dismayed at the unveiled master work. Instead of a classically conceived figure, or at least a realistic image, their eyes fall upon a shapeless mass of colours and swirling lines. While this tale certainly deals with themes of creativity, representation and the mysterious space of the artist’s studio, it also concerns the relationship between painting and death, which from the renaissance onwards is symbolised by a skull in the studio. One of the other painters says, in an unguarded moment, that there is nothing on the canvas; the stricken Frenhofer commits suicide shortly afterwards. As Oskar Batschmann says, in order to paint, in order to create, Frenhofer needs to be isolated in the studio, susceptible to illusions, dreams and visions, such as we saw in Fitzgerald’s phantasmagoria. However, once a public enters into the studio and utters uncomprehending remarks, that illusion is completely shattered. Opening up the studio to the eyes of others results in the paralysis of the artist followed by death. Whilst living isolated in the studio, death present in props such as skull, is suspended, neutralized by the artist’s creative illusion. Opening up the studio door makes that symbolic death real. In some cases there is evidence to suggest that some artists of this era considered death as part of their studio. In 1872, the Swiss artist Arnold Bocklin painted a Self-portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle. The link between the art of painting and death is made explicit here: the artist holds palette and brush while staring out at the spectator; death seems to play the part of skeletal “muse” as the violin was a symbol of inspiration in the romantic period. Another work, a drawing by Louis Corinth (1922) has the artist, with shrunken body and bulbous head, holding a pen whilst mocked by a skull. The symbol of vanitas and anatomy, has transmogrified into the presence of death itself, a necessary part of the artist’s studio in the romantic period. Nineteenth-century art contains either cases of real artistic death (Gros, Haydon, von Rayski), death-in-the-studio mediated through art (von Rakski, Manet). In a grisly drawing by Ferdinand van Rayski, we see the artist hung from his own easel in a studio that resembles a prison. These telling lines are written by a poet: “On the highway of true art// Life on earth is all too short// Seeds of death within him sprout/ All too soon the light is out.” The poet is represented by a portrait with a knife stuck in an eye, the whole of which- according to Batschmann- implies the legitimation of the artist by his own death.
The Studio and the Pursuit of the Perfect Motif.
Perhaps the ultimate message of Balzac’s story of the tragic artist Frenhofer is that art can only really live as an idea, which is lost when it is realized, given form and substance in the studio: a kind of death of the idea. This had occurred to Picasso since he had done a set of 13 illustrations to Balzac’s Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu in 1927, although he produced more in later years. And as Picasso said in an interview of 1935, the theme of Balzac’s story was the destruction of the motif, something which he considered part of his own painting practice. “In my case, a picture is a sum of destructions” and he went on to connect what Hans Belting calls the “metamorphosis of a picture” with discovering the path “followed by the brain in materializing a dream.”  This seems close to the examples in the studio suggested earlier in which the studio functions as a space for producing dreams, whose essence cannot be captured perfectly by the material canvas, the screen of representation. Picasso was aware that this pursuit of the perfect motif held implications for the struggle between abstraction and figurative art, present in the formative stages of modern art in the twentieth-century. However, Picasso had no sympathy for the purveyors of abstract art which is why he shows an artist drawing abstract configurations on an easel whilst watched by a female model. The loops, whorls, and curlicues are Picasso’s way of representing what Balzac called “colours confusedly piled up and contained within a mass of bizarre lines lines which form a wall of painting.” Picasso is not trying to abstract the motif found in nature, but is mercilessly sending up the that style of art that seeks to find meaning in the inchoate or unrepresentable, although abstract expressionism was some time away. But Picasso may have another aim in mind here. For Picasso, representation is about “keeping the idea alive in the work”, and the process of “continual self-destruction” prevents the death of the idea. Indeed, as Hans Belting theorizes, the whole of Picasso’s oeuvre, or body of work, from his blue period up to such abstract representations of the studio as shown here “is to cover up an invisible masterpiece that can only exist as an idea”, or in the context explored here, as a symbol of the unattainable work of art in the studio.
 John Milner, “Locating the Studio” in The Artist’s Studio, 65.
 For a discussion of this see Jeremy Maas and others, Victorian Fairy Painting, ex. cat., London, 1998, 114.
 See Hubert Damisch, The Origin of Perspective, trans. John Goodman, Cambridge Mass., London: MIT Press. 427.
 Oskar Bätschmann,The Artist in the Modern World: The Conflict Between Market and Self-Expression, 1997, 100.
 Bätschmann,The Artist in the Modern World, 100.
 See the discussion in Hans Belting, The Invisible Masterpiece, 206-7.
 The Invisible Masterpiece, 268.