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The Art of Seeing

An Interview With Michael Shane Neal on ‘The Art of Seeing’

and His Relationship With Everett Raymond Kinstler

By Kate Orr

As you've probably already seen, Michael Shane Neal has released his new book 'The Art of Seeing' documenting 30 years of wisdom from his mentor, master artist Everett Raymond Kinstler. Knowing this would be a book our readers would be very excited about, we reached out to Shane with a few questions, which he thoroughly and openly answered. His responses were so well-written, we felt they were best left in interview form! You'll love the candid stories and memories he shares.

Kate Orr: Was there a specific moment that you knew you wanted to write this book?

Michael Shane Neal: Yes. I started planning the book in 1998 when I had been studying with Mr. Kinstler for 5 years. His wisdom from years of working as an artist, along with the impact his teachers had on him, were so inspiring to me. I began thinking of how it might be shared with others. I’d also heard him refer to The Art Spirit (a collection of notes from the classes of Robert Henri) again and again, and it occurred to me that my notes from Kinstler’s classes were very similar. What I thought would be a project lasting a year turned into 25 years of collecting and organizing!

KO: You and your family were very close to Kinstler. Would you share a memory that stands out as especially meaningful?

MSN: There are really too many to mention!

There was the first time we spoke by phone in 1992–a moment I’ll never forget. He was very kind, thoughtful, and curious to know more about my work as a young artist. Even if I had never had another interaction with him ever again, I would have been thoroughly impressed.

There was the moment I first visited his studio in the National Arts Club in 1996. It was incredible to walk through the doors of a space that he had inhabited for decades and where so many important politicians, celebrities, and cultural icons had posed for their portraits. I’ll never forget the light pouring through the giant north window or the works all around the room and underway on the easels. They were a level of quality only matched by works of historical artists in museums, and yet there, right in front of me, were the equivalent underway by a living master artist. I was taking in every story, absorbing every brushstroke.

There was the first time he visited my studio in Nashville in 2005 as well as the exhibit of his work we organized at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 2018. The show broke records, 850 people attended his onstage interview, and he completed his last public demonstration for a live audience that weekend.

But, of all the memories, I will treasure most our last day together in the hospital, only a day before he passed away. I sat on his bed beside him as he held my hand, and we talked for hours. He was very ill, but his mind was perfectly clear. He reflected on his life, his work in the studio, my work and his hopes for my continued growth, my daughter Mattie’s education, details about the business of being an artist, and he even had the presence of mind to compliment my sport coat! I left there hopeful he would pull through, but at just shy of 93, his body was used up. “Nature is taking command,” he said to me during our conversation. He was working at his easel the day before he entered the hospital. I’m not sure if I would have been able to have “closure,” as is often said, had I not had that special time with him, just the two of us, talking and sharing. I never once saw a tear in his eye. He was a man’s man, tough but ever so loving, and, at heart, a true romantic. But that day as we talked, he looked at me and said that he treasured our friendship. When he spoke the word “friendship,” his voice broke, and he swallowed hard and had to clear his throat. I knew what friendship meant to him, and at that moment I knew that our relationship meant as much to him as it did to me.

KO: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

MSN: I hope it reveals a great deal about how Kinstler thought about art and about making art; what he considered important for artistic growth and how he dug, every day, to get to the heart of the matter! Also how much he believed in others' ability to grasp the knowledge and improve.

KO: The response to 'The Art of Seeing' has been overwhelmingly positive. Artists and art lovers have flooded to secure a copy for themselves, already sharing wonderful reviews. The first copies already sold out, and now it's back in stock! How did this make you feel?

MSN: I must say I am a bit overwhelmed by the response. We have sold out the first edition in record time. From our “world headquarters,” aka my dining room table, we boxed and mailed 1,000 books in just three weeks! Orders came in from all over including several countries in Europe and as far away as Singapore! Given the response, we had to print a second edition!

Thank you so much to Mr. Neal for his thoughtful and open answers. He has dedicated so much to the Portrait Society, including all of the proceeds of this book!

If you’ve not already bought a copy for yourself, I encourage you to reach out to order a copy today on his website! Let’s also thank Mr. Neal and all who helped create this wonderful guide book for sharing these precious conversations and critiques with us. I have been reading my copy, and it is a gem!


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