Joshua Reynolds, self portrait from artrenewal.org.
Here I am again, excerpting selections from J.Reynolds discourses. I will publish the text, in italics and then "translate" in contemporary language.
If deceiving the eye were the only business of the Art there is no doubt indeed but the minute painter would be more apt to succeed but it is not the eye it is the mind which the painter of genius desires to address nor will he waste a moment upon those smaller objects which only serve to catch the sense to divide the attention and to counteract his great design of speaking to the heart
If looking just like nature was the only purpose of art, the most detailed painter would be most effective. But it is not the eye, but the mind, to which the great painter wants to speak. He won't waste his time upon small details that catch the eye and divide the attention of the viewer from his larger purpose of speaking to the heart.
They who have never observed the gradation by which art is acquired who see only what is the full result of long labour and application of an infinite number and infinite variety of acts are apt to conclude from their entire inability to do the same at once that it is not only inaccessible to themselves but can be done by those only who have some gift of the nature of inspiration bestowed upon them.
Those who have never seen the slow process by which skill in art is acquired, but instead only the results of that long effort, are apt to think they are unable to do the same thing because it is a gift that the artist has. They think that they could never do the same thing because they havn't received that special gift.
Reynolds is talking about those people who are unaware of the work and training that goes into being an artist, and how their opinion that it is a gift, belittles all the efforts that the artist has made to be able to practice his craft.
The great use of studying our predecessors is to open the mind to shorten our labour and to give us the result of the selection made by those great minds of what is grand or beautiful in Nature her rich stores are all spread out before us but it is an art and no easy art to know how or what to choose and how to attain and secure the object of our choice.
The purpose of studying the art of the past is to open us to possibilities, to make it easier to make and to show us what great painters thought was beautiful in nature. There is so much available in nature it is hard to know what to select to paint,or how best to represent it.
This genius consists I conceive in the power of expressing that which employs your pencil whatever it may be as a whole so that the general effect and power of the whole may take possession of the mind and for a while suspend the consideration of the subordinate and particular beauties or defects
This ability is to represent whatever you wish in its entirety. That way the whole image will capture the viewers attention, instead of dwelling on little details or faults or interesting non essential characteristics of that which is represented. The large important aspect of the subject is presented preventing the viewer from becoming mired in its nonessential qualities, good or bad.