Posts Tagged ‘interpretive art’

Photography or not?

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Last time I wrote about why I have chosen to work from photographs when doing self-portraits. A logical question arises from that discussion: If I can take a photograph, what is the point of drawing or painting a portrait from it?

There are several valid reasons to do so. My primary reason has been to practice my portraiture skills on an easily accessible subject who won’t feel imposed on, won’t try to tell me not to show her wrinkles, and doesn’t charge modeling fees. A photograph sits still for as many hours, days, or weeks as necessary. It can be digitally adjusted to test the desirability of changes in lighting, color, contrast, background and more. And it doesn’t complain if, after all that, “it doesn’t look like me!”

150306p Barbados Woman

Another important reason is the very fact that drawings and paintings simply are not photographs. To my way of thinking, art is—or should be, to some degree—interpretive. Photographs can be interpretive, also, but rarely to the same degree as a manually produced image in which even slight exaggerations of line weight or adjustments of color or brushwork can express the artist’s feelings about the subject or suggest some otherwise invisible aspect of the subject’s nature or character, as I have done in my portrait of a gregarious woman from Barbados (#150306). This “artistic concept” applies not only to portraiture but to landscape, still-life, and other subject matter, as well.

Some painters entirely shun the idea of working from photographs. I fully understand and sympathize with their reasons for this attitude. But I cannot entirely agree.

The first argument I often hear is that photography cannot provide true replication of color and light. However, when the artist has a thorough understanding of color, and of light’s effect on it, this problem can be overcome to a great degree in interpretive painting.

Another common argument is that photography captures a limited scene at a single moment, whereas interpretive painters often want to capture the essence and emotional or energetic continuity of the scene that carries beyond a single, instantaneous depiction of it. Although this sense of continuing action is not easy to convey when working from a photograph, an astute and observant artist who knows the subject matter well can apply that understanding to the artwork to suggest more than most photographs will have been able to record.

What’s Your Impression? Part 2

Friday, March 1st, 2013

One of the reasons I enjoy impressionistic and expressionistic paintings so much is that they give me a glimpse into the artists’ response to the world as they experienced it. These works are basically interpretations (either more or less literal) of recognizable images, as represented through the artist’s experience. Attention is drawn to aspects that are important to the artist, while less important elements are minimized. This exaggeration and distortion may be barely discernible or may be taken to extremes. Visible brushwork is often an important factor in these paintings, as it is in “Dog Walkers” (#120522) below.

120522 Dog Walkers

The closer a painting is to the abstract end of the realism-abstraction continuum, the less “familiar” the image appears to the viewer. Some viewers find the inevitable distortions in these paintings disturbing or feel that the artist must have been unable to do it “better.” If color contrast is important to the artist, description of form may be minimized. If narrative is more important than description, scale may be intentionally distorted. To the untrained eye, all these distortions appear childish, prompting such remarks as, “A kindergartener could do better!” On the contrary, these variations away from “photographic” imagery do not necessarily indicate lack of technical understanding or ability on the part of the artist, but rather they show a willingness to restate the obvious and an ability to make use of the theoretical tools at hand to express intellectual ideas in an interpretive way.

How do you see it?

What’s Your Impression? Part 1

Friday, February 15th, 2013

With Valentine’s Day just past, many of us have been considering the many and varied loves of our lives. One of my loves is painting. Why do I paint? The simplest answer is because it’s fun and satisfying. But that still begs the question … Why?

100904 Boy and His Bike

Unlike our forebears, we don’t need to record images for posterity. Cameras do that for us. Photographic realism and tromp l’oeil are at one end of a very long continuum. At the other end of the realism-abstraction continuum is pure abstraction, which focuses on use of color, design, and non-representational images. These paintings, too, have a legitimate purpose and place in the art world. Although I appreciate and can recognize the technical ability that go into fine art at either end of the spectrum, I find that some of the mid-continuum approaches “speak” to me most clearly. And that’s the art in which I find the greatest satisfaction.

So what is my purpose every time I begin working on a new image? I’ve taken as my guiding principle the old hymn lyric by Folliott Sanford Pierpoint: “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies; Lord of all, to Thee I raise this, my hymn of grateful praise!”

At first glance, some of my subjects may appear mundane. But I paint the joy, the pleasure, the excitement and sense of awe I experience in the world around me—the way light shines through a petal, the play of colors in an oceanscape, the graceful flow of line in an animal, the energy and sense of freedom of a child at play. For that I usually use an interpretive, impressionistic approach, based on literal images. My viewers can’t experience exactly what I experience, but I can share with them my impressions of the experience, allowing others to share in the feelings it evoked for me. So both at heart and at the easel I consider myself an impressionist.