Posts Tagged ‘purpose in painting’

What’s It All About?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Last month I wrote about the artist’s leading question—“Why?” That question addressed the reason an artist works at all. This month I will address the secondary question that an artist should ask about any painting in the planning stages: “What?” Not so much “What is it?” but “What do I want to express?” In other words, “What is it about this subject that makes me want to paint it?” “What is my purpose for painting this piece?”

110305 Fuchsia Spray

The answer can legitimately incorporate any (or many) of a number of reasons. In order to focus effectively and achieve the goal, the artist is wise to select only one primary and overriding response. This will influence how the subject should be approached. The others are secondary.

If, for instance, my subject is a flower, as in “Fuchsia Spray” (#110305) above, my purposes may include pure representation (“flower”), symbolism (what the flower represents, if something beyond its literal meaning), narrative (a story the flower suggests), aesthetic/description (some specific element of the flower, such as the lighting on it, its delicacy or solidity, line, color, form, or relation to another object, that I want to call attention to), a mood or feeling that I want the viewers of my painting to experience, or some other purpose entirely.

These purposes may overlap: Soft lighting on a drooping blossom may suggest restrained hope, set a pensive mood, describe fragility, and in conjunction with other objects in the painting suggest story or make a social statement. But one purpose should be primary.

As I approach the painting, everything, from composition (where my primary subject is positioned and how it relates visually to all other elements in the painting), to lighting, color choices, and even brushwork should be used to achieve that primary purpose. The purpose should influence what I choose to exaggerate or deemphasize. Every other element I include within the painting, or expected elements that I intentionally choose to omit, should support my artistic goal.

Even if it’s just an experimental study, the purpose should still be clear–for instance, “to achieve a sense of depth through use of color variations.” If, in the process, secondary purposes (such as aesthetics, narrative, or mood) are also achieved, so much the better.

The Leading Question

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

In order to establish a reachable goal and to stay on track toward it, it’s important to know why we do what we do. The time came that I had to stop and ask myself: “Why do I paint? What is my purpose in turning out painting after painting? If it is to learn, why is it so important that I learn? What is my purpose as an artist?”

120601 Cherries on Table

At first, my appetite was whetted by the sheer excitement of learning a new skill, of overcoming obstacles and discovering ways to solve the problems watercolor posed. I still find pleasure in the learning, discovering, and resolving compositional questions. But that’s not the reason I continue. The fact that my art is no longer limited to watercolor is a minor consideration. The key question remains: “Why do I paint at all, in any medium?”

After some real soul searching, I’ve realized that my purpose in painting is to call attention to the beauties and pleasures of the world around us by observing, and helping others to notice, more than we habitually do.

In photography, we tend to recognize an image: “Oh yes, I know what/where that is.” A skilled photographic artist can take us beyond that level to “Oh, I never looked at it in that way before.” This is often done through compositional design, exaggerated emphasis, or contrast.

In the same way, a skilled painter can depict a common image in an uncommon way to draw attention to some aspect whose beauties have been sublimated to the familiarity of the overall subject. The non-photographic medium itself is often enough to draw attention to the interest in a given subject. But a skilled painter can also suggest a mood, enhance detail, or otherwise present an unexpected aspect of the image that enriches the viewer’s insight into the subject.

Whether I succeed or fall short with any given painting, this is my purpose and goal as a painter. It’s also why I continue to study and learn: The more I learn, the more adept I hope to become in achieving my goal.

My goal as an instructor is an extension of this—to encourage and help others discover the pleasures I have found in learning to use and manipulate the medium, in using it to enhance their own pleasure in the world around them, and to see the familiar from an unfamiliar perspective.