Posts Tagged ‘style’

What Is “Painterly”?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

What does it mean to have a “painterly” style? I have heard many definitions of the term “painterly,” but perhaps the best explanation I have yet come across is that a painterly approach incorporates visual and tactile qualities of the paint (or other medium) used in producing the artwork, such as evidence of brushwork, swirled or partially blended colors, or physical (as opposed to purely optical) texture.

120404 Red Hibiscus

As shown in “Red Hibiscus” (#120404 ), subject elements and spatial planes are usually differentiated primarily through changes in hue, value, and saturation (chroma) rather than by drawn lines—although line may be incorporated—and some or all edges may be indistinct or entirely lost.

This approach is in contrast with more precisely rendered images in which all evidence of brushwork and blending are hidden or minimized. Unlike the photorealistic approach, a painterly piece takes advantage of the unique qualities and expressiveness of the medium itself to help convey what the artist wants to say through the work.

“Neither a borrower nor unethical be”

Friday, July 1st, 2011

As I borrow and rephrase Plutonius’s advice to Laertes (from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, line 75), I do hope Mr. Shakespeare will forgive the liberties I have taken. Fortunately, since I wasn’t able to ask his permission, his original line is now in the public domain. But I still can’t claim it as my own.

101205 Holly Berries 2010

An artist for whom I have considerable admiration and who has influenced my own work has been struggling lately with her students’ and others’ “borrowing” her compositional concepts for their own commercial use. What’s wrong with this practice? Aren’t they selling their own paintings? The answer to that is a matter of ethics. Yes, they did lay the paint on the paper. But no, since the concept and the original composition did not spring directly from their own minds, it is not really theirs, any more than the title of this article is mine.

Perhaps it would help to ask what constitutes “original” art? Many artists might see the same view of a subject and have the same general idea of recreating the image in paint. The originality lies in the artist’s perspective, interpretation, and treatment of the subject. This includes the parameters within which the subject is placed (the placement on the paper, as well as how closely cropped it is), the angle at which it is depicted, lighting, tone, and mood, as well as what the artist chooses to emphasize or minimize. These differences become quite apparent in sketches made by different artists. But it is true in photography, as well. No two photographs taken by different photographers are likely to be exactly the same.

What if two artists base their paintings on different sections of the same photograph? Can they claim that their works are “original”? Only the artist who shot the reference photograph can ethically claim the resulting painting as solely his own work. Why? Because the original photograph was part of the concept of the paintings, and the photographic perspective was selected and composed or cropped by the workings of that artist’s mind. In that case, the photographer may be able to claim originality in the painting. If the painted treatment, however, is not original – for instance, if the treatment copies the style of a different artist – the finished painting still might not be considered “original” even though the artist did shoot the original photograph. Though the composition was original, the style was not; therefore the finished painting is still considered derivative.

In that case, is it ever acceptable to base a painting on someone else’s photograph or style? It can be for certain purposes.

I consider it acceptable use if someone else takes a photograph and either requests that a painting be derived from it or grants clear permission for it to be used as the basis for a painting. But in either case, the artist must not claim full credit for an “original” work of art, and appropriate credit should be given to the photographer.

In the same way, for certain purposes, it can also be acceptable to base a work on someone else’s style. For instance, a teacher might ask all her students to work from the same photograph or painting. Isn’t that granting permission to develop work based upon someone else’s? Yes it is. However, producing derivative (non-original) work in a learning environment is very different from deriving financial profit from non-original work. Students have long been encouraged to study, copy, and imitate other artists’ work. The purpose, however, has been to help those students learn skills and techniques, not to gain financial profit from someone else’s creations. Derivative work can be educationally profitable, but it should not be used for financial gain. And it should never be presented as “original.”

Non-original artwork should be neither sold nor entered into art competitions. It is often recommended that an artist retain any reference materials used (such as original photographs and sketches) so, if challenged, he or she can verify the originality of the artistic concept. Although U.S. artists are automatically considered the copyright holder of all original work, the copyright can be registered officially through the U.S. Government Copyright Office. This registration makes it much easier to prosecute violators.

“But what’s the big deal?” some people might ask. “What harm does it do if I sell a copy of someone else’s painting or photograph that I’ve painted myself?” In the first place, the unrecognized photographer is usually not being compensated for his contribution to the work; and your derivative work reduces the value of another artist’s original work because it is no longer unique. In the second place, not only has your work created competition for the original, but (being derivative) it could be mistaken as poor quality output by the original artist, thus compromising that artist’s professional image. In the third place, presentation of derived work as original is extremely damaging to the long-term reputation of the derivative artist. Word gets around the art community, and such short-sighted actions as selling derivative pieces as originals can leave a permanent scar on an artist’s name.

(Please note that I do not have a background in law and am not attempting to offer legal counsel. The comments presented here are the philosophy that I try to follow in my own practice, and I feel that they are a good guideline for most artists in a similar situation to follow. If you face a sticky ethical question, you are encouraged to seek appropriate and knowledgeable legal advice in your own locale.)

Approaching the Abstract

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I had intended, this month, to show a painting that digresses from my usual approach. Upon reflection, however, I decided that, because of its radically different character from my usual style, it would be unwise to post it here. Most of my work is figurative; this piece was decidedly abstract. It’s generally not a good move to publicly introduce a radically divergent style to an otherwise consistent body of work.

The photograph upon which it was based was shot in Scotland by Fiona Shearer. She was gracious enough to grant me permission to use it as a painting subject. Instead of posting either the photograph or the abstract painting itself, however, I have chosen to post a figurative interpretation of the scene, entitled “Snowy Dunes” (#110202) and to write about my creative thought process as I reevaluated the scene and “restated” it into the abstract version.

Snowy Dunes

The scene seemed to me to be metaphorical. In order to present the same concept in abstract terms, I elected to simplify and alter the elements in the scene that inspired me, to suit and express my interpretation of the literal image. In other words, to show what the original scene “said” to me.

I conceived, in my mind’s eye, an image of family dynamics. The lowering sky suggested to me a brooding, stormy threat of trouble just beyond the horizon, outside the family unit represented by the land. I saw in the shrub-covered dunes a series of rounded, feminine forms, acting as a defensive barrier stretched between that trouble and the purity and innocence of childhood, as indicated by the unsullied white snow in the lower right. Meanwhile, I recognized in the road, straight and thrusting, arrow-like, into the distance, a dynamic and aggressive image of masculinity, driving into the problem head on, working in partnership with the feminine counterpart to protect the innocent while under-girding and guarding her.

The white of the snow represented to me childhood innocence. In my abstract version, I allowed the white to gradually take on color of the masculine and feminine hues, indicating a growth toward maturity as youth gradually takes on the roles and responsibilities of adulthood. The hue representing femininity reached its greatest intensity where it confronted either threat or the masculine presence. Similarly, the masculine hue, like surges of testosterone, became most intense when juxtaposed with femininity, when challenging the perceived threat, and where reinforcing the protective shield between trouble and innocence. Despite all the parental efforts, a faint reflection of the brooding and troubled sky dimmed some stretches of the unbroken snow. Yet, at the core of both the feminine and masculine forms, remained pristine pockets of child-like innocence.

Every aspect of the painting, including my use of hue, value, hard and soft lines, and juxtaposition of colors and values, has a meaning to me. Yet another viewer might read something entirely different into it. Part of the pleasure and delight of abstract art is its enigmatic character: It is left open to the viewer’s interpretation. Any other explanations, whether or not it coincides with my own, could be legitimate and correct. Abstraction allows the viewer’s imagination free rein, and, because it is based on individual interpretation, no response is wrong. In the same way, I will leave to your imagination my painted, abstract interpretation.

Why not try one of your own?

Reworking erroneous alterations

Friday, October 15th, 2010

When a painting is “finished” enough to be given a title and inventory number, it may not have really been completed at all. I often have second … and third … and fourth … and even more … thoughts about a painting long after it has been set aside as complete. Usually, any subsequent changes I make are based on careful evaluation and are judiciously executed. Occasionally, however, I come to regret my alterations.

090105 Fritzie in Profile, version 1

In this early example of my work, the original painting (#090105) of a grey schnauzer, Fritzie, was largely pastel toned. I went against my better judgment and darkened the background to a mid-tone to comply with someone else’s suggestion. Although the dog’s white eyebrows show up better against the contrasting background, the painting lost its luminosity with the loss of the light background. The dog’s coat looks duller, and the painting as a whole appears flatter.

090105 Fritzie in Profile, version 2

My main problem with this painting was that I didn’t trust my own style and interpretation of the subject. Instead, in changing it, it lost its magic. To punch up the color, I would have done better to darken and enrich the colors in the dog’s coat rather than changing the background.

I decided that the overall appearance could be improved by increasing the contrast. I began by darkening the background even further, beyond its current mid-tone.

090105 Fritzie in Profile, version 3

I also increased the color in the dog, darkening the collar, eyes, nose, and interior of the ear, adding some gamboges (yellow) to areas of the coat, and introducing some of the background hues into the beard. The darker background colors seemed too intense for the gray dog, so I mottled them with sprays of water, which moderated the values and added texture.

Alterations aren’t always beneficial. Whenever I realize I’ve goofed big-time, my options are to (1) leave it as it is, cut my losses, and start over from scratch or (2) keep tweaking it to try to salvage what I can. Did the alterations I made succeed? For what I was attempting to do—return focus to the dog and increase contrast in the picture—I feel that my efforts succeeded fairly well. On the other hand, no changes I make at this point will reclaim the luminosity of the original version that I spoiled by fiddling with the background in the first place.

Just my style, Part 3

Friday, October 1st, 2010

In Part 2 we considered the role that mastery of mechanics (or skills) and the medium itself play in style.

Cayman Clusters

This time we will look at how style reflects the artist’s personal aesthetic—sense of balance, composition, structure, and use of space and color to visually interpret the subject for a viewer.  This, too, becomes an element of her style.  Yes, it can change over time as she learns and develops as an artist, and as she faces challenging personal situations that alter her outlook, either temporarily or long-term.  Even changing health conditions can cause a style to evolve, as materials may be used differently or techniques adjusted to accommodate an artist’s physical limitations.

So it’s easy to see that “style” depends on a wide variety of factors.  Although I can learn from other artists by observing and attempting to reproduce the effects they have successfully achieved, I can never develop my unique style by imitating someone else’s style.

To successfully find my own style, I need to approach a project with integrity, trusting that my natural inclinations in how to express my feelings and understandings of the subject are as valid and acceptable as any other artist’s could be.  It may not yet be as evolved, as mature as someone else’s, but it is just as valid a “style.”  By fighting my natural inclinations regarding my approach to the subject, or by mimicking a different artist’s “look,” I risk compromising my own style. Unless I remain faithful to my own style, I can produce, at best, only inferior imitations of someone else’s work; and I forfeit the style that would be unique to me.

Next week I’ll post an example of what happened one time when I second-guessed myself, disregarding my original approach, and encountered problems as a result.