“We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually.”
– Beaumont Newhall
I have noticed a difference over time between many paintings and photography. Many successful paintings have been created of subjects that are pretty boring. They are scenes that a good photographer would never even bother with. The composition can be mundane, nothing about the objects unusual and the light flat and uninteresting. Such a scene captured as a photograph would be of little interest to anyone. While it may be true that a painting with great composition, content and lighting may be better than the others, it doesn’t seem to be an absolute requirement as it is in photography.
Why is this?
I have a couple of theories. First, many people confer an almost mystical ability on a painter who can use a brush and paints and create anything that looks like something else. It seems to be a talent beyond so many (of course, it’s not!). But there is that self-deprecating belief in many people. So they are amazed when a painting looks like almost anything at all. Secondly, I think sometimes it is that the technique may be interesting. There are so many more ways in which a painting can be uniquely painted than a photograph printed. The photograph has to rely more on it’s content since the technique with which the print is created is much more limited than the myriad ways in which a painting can be painted.
Interestingly enough, I have found that when I paint from a photograph, I get a more interesting painting if I work from a “poor” photograph, one with not that much of interest going on. If it is a great photograph, my tendency is to try to reproduce it too literally, so I end up with something that looks like a not-very-good photograph. I used to manipulate some of my photos to make them worse with less information so when using them as a reference for a painting I was not tempted to settle for what was in the photo but to go beyond that in the painting.
“I believe painting or visual art is suffocated by verbal description.”
– J.R. Baldini
First, my apologies to anyone who has wondered where I’ve been for the last 2 weeks – I’ve seriously neglected my blog (and those of others!) as a result of the large Open Studio art event Susan and i held here the last 2 weekends. It was an intense experience, as always – exhausting, exciting, perplexing, amusing and (surprisingly) quite successful! But I’m back now with an intention to resume my normal blogging schedule.
After talking to hundreds of people about my art during the event, the quote above captured my attention. When you host your own show, you are faced with the need to converse with those who show up. Certainly everything you read suggests that this is critical to sales – buyers want to get to know you, it helps them put the artwork in context. Also it’s just plain polite and sometimes you find out some really interesting things about people.
On the other hand, answering the same questions over and over again about what something is or how it was done can become maddening. I also wonder whether it is better to leave some mystery about your technique or does that seem too precious and paranoid? I don’t really worry about someone trying to copy me, since I’ll by then have moved on to doing something else anyway.
I believe there is probably some ideal balance between revealing just enough about yourself and the art and not over-describing everything to the point of “suffocation”. After all these years of doing this, I’m still searching for just what to say…
By the way, as it may be hard to tell, the above piece is a photograph of a rock formation – that’s all I’m going to say about it!
“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.”
– Willa Cather
I love trees.
Regardless of the changes they are put through by the seasons, they are patient and stand firm. Perhaps resigned, but also accepting. A worthy role model these days.
I’ve always seen this image as representing hope that, in spite of circumstances, life will be renewed.
“It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary.
– David Bailey
This is an uncommon viewpoint and, i think, one that can only be understood if you have done a lot of both painting and photography in a serious manner. I believe most people believe painting is a more difficult artistic activity because it takes more pratice before a good piece results than is the case with photography. One can occasionally take a good, or even great, photograph, even with little experience – no one produces a great painting without a lot of practice.
But I tend to agree with David Bailey – the challenge with photography is to take ordinary scenes and do something original and creative with them. In painting, you have such license to add, subtract, change or alter what’s in the painting. The constraints of photography, the “ordinariness” of the subject matter, make it really hard to do something unique. And now there are so many photographic images out there, simply by sheer numbers it has become difficult to differentiate yourself. Finally there are fewer options in photography about the medium used for the final product – there isn’t the range of papers, textures, paint types available as there is with painting that can make paintings so interesting to look at.
Now admittedly both pursuits are very challenging and worthy of our efforts. For me personally, I find that it is easier to be creative with painting than with photography, where I usually feel that my efforts are just not really new and exciting, albeit somewhat competent. And it’s the creative juice we’re all after in the end!