Simple or Complicated


Oriental Grunge, 10 x 15 acrylic, ink

“In mathematics the complicated things are reduced to simple things. So it is in painting.”

– Thomas Eakins

As artists we are taught that it is better to simplify what we put in our paintings – as Robert Browning said, “less is more”. When we start to paint objects or the landscape our tendency is to paint every last detail. For most of us, this is a strategy bound to fail. We learn to imply a million pine needles with one stroke of the brush. In figurative studies we learn that a simple line can convey as much or more about the human body than a realistic depiction. What isn’t literally there is filled in by the imagination of the viewer and thus offers a fresh dimension to each observer.

Yet many of my paintings are … complicated. I like to put a lot of “stuff” in them, different shapes, textures, colors, mediums, etc. Of course, in these non-representational pieces I’m not trying to make my work look like something else, so perhaps I’m not bound by the same need to avoid too much information which can make a realistic painting lifeless.

I’m sure it is a reflection of my own mind, which loves complexity in almost any form. People looking at work such as this may feel that it’s a bit of a mess, a chaotic jumble. I can’t deny a certain resemblance to my mind. Who knows, maybe if I get enough of this stuff out, I’ll reduce the mental clutter. Bear with me as I sweep out the attic…

4 responses to “Simple or Complicated

  1. Very interesting post, Bob…well, like always!

    I would have much too say, as well above the quote concening mathematics as above simplicity in art. I am not sure I will have this energy yet. Words are quite rare in my brain right now.

    I find the quote too simple. In Mathematics complicated things are reduced to simple things, yes, but through very complicated processes. So, in fact, the complexity has been shifted from one level to another.
    I don’t believe in that kind of magic… I don’t doubt that it exists a natural law which I would call “The Conservation of Conplexity”…complexity is and stays complexity, and our world, nature and people, are simply a “monster of complexity”.

    I kind of can’t hear any more the phrase
    “Less is More”
    It might be true sometimes, but it can’t be a law. I think that many people have adopted this devise out of something like “being posh”. Simplicity is elegant, this is for sure. But do we always want elegance everywhere? I don’t! Sometimes, like you Bob, I love MUCH STUFF on the paintings. Much stuff is so like nature, so much is going on where ever you look, in micro or macro cosmos. I love it, and i love complexity too. It is SIMPLY marvellous and quite a certainty what we don’t need to get bored if we keep our eyes open.

    A last thing… a complicated painting does not mean automatically a lot of details… just a lot of stuff going on, with elements having normally complex connections to eahc other…

  2. Miki

    I knew you would be in my corner on this one, since I know you, too, enjoy a complex feast for the eyes in many of your paintings.

    I do think there is some validity in the “less is more” thinking when it comes to depicting something real. I am much more interested in a painting that “depicts” realism than in a photo-realistic painting (though some certainly would disagree). But this is a different contrast between simple and complex than the one we’re talking about where a piece may have a lot of complexity in its composition and form.

  3. Some here, bob and Miki! I also like to put lot of stuff in my simple things and I think we are all right… The simple, essential stuff must be RICH, interesting to the eye (wasn,t delacroix saying that a good painting is “A FEAST to the eye”?) I consider this very simple (but complex, ha,ha) definition of a GOOD painting as essential and very very practical in the real life. both your paintings and Miki’s qualify…

  4. To stick with the “less is more” idea, I will simply say that as an artist you have absolute freedom to put as much detail as you want in your paintings! It is that freedom that makes the true artist.

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