Sharing thoughts and ideas about art, be it my own art or in general -- Sharing my own work and experiences as a professional artist/illustrator/graphic designer, as well as answering any questions of same.... Is the general purpose here. Whether you are a fellow artist, an art appreciator, or a friend -- All are welcome.

My Gallery Website is --- http://www.wonderments.com/

About Me

College: * The prestigious Art Center College of Design'73 * BFA, Towards work in Art Direction, Illustration, Graphic Design, Fine Art. I pursued free-lance illustration for many years in the SF Bay Area, where my work was used by publishers and in advertising. During that time, I was asked to teach illustration at the SF Academy of Art, which I did part-time for five years. I was a member of the SF Society of Illustrators, participated on the board of directors, was a show juror, and a contributor to The US Air Force Art program where three of my resulting paintings were inducted into the Air Force Art Collection in Washington D.C. Throughout my years as an illustrator, I pursued my fine art painting as well, and in the late 80's began my switch fairly completely over into that field. I made my living exclusively as an artist for many years in both the commercial and fine art ends of it. Art, design, and the creative fields have been my passion in life with regards to work and study. My paintings have been sold to individuals both in the USA and some overseas.

*Note -- A busy-busy world, and where many people hesitate in reading much anymore. Yes… in order to offer more than just short generalizations on some of the topics, I’ve taken the time to delve into things more deeply than just doing “sound bites”.

Whether you are a pro, beginning artist, one who does it as a hobby, or simply a person who likes art even if you are just starting to learn about it -- Feel free to comment and/or ask questions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

THE APPRASAL OF QUALITY TO FINE ART PAINTING ...The problem with -- " Wow, It looks just like a photograph"

A person has just taken a look
at a painting, wherever it may be on display, and in all good and gracious intent has decided to offer his or her compliment in response to the art, be it one piece or a wall-full.  "This is really good, and so realistic, it (or they) looks just like a photograph!" 
The compliment, while probably appreciated from the standpoint of a nice intent being given, offers an easily discernable understanding about the person who is offering it.  It says that the persons method of calculation or benchmark in appraising for him or herself whether the art is good / exceptional or not, is largely dependent on if, or how much, it looks like a photograph.

What the compliment truly means to the person it's given, is totally dependant on who such person is with regard to his or her own level of understanding or purposes involved in or with art.  If it is an artist who either through his or her own quality benchmark depth of understanding is one in the same with the looker/compliment giver, or perhaps has other understanding but has keyed his/her artwork to fill the bill of such appraisal methodology being used -- then of course such artists are likely to feel very comfortable to the compliment, since it reflects success to them in the intent they have pursued in their art.  If the compliment is given to anyone, be it another art looker, or even those who may be in a position of 'likely to be knowledgeable' about art, such as a gallery person or collector, but who again, has the same basis's of appraisal, then the compliment will stand as a high and agreeable accolade.
But what if the compliment recipient is none of the above, but instead an artist who in fact not only doesn't measure art quality by such means, but also as such with his or her own art, paints to the tune of an entirely different intent, understanding, and process of creating art within the parameters of traditional representational realism, be it a very ‘tight’ style, or more in the impressionism genre?  As one such artist among many others, including even those who are nationally recognized as being among the finest in the field, which I cannot claim and can only aspire to -- I and they would say that such an appraisal / complement scenario has always been a problematic dilemma, if not a far less than desirable "compliment", to say the least.
I have never heard or read any effort made that would go to adequately explain, define, and therefore, give reasonable chance to the problem being dealt with or remedied.  The reason I haven't, is undoubtedly because as so many others realize, it's a complicated problem that holds a multitude of difficulties to explaining (and solving) that even in good effort given to it, could end up accomplishing nothing or even create other totally misguided notions in the process.
So there's a challenge to me.  This is my effort to discuss it, with the hope to shed some light onto the subject to those who are or may be in need of it, assuming of course they are willing to listen or learn about things objectively without ego's or emotional feelings standing in the way --  For those who can't get beyond those barriers to logic and reason on this issue, don't read any further.
First let me say, that I as well as most artists that I know, am not intending in coming across to anyone as ungrateful to genuinely inspired complements being offered to my work.  As a person, I believe in according everyone a respectful gracious demeanor, unless of course for some reason I come to realize they or their purposes with me are undesirable, in which case I simply won't have anything to do with them.  Also, in the context of what is a very difficult profession to receiving comparative respect and dignity from many in society as a whole with regards to the work / profession of art / artists in fact being engaged in -- work, and a just as honorable, responsible, and 'work ethic' oriented 'job' in the endeavor of making a living as anything else ---- Still, I and most other artists are not prone at all to being unappreciative to any compliments given to us or our work.  As with other things, unless you have been a professional artist, and particularly for many years, it might be difficult for you to understand just how true and significant the above facts and realities are.  With that as a ‘very important to understand’ preface, I will now go into discussing the meat of the issue -- The problem with the, " Wow, it looks just like a photograph" compliment -- or, transversely, ' It doesn't look just like a photograph' appraisal.  I will not go into an overall huge discussion of -- What is good art, why is it good, and who is to say -- because that has been and always will be impossible to fully and successfully discuss and/or resolve. 

The world we live in is a-wash in images, most of them are photographically generated.  It should be easy to understand then, that people in general are very photographically attuned and predisposed when it comes to their eyes seeing any imagery.  That, plus a connected predisposition of most being extremely interested in 'realism', in regards to what they like in fine art painting /drawing, is the basis for why they have such an overwhelming tendency to form they're appraisals on any piece of art, largely (if not solely) by the benchmark of whether or how much it is like a photograph.
The first misnomer in this is that photography is being held as the only or best representation of realism. That notion is categorically untrue.  If one was really wanting to establish the best or better basis for a method in evaluating what looks like realism or emulates it best, it would be in how the human eyes actually see and perceive things -- namely, light, form, and color.  A camera, or any other photographic machine does not see like the human eye does, and therefore photography’s resulting imagery, does not in fact portray realism in the perfection that so many people believe.  In painting and drawing, there is a range of what could be defined as 'representational realism', from extremely 'tight' literal work to more simply stated impressionistic realism.  For artists in any mode of realism, it is a lifetime-oriented course of study to learn to 'see' and therefrom emulate with the chosen medium and tools, realism, to whatever degree that doing so is of importance to the particular artist.  For those artists who become extremely good at the skill and process, the work they show in a piece of fine art that is not just like a photograph --  can in fact be far more realistic in its representation of light, form, color, depth of field, delineation of edges, and where, when and how much detail of form(s) is rendered.  Rarely do such artists, including myself, use photographs or photography as more than just a marginal aid or tool in the process (excepting if the art being done is some mode, other than traditional painting/drawing).  To do so even in that, without the result being the essence of the problem -- the art being just like a photograph -- requires a lot of experience in the work, and, a lot of discipline to avoid the pitfalls.  Some artists, for the dangers pertinent to this, will not use photographs at all in the course of doing their work.  Others such as myself do, because we believe it can function as a useful tool, but it is not easy and requires great care to avoid the dangers of it taking over the process and the better goals of the art.

The next point, is that beyond the comparatives between how a camera sees, and how eyes see, in the appraisals of art about what is most ‘realistic’ ----- The use of camera’s and film, or pixels, are locked in a situation of being a mechanical means and process to the resulting image.  There are choices the photographer uses within the mechanical nature of it, from lighting, composition, and even manipulating the printing of the film or digital images through software.  But….  the restrictions of process and tools ultimately make the image more a result of the photographer accommodating the machines, in comparison to the process and materials used in traditional art.  In painting, the artist is far less removed from the reproducing of a given image or form, because he/she is creating it with eyes, directly linked to control of the hand – and a huge mental control in decisions/choices of what is put down, and how, on whatever surface the art is being rendered on.  There are no machines or restrictive processes in the way to the end result as there are in photography.  The other thing is, that representational fine art can be much more than duplicative representations of things, forms, or scenes.  An artist is engaged in the process of doing much of that in such art, but to only do that leaves out what can be a wonderful added ingredient and intent.  The artist is a human being --- As such, comparatively unlike the mechanical confines of a camera and the results from them, an artist can instill human emotion into a piece of art.  He/she can, because the method and the materials allow that to be done.  Whether the artist does that well or not depends on the ability.  To what degree it is in the mix of the artwork, is dependant on the choice and control of the artist.  The real point is, that such an enriching element is at least possible to instill into the end result image, it (art) therefore having more potential to being more than a robotic representation alone.  There are some great photographs around, even some that can have feeling in them.  But again, the process and the machinery are almost hopelessly in the way, towards producing the very best potentials in seeing and ‘feeling’ a representational image.

To take and make great photographs requires great skill, and I appreciate good photography and those who create it.  I do photography myself, both for use as a ‘tool’ in my painting, but also for photography as entirely different medium.  With the advent of digital cameras, computer imaging and software applications, photography has taken on a whole new (and in my opinion, better and more interesting) dimension of use and possibilities.  Including the use of it as a starting point to then doing truly creative works (such as digital paintings), and as for myself, using all of the traditional skills from many years in painting/drawing/creating with traditional mediums and tools.  But with all due respect to photographers, the truth is;  To paint with the sole intent of making the painting a literal representation, or, to what some would compliment as it  “looks just like a photograph”, takes far more skill than pushing buttons and having a knowledge of the camera.  To do traditional painting/drawing, with the purpose of representationalism, But -- as well as instilling into it measures of emotion, representations of form/light more akin to how humans really see, and aesthetic design -- Requires far more skill than either of the previous, including doing a painting where the intent is to ‘make it look like a photograph’.  I’ve known many good artists who can take great photographs.  I have known few photographers who can do great art in paintings or drawings.  I have known many artists who can sit and mechanically render ‘photographic’ representations. Many of them, do not have the skill, interest, or talent it takes to do any more.  And doing more than a literal or photographic-like rendering, takes MUCH much more. Believe it.

Finally, one simple point before I conclude.  If it is an artist’s sole intent, and a image looker’s sole need towards appreciation to see a ‘photographic like’ image in a piece of art --- Then why not just do a photograph in the first place?  The fascination of an artist’s technical ability to produce a ‘photographic’ looking painting is an element in the excitement, I’m sure.  But the fact is, such technical capability, and painted examples of it, are not rare by a long shot. 

So in conclusion, when the compliment of … “Wow, it looks just like a photograph” is made, or a person saying … “I only like art that is just like a photograph”, be they a – “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” type person, or an even a ‘so-called expert’  ----------------- There truly is much more going on in the mix of it all.  There’s a whole lot going on that is meeting the eyes, but for many, it’s unfortunately not meeting in the mind, and/or it’s being overridden by other notions lodged there.  For the artist, as well as those who like to look at art -- There is a Whole World of other, much more exciting things to take hold of, aspire to shooting for, and enjoy.  But… it’s up to the individual to seek out and become aware of that, and then pursue it for themselves.

        Wayne Snyder / artist / 1998                

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