Thursday, February 05, 2009

never say never

I'm not a purist. I respect artists (and others) who faithfully adhere to rigid principles of integrity because they have drawn a distinct line in the sand and are clear about their reasons for the existence of that line. Not me. You'll never hear me lecturing about never using an eraser when drawing, never working from photos, never using pure black or mixing with white, never using a projector or, heaven forbid, Photoshop. Ever notice how proper rules of conduct in the art world always contain the word never?

Breaking the rules is the surest way I know to make breakthroughs and expand creativity. Nobody ever invented something new by listening to those who whined, "But it's always been done this way!" Certainly Damien Hirst didn't get to where he is by toeing the line. He even employs others to do all his creative gruntwork and I, for one, applaud his audacity (and his bank account).

The big brou-ha-ha these days is the controversy over artists who have giclee (digital inkjet) prints made of photos and then paint directly over top, like a paint-by-number, creating hyper realistic art. Or is it art? A few days ago I did my own little experimentation with a similar idea. During our endless fog this winter I photographed a lot of trees and saw that by altering a particularly two-dimensional 'capture' in Photoshop with the cutout tool, I could create an interesting graphic image. (It's the first image in this post.) Next thing I knew I wanted to paint it, so I made a black and white laser print and adhered it to an 8" x 10" wood panel. When it was dry I sealed the panel with acrylic matte gel medium. Then I painted this over the top:

And it was fun! There was an almost zen-like zoning out that was required for me to stick to the script, but I was still able to use a number of the techniques I usually use when painting landscapes, plus experiment with colour as much as I wanted. Is it cheating or just a different road to the same destination? I finished a long way from where I started that day, freezing me arse off in the cold with my camera.

I pondered this question with my artist friend, John, and he pointed out to me that Maxfield Parrish "...literally pasted photographs of his models straight to the canvas and painted right over them. The illusion was wonderful, an early attempt at modern super realism." So much for my own attempts at innovation. Parrish took the idea and ran with it whereas I'm just learning to walk. I've heard that you should never run before you walk, though, so what now?

18 Comments:

Blogger dinahmow said...

Well, I'm a non-artist (in that I've never had formal instruction)I say:"if it works for you..."
But, as with anything else, you can't bend rules if you do not first know them.

Isn't painting over photos the same thing as painting over sketches? And getting the apprentices(once they've learned enough)to rough out your lines for you? Hell! That's what fuelled the Rennaisence!
Go for it, Andrea. (And, while you're at it, can you remove that dark blue vertical, please?)

6/2/09 2:18 AM  
Blogger citizen of the world said...

I don't have an issue with it as long as there is no deception. Art seemsto encompass such a range of medium, why should that exclude incorporating digital photos?

6/2/09 2:46 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I think anyone can creat art however they choose. The issue comes when you put it out there to be judged, or others try to put it in a niche for you...I thnk it is beautiful!

6/2/09 4:50 AM  
Blogger Homo Escapeons said...

Some people believe that painters don't need to sketch an outline..they just duplicate an image in their head and PRESTO start painting.

Isn't the proverbial journey more important than the destination. Aren't you just as rewarded by watching the process unfold as you are beholding the end product?

How you get there shouldn't be the issue as long as the happy little tree is in the right spot.

I love your misty treeline...how it was composed is equally interesting but that isn't what I'm staring at...but it is part of the story of the image and people love to know how the artist came up with their idea.

Let's face it, People like to know about other People, which is why Authors, Musicians and Artists become as famous as their work.

In many instances the Public's interest in the private lives of many artists equals and even surpasses the importance of their product..Human Nature. A "brand" relies on the artist and the work.

6/2/09 6:13 AM  
Blogger Deborah Ross said...

Oooohh....this is interesting, Andrea. I think anything that we call our own, as in our own photo, can be literally judged as original. So, painting over our own photo is just as the others said, no different than painting over a sketch. Well, it is different in one way. A sketch is one step, but taking a photo, and then manipulating, altering, enhancing in Photoshop is a second step. And that second step makes it all the more original. So now I want to try this! Your branches are lovely.

6/2/09 8:19 AM  
Blogger Angela Wales Rockett said...

Illustrators use that technique a lot (as did I when I was studying illustration) as a time saver. Now that I think about it, I think that might be how I originally started getting interested in collage. Anyway, some thought of it as cheating, but I disagree. It still takes a skilled artist's touch to make it look like something beyond painting over a photograph. And you did just that!

6/2/09 8:24 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Never say never!!

Who's the artist who exhibited photos of well known paintings??? I can't remember her name, but it created some controversy at the time. Her point was that it's all been done before...

I like your painted print!

6/2/09 9:31 AM  
Blogger andrea said...

Dinah: What in the world makes you think that the definition of an artist has anything to do with formal instruction? You know better than that!!! Very little of what I learned of value came from a classroom (hence my disdain for the 'rules') and I suspect you've had a similar experience!

Citizen: Interesting point and even though I said I'm not a purist, I would never do this with someone else's photo as I believe that photography is as much a visual artform as any other.

Michelle: Thanks -- and my favourite rule is that there are no rules! :)

Bob -- I mean Homo Escapeons: Absolutely! If the sole reason for creating were the result rather than the process then nothing would ever get done. We Homo Escapeons are simply too lazy! (I am anyway. :) As for the private lives of artists I think I need a lifestyle overhaul. An addiction or severe mental illness (or both), a few major tragedies and one or two incredibly quirky habits could go a long way to padding my bank accounbt don'tcha think? (Take my ear -- please!)

Deborah: Go for it -- and you see it exactly the way I do. The whole creative process is fascinating, whatever direction it takes, with the product just being icing on the cake!

Angela: You just gave me a great idea for an art class: present each student with the same image on the same panel and have them use the same painting media and see what they come up with. The results could be amazingly diverse!

Cynthia: Thanks and you know, now that I've done it I probably never will again and it's not a question of ethics. I simply didn't like painting on paper sealed with medium. Canvas is still my favourite surface.

6/2/09 10:21 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

I think it's good to experiment ... and the result, in this case, is gorgeous! Keep on exploring and breaking the rules ... the artworld rules and your own!

6/2/09 10:23 AM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I like the results of this. I think the rules exist to create an almost necessary elitism in a field that demands the pushing of boundaries and extremism. If anything goes, then what defines art? And if just anybody can do, then what is an artist? I agree with Angela, a non-artist would take that photo and interpret it literally and the result would be obvious, but you with talent, ability and experience transformed it into a beautiful painting by an artist.
I also believe those rules of elitism exist to establish monetary value. You can't call this a painting on wood panel because of the print underneath, but if you used a projector or tracing paper and did the exact same thing, the label changes and the monetary values go up.

I think Damien Hirst is no different. The material is the message and immediate elitism is established because it's a small feat of engineering. The average person can't pickle a shark or a calf in their kitchen. And then intent comes into it. Hirst is an artist, but if Farmer Joe did the exact same thing because he loved his Bessy, it wouldn't make it to a gallery, just a spot on Yahoo weird news. Labels are everything.

6/2/09 10:45 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Looks like fun and sounds like fun.

Its also art.

6/2/09 10:53 AM  
Blogger Alda said...

I absolutely agree with Citizen of the World ... "if there is no deception". Why should you not use the tools at your disposal to create art? It's like saying writers shouldn't use computers to write books, that it is somehow cheating. Whereas if it is true, and real, that will shine through as art.

Incidentally, I love reading your analysis of your own artistic process. So great.

6/2/09 3:08 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Peter: Yes! Blind rules followeres are as scary as chronic rules breakers.

Ellen: Yikes. I knew this blog post would generate better comments than the post itself but you've just aced us all! As for Damien Hirst and Farmer Joe, you didn't peek in my bathtub last time you were here, did you? :)

Caroline: Fun and art. The only experiences to equal them are chocolate and sleep. (You can tell I'm middle aged! :)

Alda: I agree -- I think the painting on giclees is deception whereas Parrish was completely transparent about his process. And thanks -- Process is all I've got these days. Maybe I, too, will get interviewed by the BBC. (You were great by the way.)

6/2/09 4:58 PM  
Blogger Toni said...

I consider my camera, computer, printer, paints, paper, etc all part of my arsenal to create with. Go for it and create.

6/2/09 7:08 PM  
Blogger onclejohann said...

I remember one time working in a studio transferring a sketch to a large canvas using an opaque projector. A non-artist happened by and noticed what I was doing. He asked me what was probably deemed an artistic question, "Would Michelangelo had used one of those?" referring to the projector. I guess in his world art could only be considered as such if it was done with the tools from the Renaissance. But I answered him and said, "If Michelangelo had an opaque projector when he painting the Sistine ceiling he would've completed it in about a third of the time. So yeah, he would have and would've been grateful for the tool." In art, everything can be a tool in the right hands. BTW, if you print your photos out on tissue paper, the texture of the canvas will come through beautifully. (And there won't be any detectable edges to bring on the cries of "CHEAT!".

7/2/09 5:18 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Toni: As times change so do artists' materials. Makes perfect sense to me.

Onclejohann: From now on the question at the back of my mind in all these situations would be, "WWMD?" :)

7/2/09 6:16 PM  
Blogger tlc illustration said...

I am all for using all tools at one's disposal. But I've noticed I balk a little at such literal photo referencing, although I'm not sure why. I reference most of what I do (although I've never painted directly on it!) but nearly all of my paintings are compilations of gathered reference materials.

I attended an art workshop once where the teacher was demonstrating her process. She had photographed some subject matter (a cluster of mushrooms I think), blew it way up and printed it out. She then either drew or traced this photo on watercolor paper and then painted it directly from her photo reference. There were some artistic adjustments, yes, but a huge percentage of it was straight off the photo. I remember thinking that *I* have no problem painting when I can just basically copy what's in front of me - it's just with my illustrative approach, I never can (too many disparate combined or imagined elements. And it's *always* somewhat of a struggle getting them all to work together correctly and cohesively). Watching her do this, while still legitimate art, felt all too 'easy' - and close to 'cheating'. Was I jealous perhaps? I don't know. I've never been tempted to do the same thing. (I'm just not interested in making that kind of art, I suppose?)

While I'm all for using drawing aids to speed things along, all art is better if you know how to actually draw the thing and not have to rely on that kind of referencing. Maxfield Parrish could draw like a fiend, but why put yourself through that by hand when you are painting fabric covered in eleventy-hundred black circles?

So, obviously I'm conflicted. Help.

9/2/09 4:54 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Interesting comments, Tara. I realized, after allowing this idea to sift through my consciousness for a few days, that I will never be tempted to try this again for more than just the technical reasons of "I don't like the surface." Truth is, my landscape work relies heavily on the gestural and expressive, which is possible to get from working this way, but highly unlikely. And the result, as you can see, is also a departure for me. Guess I'll just stick to my tried and true from now on, but I think this kind of experimentation can be important in discovereing what's REALLY important to the way one works. Nothing worse than being stuck in a rut.

9/2/09 5:07 PM  

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