Within the last year, I have had conversations with several different artists about realism in art. Most of them have been painters, although I’m not sure that fact is relevant. What strikes me is that every single one of them tells me that they are making a conscious effort to move away from realism. I find that odd. Not odd that artists I know want to move away from realism, but that every damn one of them does! Perhaps people are more swayed by trends than even they realize. I suppose that’s how art ‘movements’ get started. One guy gets a good idea, and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Although, I’m such an ornery cuss that I will buck a trend just for spite. Might explain why I languish in obscurity. But whatever the explanation for it, everyone is talking about becoming “more painterly.”
Don’t get me wrong – I’m actually on that bandwagon. I don’t really see the point of producing art that is photographic in it’s realism unless you’re using a camera. It’s just that when everyone says “go this way” I tend to hike off in the other direction. ‘You’re not the boss of me’ sort of thing. But this time I don’t want to and that puts me in a difficult position!
So…American Artist magazine to the rescue! An article in the June 2010 issue is titled “Getting to the Truth of a Subject” about artist Nancy MacDonald. Most of the images that go along with the article are figurative pastels, and although they are dreamy and indistinct, you feel as if you have really seen the subject of the painting. I think this is missing in a lot of what I hear called “painterly.”
But here is what has settled into my brain and taken hold:
When we look at a flower, hillside, or face, only a small part of the subject is really in sharp focus. The peripheral areas beyond the focal point of our vision are blurred, and the details remain largely unnoticed….So why would we want to paint photographically detailed pictures of those people, places, and objects when we only remember a few essential aspects of what we observed?
Ah hah! There, I think, is the key to a successful work. That the part of subject that you focus on when you look at it is the part that should be the most distinctly rendered (not that even that must be realistic, just that it be relatively so).
Discuss amongst yourselves.