Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Imitation vs Expression

Sherwood Island Path, 16x20, acrylic on linen, Jan Blencowe, copyright 2011

This one started as a demonstration for my week-end workshop last week.  The idea came from a photo my students chose from my "possibilities" folder where I keep the pictures I've taken that hold the most promise for the basis of a painting. What they liked was that the shadow from the trees on the left went across the path and up into the bushes on the right.  In the photo that shadow was a very dark, sharp edged affair, but in the painting I've softened it quite a bit to give the painting a gentle spring time feel.

Here's the photo reference....

You can see how much was eliminated and how I concentrated on the foreground and near middle ground as the areas of greatest interest, filled with color, light, brushwork and texture.

After painting only en plein air for so many years people often wonder why I now sometimes work from photos and when I work, both outdoors and in the studio, why I take such artistic license. That's a legitimate question and last night as I was reading  The  Life, Art and Letters of George Inness, I found some of Inness' thoughts on the subject which I will share with you.

"Imitation is worthless. Photography does it much better than you or I could....Now, in art, in true art, we are not seeking to deceive.  We do not pretend that this is a real tree, a real river, but we use the tree or the river as a means to give you the feeling or impression that under a certain effect, is produced upon us." ~ George Inness

Speaking of Inness' Autumn Oaks, below..."Was it done form Nature? No. It could not be.  It is done from art, which molds nature to its will and shows her hidden glory"

" Very few of his pictures were finished from nature...His pictures were expressions of himself, not imitations of what he saw; they were expressions of the feeling the thing wrought upon him. No truly great painting can be done by imitating nature alone. A man must study nature and master all its details until he knows them so thoroughly that when he is painting in his studio- creating, interpreting an emotion, putting himself on the canvas, as it were, for you to love, he does it unconsciously. The detail takes care of itself  because it is there and leaves the true artist free to indulge his fancy and let his desire for the beautiful run rampant."

During the retelling of an anecdote in the Life, Art and Letters of George Inness, Inness quips " ..tell them I would paint with mud if it gave me the effect I wanted"

These ideas basically sum up my own approach to creating paintings...

  • pursue a life long study of nature, outdoors
  • do not try to imitate with exactitude
  • seek to communicate an emotion through expression
  • let your desire for the beautiful run rampant
  • use whatever tools, methods and materials get you the effect you want


Joan said...

Jan, Thanks for posting the finished painting from this past weekend's workshop at Maple & Main. As always, I enjoyed it very much and appreciate your references today to Inness. Thanks to you, my motto has become, "Niggle less; Express more!" :-) Fondly, Joan

Roxanne Steed said...

AMEN sister! - I'm so glad you shared Inness' thoughts these are things I have thought about over the last many years & have been working to integrate this into my own work.(this book sounds like a really good read btw- & another 'must have' for my art reference library! Thanks for the great post Jan!