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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Plein Air Painting

Has plein air painting become the new impressionism?
When I began my fine art career in the early 80's, Impressionism was all the rage. Galleries began identifying their artists as Impressionists and artists did the same, whether they were impressionists or not didn't matter. Just about everything became impressionism.
Are we seeing the same today regarding Plein Air?
Jean Stern, Executive Director of the Irvine Museum in Irvine, CA says just about as much. In an excellent article titled "Plein Air Painting: A Vehicle, Not a Destination", published in the Summer 2011 edition of Plein Air Magazine, Stern writes..."Quite often, as seen in countless art magazine advertisements, the legitimacy of plein air painting has been subverted to accommodate those who seek to appropriate the popularity and commercial success now attendant to that designation. Today, there are many who describe themselves as 'plein air painters' who, in fact, are not."
We've all seen photos of artists, standing before the motif, with a highly detailed painting on a large canvas...clearly suggesting that the work was done en plein air.
Plein air painting has become a badge of honor, a status symbol.
As Mr. Stern points out, "Plein Air is not a philosophy and it is not the artist's Nirvana. It is not the end product. It is, in fact, the beginning."
I believe, of course, it can be the end product but as Stern further points out, "It is tempting to keep painting the small, carefully observed, brilliant little jewels that tend to sell well, and unfortunately, many artists do just that. The plein air sketch confirms its reason for being when it leads to a refined, studio-painted final work."
Plein air work is an absolute necessity for any landscape painter, but as I have seen many times, it can be a crutch that the artist leans on, giving them a sense of security and accomplishment, when in reality there exists an inability to go beyond the sketch toward the creation of a highly refined studio painting based on that outdoor work.
I have always viewed my outdoor work as a way to learn...a way to improve the studio painting. It seems Jean Stern and I are on the same page.
"Once an artist has achieved a practical proficiency in painting outdoors, after meeting the artistic challenges as well as the natural inconveniences, it is time to use those sketches to fulfill the promise of plein air and paint the large, final work in the studio."
And the learning goes on, and on, and on...

(Excerpts from Mr. Stern's article are granted by permission of Plein Air Magazine)
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Blogger Deborah Paris said...

Well said John. I couldn't agree more!

June 19, 2011 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger john pototschnik said...

Thanks, Deborah. By the way, you are doing some really nice work.

June 20, 2011 at 11:03 PM  

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