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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Defining the Concept

When painting outdoors in Portugal some years ago, I had just put the finishing touches to a painting when, to my delight and total surprise, I heard a lot of little hands clapping. There behind me stood a large group of children. They stood in total silence as they had watched the painting develop. I couldn't speak Portuguese. They couldn't speak English, but the painting was able to easily speak both languages. It made the connection between us and we thoroughly enjoyed the moment. 
We communicated through art. We connected because the concept of the painting was clear. They related to the scene, the mood, the color. It captured for them that which they experienced everyday and may even have taken for granted until someone came along and caused them to take a second look. There before us was the lighthouse, the rocks, cliff and ocean. The got it. But what if the drawing was poor, the subject unclear, the composition uncomfortable, the values confusing or the color inappropriate? Would my delighted audience have hung around?

Over the next two weeks, I will be sharing with you three of the paintings I created specifically for the upcoming 30th Anniversary Show, to be held next month at the Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art in San Antonio, TX. I hope these blogs do an adequate job of illustrating my points.

This week I hope to explain what I mean by having a clear concept before beginning a painting...and its importance. I like to teach my students that every painting begins with an idea. Why do we wish to do this painting and what is it we really want to get across? I keep bringing these questions up to my students because I need to keep bringing them up to myself.
Photography is a great tool for the artist but it can be, at the same time, our greatest hindrance. I have to continually remind myself to slow down, look, and THINK, before beginning a painting. It's relatively easy to copy a photo, much more difficult for us to "speak for ourselves" rather than let the photo speak for us. 
Below is an appealing stone house that I photographed in the Texas Hill Country. The scene has a lot to offer as is and my original plan was to create a painting of it, but as I contemplated the subject my thoughts ran to feelings of loneliness and isolation. There are a number of ways those feelings could be represented, but then the scene also gave me a profound sense of silence, of standoffish mystery. That's what I decided to exploit. However, I did not want the feeling to be threatening...just a little mysterious. 
Reference photo for Mystery of the Night

Color selection

First attempt: The mood is established but I lost the sense of standoffish mystery I  hoped to achieve.  I redrew the house by pushing it back and narrowing it, increasing the appearance of height and distance.

Mystery of the Night - 12"x 16" - Oil on canvas

Our job as artists is to get our point of view across to the viewer of our paintings in a way they can clearly understand. The children of Portugal did not need an interpreter, they understood. 
As artists then, we are communicators, and with that comes responsibility. Since we are the ones initiating the "conversation", we have the responsibility of making our communication clear. Just having a great concept is not enough's also important that we have a well developed vocabulary. Now, I don't know which is worse...having something profound to say without the vocabulary to express it, or having an extensive vocabulary with nothing worthwhile to say.
Certainly, neither is preferable. The ideal, of course, would be to have a fabulous vocabulary with profound things to express, and an audience that hangs on our every "word".
The quality and extent of our vocabulary is directly proportional to the mastery of our craft...(composition, drawing, values, color, etc.), and the use of the tools of that craft...(pencils, pens, brushes, paints, etc.). The more refined our vocabulary, the more clearly and beautifully presented will be that which we have to say.
Unfortunately, many of us artists have more to say than our artistic vocabulary allows. 
Let's say we all have a fairly decent artistic vocabulary, there's still this other important element of successful communication...What have we to say? The answer to that question will be the concept. It could be compared to an outline...and that's pretty important whether the communication be verbal or visual.

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Blogger daystar said...

Thank you again, so helpful.

February 7, 2012 at 6:52 AM  

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