Are you a camera or an artist?

“Electric Avenue” oil on 40” x 30” panel. Sold.

If you are a representational painter, there will come a time in your journey when you will have to decide how far down the path of realistic rendering you want to go. You’ll get to a point when you realize you’ve gained enough skill to make the stuff in your painting look like what it is, i.e. a tree look like a tree, a car like a car, a person like a person and so on. At that point you may decide to continue onward honing your existing rendering skills, or, you might decide to change course and push into a more abstract direction.

Today we all have cameras that will record a moment in excellent detail. There are also filters we can use to enhance a photo and PhotoShop to do any creative editing we need. With these tools, where does representational art fit in? Where does photo-realistic painting fit in?

I believe it is up to artists to say something more about their subject beyond simply creating a highly accurate visual record. It's our job to show the viewer why the subject is worthy of being captured in paint. It's our job to elicit an emotion from the viewer. I'm not saying photo-realism doesn't have a place in the art world and I'd never suggest excluding any style, but, I feel if you go that route you should consider saying something beyond, "Here is something pretty."

Have you ever stood in front of an expertly executed painting created by an artist with a tremendously high level of skill and been left completely cold, devoid of any emotion beyond an appreciation for the skill involved in it's creation?

I have. And I have also been moved to tears by a very realistic sculpture depicting the death of a loved one. What struck me about the sculpture is that the artist showed me why that moment was important, by using frank, non-idealized realism to depict that tragic moment. The artist had a reason to execute the it that way and used realism to get the message across in a deliberate way.

So I ask you, do you want to create art that is an exact recording of the subject your looking at and if so why? Is it the most effective way to deliver your message to the viewer? Or do you want to create art that gives the impression of your reference without spelling out every detail? Do you want to leave some of the mystery for the viewer to solve?

If you choose the latter you will have to confront the degree of rendering you want to go.

Ask yourself, how faithfully do you want to render the stuff in your painting? Do you want it to be photo-realistic, impressionistic, illustrative, abstract or some combination of those? Do you want to create art or do you want to faithfully record?  What combination is the most direct route to the viewer's heart?

Personal style does evolve naturally over time, but there are points along the way where you can make a conscious course correction.

I realize this post poses a lot of questions that only you can answer, but I hope by posting them they clarify something for you and help you steer your chosen course. Whichever you choose be deliberate about it and know the reason for it.

So, have you decided, are you an artist or a camera?

I confronted these same questions myself and made a conscious decision to push into a more abstract direction. While I love and appreciate representational painting, the direction I started out in was never supposed to be the end game for me, it was simply a means to help me get to where I am now, and hopefully, beyond.

Paint on, my friends!


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