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Thursday, 23 November 2023


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I think any of the Hudson River School artists are worth studying, just for learning how to use light in composition.

Also, Monet, for the same regarding color.

We have just been looking at this (and the Hockney video) in my photography MFA. From my class notes, I would suggest off the top of my head, Goya, Manet, Bruegel the elder, Holbein, and Seurat. Each has something to say not just in terms of the content of their paintings but also visual qualities and composition from which a photographer can learn.

I'm voting for Monet, just because I think the changing light we see in his repeated paintings of the same subject can be instructive to us. All that not stepping in the same river twice, so to speak.

Velazquez, especially Las Meninas, and John Singer Sargent come to mind. I think looking at famous paintings of people can be deceptive in the sense that what makes them so interesting are the painter things; such as a riot of tiny colors and brush strokes in the skin tones, shadows and highlights that defy physics. You don’t hear many people talking about Andrew Wyeth, but some of his portraits are certainly worth a look. For me, personally, I find my inspiration informed by non representational art, Rothko paintings, literature, music, etc.

Hockney counts as a major (albeit over a short space of time) photographer. His collages: he called "joiners." Not everyone (I believe) thinks of them as photographs, but I think they most definitely are, and they bring (as he says) the sense of a 3rd dimension. I believe he means time--but I cannot find his book at the moment.

For me they bring a sense of volume (more than time)--but I am using the technique for inanimate subjects. It is a technique I used w/ film where I got back 2 sets of borderless 4x6 prints and then "joined" them into collages.

I almost wish I didn't do digital, as that process is not something I do now. (Of course I could do it now, but the more accidental/spur of the moment aspect, as I first looked at the prints, was more spontaneous.) But I had decided to go back to mostly film for outdoors work, and thus will make joiners again.

It seems that Picasso was often inspired by the photographs on African postcards.

Degas was a photo enthusiast, and learned a lot from them, like how to express motion through cropping. Artists like Richard Estes and Chuck Close worked extensively with photos -- Close took relatively small photos and with paint, used a kind of abstraction that blew them up to huge sizes that resolve into realism when you stand well back...The Photo-Realists like Estes didn't just reproduce photos, though. They edited them, and took stuff out and put stuff in, though the final result was photo-realistic. Kind of like AI photos now...You couldn't know what was real and what wasn't by looking at their paintings.

There was a wonderful exhibition at the Tate Modern in London recently that addressed the relationship between art and photography. Each art form has influenced the other. There were works by Picasso and Hockney and many others. It might still be running. I have Hockneys Secret Knowledge. Its a real eye opener. Highly recommended.

For color and composition my favorite painters are Rembrandt, Vermeer and Andrew Wyeth. Pity I'm a very poor photographer of color ...

Mike said...
"If ever a cover should not have a red banner across the
corner, it's this one."
I agree!
And what a great picture it is if you crop it just under the 'red' title. I am kinda partial to 'Landscape' format portraits that are tight.

“… to read Secret Knowledge by David Hockney, which I'm rather shocked to find out is from 2006. (I still think of it as "recent.")”

To which my immediate reaction was “Huh? 2006 *is* recent! Oh wait…” #timefail

Thematically, Rockwell did something interesting in that he painted people at work. It's not something I see much. While I was still spending my days in cubicle farms I often wondered how I could make interesting photographs of people sitting at desks looking at screens but never did anything about it. It's probably too late for me now as I'm retired and most employers are suspicious of strangers wandering the aisles taking pictures of work places.

[Lee Friedlander is one exception that comes to mind, although his pictures were, curiously, quite stylized, in a way.

I used to be quite interested that nobody took pictures of ordinary workaday places like mechanic's garages, supermarkets, DMVs, etc. But many of those places won't let you photograph, so you have to do it on the sly. Not something that's very comfortable. But it makes such scenes under-documented. --Mike]

Oh my!
I've touted Tim's Vermeer here at least twice.

In this context it's really must see, as Tim Jenison explicitly launches from Secret Knowledge in his search for Vermeer's technique.

Hockney refers to another aspect of art production at that time, "The popular conception of an artist is of a heroic individual, like, say, Cezanne or van Gogh, struggling, alone, to represent the world in a new and vivid way. The medieval or Renaissance artist was not like that. A better analogy would be CNN or a Hollywood film studio. Artists had large workshops, with a hierarchy of jobs. They would attract the talented, and the best would be quickly promoted. They were producing the only images around. The Master was part of the powerful social elite. Images spoke and images had power. They still do.

As it happens, I went to an exhibition yesterday:
Botticelli Drawings is the first exhibition ever dedicated to the drawings of Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1445 – 1510). Exploring the foundational role drawing played in Botticelli’s work, the exhibition traces his artistic journey, from studying under maestro Fra Filippo Lippi (c. 1406 – 1469) to leading his own workshop in Florence.

Among many things I observed and learned, is the individual hand of the master. Although many aspects of many paintings were done by apprentices, it's not often hard to recognize which is which.

A good example is Virgin and Child With Saint John the Baptist and Six Singing Angels

As it (again) happens, shortly after I contemplated this painting, the guide of a tour said what I'd been thinking, that most experts believed that the faces, hands and perhaps upper bodies were painted by Botticelli himself, and the rest by others.

There are also many examples of preliminary drawings to work out the details of a planned composition. Apparently, a lot of painting done by apprentices was closely based on instructional drawings.

IR scans reveal a lot of under drawing. It's possible that the master drew in outlines of parts and others filled them in.

Might some of the prelims have been done using an optical device, then copied by eye onto the final product? If so, a clever way to maintain accuracy to subject while allowing the eye of the artist limn the final image ( and avoiding Hockney's dreaded obvious optics.)

Some artists expressly explore this dichotomy. Take, for instance, the artist Vija Celmins, whose meticulous drawings are rather rare, as she produces relatively little. I am thinking in particular of her all-over pencil drawings of seascapes, which are technical marvels. One is enticed to think that these drawings are an invitation to the romantic sublime, depicting vast nature in all is wonder. On further rumination, however, one begins to get the suspicion of which you speak — that she “is working from flat.” That is in fact true but not obvious. But for those trying to resolve the dilemma there is rather a strong hint in certain of Celmins' seascapes (including the one that hangs in the room where I type this comment). In those, there is a perfect white X crisscrossing the entire picture plane. To say the X is subtle is an understatement. Even knowing it is there, I can only see it with my nose a few inches from the paper and, even then, it takes a few minutes to find it (and may well evanesce a moment later). It is a white X in the same way, if you will, that Frank Stella painted white lines on a black ground in his famous Black Paintings of 1958 - 1960, which is to say not at all. While most apprehend these Stellas as showing white lines over a black ground, in fact, those lines are simply parts of the canvas that are not painted black (and on examination, these supposed examples the epitome of hard-edged abstraction reveal that, because these thin white lines simply show the unpainted ground of the canvas, the lines are in fact rather delicately feathered). That is exactly what Celmins' Xs are -- very thin parts of the paper on which she did not draw (not drew but then erased). On a highly detailed but subtle gray all-over pencil drawing of a seascape this is, as I say, almost impossible to see. But the entire construction of the drawing, as I see it, is about this push-pull of assessing the picture as a drawing from nature versus from a photograph.

Sheeler is one of my favorite artists who explored across media, as discussed here..


So did Ralston Crawford and Brancusi.

The basement of that house at the link would be about big enough, then. The small windows would keep the fading of prints and book spines to a minimum, too.

I can't quite work out the layout, but if that bit of the basement with the exposed floor joists above is below the kitchen, rearranging the kitchen would be straightforward. It looks like the cooker was just shoved into the most convenient spot; it needs a work surface on at least one side and that's a terrible place to put a microwave.

As a literature major, I know there is writing I really enjoyed reading for a class, struggling with the text, having good discussions, writing that I would likely never read on my own for "personal pleasure." I suspect the same with the visual arts and music, though I've never studied either formally. In my ideal imagined world, we would have more time to participate in group learning and art appreciation beyond those few dear years in college.
My dad heavily stressed that we should never "copy" when drawing, which of course caused me to rebel. In high school and college I was good at both drawing "from flat" and from the world. And you can of course mix the two, like a photoshop of the mind. Art is art.

Right around the time I started actively taking digital photos, I dated a visual artist off and on. Her large paintings were abstracts of real things, often intricately patterned. Though not landscapes, they were laid out like Japanese prints of landscapes, and it changed the way I saw photos out on my solo hikes. She also had a huge book of Edward Curtis photographs, so dramatically composed and painterly, which influenced her layouts, too. We would travel to see galleries and museums, LA, Chicago, SF, Seattle, NY, solely to see a lot of art, and I was visually alive in and after those years.

It wasn’t necessarily that my photos were directly from what I saw in paintings, more that my eye was very awake. But then I think I thought I was seeing elements and fragments and overall scenes of all this art I had quickly digested while I was in this fertile shooting period. When I was taking photos, I guess I felt I was starting to “speak” in a shared visual language with all these artists I was being exposed to. (Mirroring another commenter, I had a similar awakening in how I parsed the world after two successive figure drawing classes, yeah.)

Don’t get me wrong: my photos have been ok but not that great. I can’t compete with the art I saw. But it was fun to feel imbued with these visions while out photographing. My pictures then were better than they are now, and the effort felt more meaningful.

I started off as an ardent landscape photographer, and have since morphed into a painter, oil on canvas.
It has been a weird journey. My landscape photography was originally driven by the Ansel Adams books, and by the opulent color work of Christoper Burkett and Charlie Cramer. I did start painting from photographs, and they're still part of my practice. But I also do a lot of plein air (on-site) painting from life. I have no doubt that the composition and design of my paintings owes a lot to how I see photographs. My default field of view for paintings I have found corresponds to ~100 mm focal length in 35 mm format.
There are some very prominent current landscape painters who proudly eschew photography, including Joseph McGurl and Joe Paquet. And yet, their paintings very clearly reference photographic composition and the visual style of photographs! There's no escaping it; even if you intentionally paint in a non-photographic, non-representational manner, you're still responding to photography.
I've read Hockney's Secret Knowledge. I happen to believe he's wrong; surely some old masters were using something like a camera obscura, but to my eye most were not.
Finally, there are plenty of painters one can study to inform photographic composition. But pick your poison; if you love wide, spacious vistas and endless skies? Jacob Van Ruisdael. Dramatic waves crashing on the shore? William Trost Richards and Frederick Judd Waugh. Lofty mountains? Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, or Edgar Payne.

Late here. There are so many excellent suggestions regarding artists from other media and times to study.

My own recommendation is to second Bob Keefer‘s excellent suggestion for photographers to learn drawing. If you’ve never had any formal collegiate art training you’ll likely discover the skills you’ve been missing. Slowing-down to practice an additive medium forces you to learn to SEE figure-ground, proportions, gesture, perspective. Instead of thinking of “composition” you learn to think in terms of constitution. Get s sketch book and some good artists pencils, etc. and spend a year making at least one sketch a day. They may not be very good and you need not show them to anyone. But I guarantee your photography will noticeably improves regardless of your age, or your money back.

Recently visited the Sorolla exhibit at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, TX, so I'd add him to your list.


Very much about the light.

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