Monday, March 25, 2013

Open For Interpretation

I  remember having a conversation with a fellow painter recently -- or maybe it was awhile ago, whatever-- where I said that my goal is to paint scenes, not interpret them.  I've also mentioned the same thing here in Maine-ly Painting.  Since then I have received number-less requests to explain myself.  (Number-less because there actually hasn't been any...)  So I thought I'd nip this whole thing in the bud and clarify my personal painting philosophy about artist interpretation.

For the fun of it, let's say that a few of us painters are standing out in a beautiful tree lined field on a gorgeous June day;  The puffy white clouds are drifting lazily across a pure blue sky, the trees are lush and deep green with sunlight gently casting shadows on the wildflower filled meadow.  Ahhhhh.....  Beautiful, isn't it?  Feel the gentle breeze and warm sunshine?  What's that "Cheep! Cheep!" sound?  Oh, baby robins!  This must be preserved in paint!

Now, an Impressionist-leaning painter viewing this scene might be thinking mostly in terms of color and light, not necessarily form.  Their painting would be more about the variations and interplay of different colors as they sit side-by-side.  To them, details aren't the point, it's the over-all effect of the scene that is important.  Fair enough.

A more Representational type of painter might gaze upon this scene and feel all warm and fuzzy, and want to portray their feelings in the colors they use.  The overall shapes and form of the field and trees might still be quite recognizable in their painting, but the blues and greens might be replaced by warmer, softer tones, because those are the colors they equate with their emotion.  Again, nothing wrong with that.

Maybe someone whose a bit more abstract might be enthralled by the irregular shapes of the various components of the scene, while also feeling warm and fuzzy.  Their picture may not be recognizable as a meadow in Spring, but that's not even remotely what they were after, anyway.  Hey-- whatever floats your boat.

Three artists, three different interpretations, and more importantly-- none of them wrong.  A painter has to go with what moves them, after all.  But I would argue that anyone viewing those paintings are seeing what the artist wants you to feel, more than what they saw.  And let's face it; I know full well that most of contemporary art is predicated on that viewpoint.

For myself, when I look at this scene, I might feel all warm and fuzzy, (and it may come as a shock to those who know me, but I am capable of feeling warm and fuzzy!) and I could be just as excited by all the different colors and forms as well.  But here's the thing: I want the viewer of my painting to feel the same emotions I felt, too.  So I will try to portray this scene as accurately as I can.  My thinking is that if what I see makes me feel peace and tranquility, then maybe my accurately portraying it will make the viewer feel that way as well.

Then why don't you just take a picture?  I hear you say.  And I say, "where's the fun in that?"  (And if the truth be told, the closer I get to mimicking a photo, the worse my painting becomes).  Look, I have no intention of painting every twig, leaf, blade of grass or flower I see.  The game for me is to see how much I can include or leave out and still make the picture look like what I'm seeing.  Kind of like the TV show The Price Is Right-- closest without going over.  So yeah, I'll paint leaves and blades of grass-- but hopefully just enough to honestly convey what I see in front of me.  Then, maybe the viewer will say, "My-- what a beautiful scene!"  As opposed to, "My-- what a pretty painting!".

Maybe it's just a matter of semantics-- but that's open to interpretation.


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