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Afar/ic at Nagent by Raoul Dufy, bignou gallery, new york city. Dufy, in this ccntury, has furthered the impressionist tradition truth, hut expresses it in his own terms. To be outstanding the painter must strive to do the same thing. He will never stir up much commotion if he paints the obvious in the obvious manner. People are not interested in reproductions of what they can see for themselves with their own eyes. Or if they are, then the chances are they would rather look at photographs., which arc likely to be more accurate.
Wc should think about proportion—and drawing as a whole—in the broadest possible terms, making it expressive rather than completely authentic.
The charm of certain cartoons, especially some of the television commercials, lies in expressiveness rather than in realism. The cartoonist would be hopelessly lost if such liberties were denied him. When the cartoonist uses too much realism, the flavor and essence of his art is usually lost, and the result is commonplace and boring.
We must therefore consider drawing and proportion as a means of expression rather than as a blueprint of nature. How we see things and how interestingly we can draw will mean much more to the viewer than how accurately we can draw. Seeing accuracy in all the objects about him, the viewer is much more likely to be interested in the unseen things, the qualities that he has never before attributed to the commonplace.
Only the artist himself can be the judge of how much to distort, how far from the exact to go to stress the theme or spirit of the painting; only he can gauge the dividing line between expressiveness and crudity.
Ever)' artist must develop the ability to draw accurately and well; then he may temper his knowledge to what seems best and most pleasing to him. Distortion that appears in an artist's work because he is unable to draw better has a way of showing up, and it is seldom expressive or inspiring. To be deliberate in distortion takes a great draftsman.
El Greco lengthened his figures purposely to stress his unconventional designs. Michelangelo created heroic figures, enormous of chest, muscle, and body, as forcible symbols of man. Degas stressed the undernourished frailty of some of his little dancers. Daumier went all out to portray character. And the examples of purposeful distortion in modern art are endless.
In most draftsmanship we sense a search for the ideal. Even these artists who make a practice of employing distortion tend to correct what they see in the direction of idealization. We wonder if the models who posed for Sargent always had the beautiful bodies we see in his portraits. Perhaps his idealization accounted for his extreme popularity. His work brought much criticism from the ultra-realists for this reason. My feeling is that Sargent idealized through his innate love of perfection, to make his portraits glorified interpretations of women in general. Some of the portraits done by his contemporaries with great fidelity to life seem rather ordinary by comparison. Most of Sargent's sitters probably are no longer alive, but the glorified interpretation still carries its original charm. Was it not better l'or time to preserve the beauty of his era than its literal fact?
The danger in loo much idealization, of course, is "preltiness," against which much of the revolt of modern art is directed. Idealization often provokes the accusation of insincerity. But does not the crux of the matter lie in whether the actual character of the subject has enough interest in itself? If an accurate portrayal would be insignificant, then there seems to be no harm in the artist's effort to make a more interesting painting. Redesigning, simplification, characterization, even idealization seem warranted. Tn Sargent's defense let us say that he was perhaps far more interested in the inherent beauty of his canvas than in Ihe beauty of his sitter. If this is a crime, the alternative is to preserve the ordinary.
We must decide in our own minds whether art should be a thing of beauty. If we think so, we must seek to understand what elements contribute to beauty. We must decide whether the thing we are attempting is lo be creative or merely to
The Virgin with Saint Incs and Saint Tccla (detail) by El Greco, national gallery of art, Washington, d. c. El Greco lengthened his figures purposely to stress his unconventional designs
The Lawyers by Honoré Daumicr, durand-ruel, inc., new york city.
Daumicr went all out to portray character
The Lawyers by Honoré Daumicr, durand-ruel, inc., new york city.
The Wyndham Sisters by John Singer Sargent, the metropolitan museum of art, new york city. We wonder if the models who posed for Sargent always had the beautiful bodies we sec in his portraits. Perhaps his idealization accounted for his extreme popularity make a statement of fact, whether we can blend creativeness with fact. Shall we draw as we see or as we feel? What is there about the subject that we can stress? What can we subordinate and simplify elsewhere to make that particular quality stand out? How can we design our subject? What shall we omit and what shall we keep? Shall we make it a composition of close values and quiet beauty or shall we dramatize it with brilliant color and contrast?
What can we think of in the way of technique or texture to make it unusual? Have we chosen a subject that has any interest in itself outside of the execution? Have we experimented with sketches for different interpretations? Have we experimented with the drawing and proportions or with the form to make it more vital? Have we considered the subject as a decoration? Are we making just one more example of something we have done before? Is there enough interest and inspiration in the subject to make us anxious to work on it? Most of all, will the picture stand on its own feet, self-sustaining as to its motif and completeness, or must it forever be explained?
These are the questions that the objective painter may ask himself, and the answers inevitably lead to more creativeness. Let us remem ber that a landscape need not be an authentic statement of locale. Leave that to the camera. A portrait may well be an expression of a personality rather than a highly accurate likeness. A still life may be an opportunity to express light, form, and color in design, rather than a replica of actual objects. In the same way any subject may be the vehicle for the interpretation of light, atmosphere, form, or color, or simply the means to some sort of striking and unusual design. The creativeness expressed always means more to art than the material used to express it.
Proportion is closely related to rhythm. It is related to design, to character, and to unity. Therefore let us try to establish these relationships wherever our ingenuity can do so. When we consider proportion we should approach it from all angles before we accept it as so just because it is so.
We may say that realism cannot be painted without truth, but then why not enlarge our understanding of truth? The truth is there to help us to greater truth, not to hinder us by the fear of deviating from it. From my point of view, beauty should be the yardstick by which the artist measures truth. Pictures do not have as a reason for their existence the verification of truth; they should be painted to extend beauty in life and to life. Naturally not all truth is beautiful; sordid-ness and ugliness exist. We may choose to paint them in order to call attention to them, but that is quite a different matter. Many artists have painted ugliness merely as a protest against some particular society that perpetrated it, just as Dickens wrote books to call attention to certain social injustices of his time. This may result in great art, but such works are destined for the museum rather than as decorations for the living-room wall.
It is my contention that the artist seeking beauty will find it and develop it. We all possess it in some degree, and it enlarges and develops by contact. 1 cannot believe anyone would try to become an artist unless he had some beauty in his soul that he wanted to express. And whether this expression takes the form of realistic or abstract representation is a matter of personal taste.
In the actual laying of paint, which means setting down the masses, realistic and abstract art start out in much the same way. The masses are painted flatly, and while doing this the artist makes a sort of abstraction of the subject to begin with. In some examples of abstract art the artist goes very little further; he makes this suggestion of form. Then he adds a few lines, accents, and highlights. Often he merely lays a sketchy outline drawing over the tones of the masses, without concern that the tone stop at the outline unless he specifically wants it to. There is no reason why the objective painter may not use the same method, or at least borrow the idea. The degree
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