Painting from Photographs
The ARTnews magazine has asked a question that has been around for a while now.. "Why should a painting based on a photograph be considered a less legitimate work of art than one painted from observation or one that is simply abstract?"
Everyone from Edgar Degas through to David Hockney does it, so why do artists sometimes hide the fact that they paint from photographs?
I think it's because of the romantic idea of an artist sitting in the landscape or in front of the model, trying to capture the life of the subject before them.
It's like replacing wine corks with screw caps. Easily twisting a new cap off a wine bottle is just not as romantic as using a corkscrew to to get the old cork out of the bottle of fine wine. Even though the new screw caps prevent the wine from ever going bad, they're just not as cool as a cork.
That analogy probably isn't the best one, but the fact is that photographs are a great tool for artists. I know I don't advertise the fact that I use photographs to paint, but I also don't hide it. It just makes sense. Especially if you work in oils and build your paintings up over several weeks or months. It's not going to be very practical to plonk your giant canvas on the sidewalk in a big city everyday for two months if you paint cityscapes.
The thing that I can't understand is artists using projectors to trace a photograph onto the canvas. Not because the finished work would look like a photograph, but because it takes all the fun out of creating the work in the first place. I can't see why someone would waste their time on such an activity.
Slides and Prejudice
Over the last few years, artists have made increasing use of Photoshop. Eric Fischl, for example, who is best known for his voyeuristic, psychologically charged paintings of amorous couples, employs it to collage together different images until they register as something he wants to paint. "I am part of a generation that was schooled in the belief that discovery and execution should occur simultaneously on the canvas," he says. "For nearly 25 years I had held on to that belief, feeling that were I to know what I wanted to paint before I discovered it, the painting would lose its vitality. When I began working in Photoshop, essentially separating the discovery process from the execution, I feared it would kill the painting. What I discovered instead was that it freed me to explore painting itself."
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