Those who know me know I’m primarily a studio artist, not an art historian, so I’m weak on names and styles. Friend and fellow artist Jack Warden recommended I read Heinrich Wolfflin’s Principles of Art History. Although I’ve started it, I can tell it starts at a level of art history knowledge that is above my gradient. However, I came upon one statement that got my interest.
“Distinguishing between “linear” (the development of line as the path of vision and guide of the eye –draftsmanlike painting) and “painterly” (the gradual depreciation of line or massing of values while losing the edges of objects) as two approaches to the painting process, Wolfflin says “In the former case stress is laid on the limits of things; in the other the work tends to look limitless. Seeing by volumes and outlines isolates objects: for the painterly eye, they merge. In the one case interest lies more in the perception of individual material objects as solid, tangible bodies; in the other, in the apprehension of the world as a shifting semblance.”
Warden says that Wolfflin was the one who developed the concept of “painterly”. This interests me. I got into a little bit (not a lot) of trouble the other day because I complimented a student for having a very “painterly” style and she asked me what that meant. After stumbling through an explanation, I realized that I had originally gotten the word from my old mentor, Ben Summerford, who used it in an approving way about my work. I’d always assumed that it meant using the paint in such a way that it was important AS paint, not just as an apparency or representation of a form. I’ve included one of Ben Summerford’s paintings here so you can get an idea of his work. He was for many years an art prof at American U. I took classes there summers while I was still in high school.
Wikipedia.org says the following:
An oil painting is "painterly" when there are visible brush strokes, and/or a rough impasto surface. This appearance might occur in oils, acrylics, watercolors, gouache, or any medium where a brush is used. Painterly characterizes the work of Pierre Bonnard, Francis Bacon (painter), Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt or Renoir. In watercolor it might be represented by John Singer Sargent. Linear characterizes the work of Vermeer or Ingres. The Impressionists and the Abstract Expressionists tended strongly to be "painterly;" movements such as Pop Art or photo-realism emphasize flatness; Roy Liechtenstein attempted to make a comment on Abstract Expressionist painterliness when he created images of brush strokes, rendered with comic book style inks and colors, complete with Benday dots and other attempts at imitating commercial reproduction processes on the flat picture plane. What Rembrandt is to light, Delacroix is to color. Colorists tend to substitute relations of tonality for relations of value and render the form and shadow and light and time through pure relations of colour.
"Painterly" art makes strong coloristic use of the many visual effects produced by paint on canvas such as chromatic progression, warm and cool tones, complementary and contrasting colors, broken tones, broad brushstrokes, impressionism, impasto and also of the artist's experience in painting. Jackson Pollack's "action paintings" are more "painterly" than Frank Stella's super-graphics.
My painting certainly falls within the “painterly” rather than “linear” category. However, after researching the on-line dictionaries, I can see why I was confused about the word. This just points out the importance of using a dictionary when studying something. In Scientology, after finding that he had difficulty with students confused about or misinterpreting the subject, L. Ron Hubbard spent time researching and codifying study technology and the barriers to study. Now, with the help of the Internet and electronic dictionaries, it’s easier than ever to study, if you know how. And the future of this planet depends on the ability to learn.