"ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. "
L. Ron Hubbard

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Painting from photos - The Controversy

A recent potential student asked me if I would be teaching from photos or still life. I replied that it wasn't feasible for me to attempt to lug the components of a still life with me for a 3-hour session a week but that she was free to bring her own still life if she wanted. She replied that she didn't want to paint from photos. This is really a bit of a non sequitur. (I didn't say that she couldn't paint from a still life.) However, it raises the question: is it invalid to paint from photos?

Some will say 'yes' because the photo is precomposed. In addition, the colors produced in the printing process are a lower gamut* than we see when working from life. Finally, a photo (often produced in a 4x6 format, contains much less information than the original scene. I don't disagree.

On the other hand, as a teacher who already lugs a complete setup for oils and a complete setup for acrylics to the teaching site, I don't have any inclination to additionally lug the pots, plants, fruit and other paraphernalia (such as a lamp for directional lighting and drapery) with me on a weekly basis.

We need to look at the use of a photo in a broader context. When I give students a reference photo, I want them to use it as a "reference" not something to be faithfully duplicated. Let's call it a "starting point" for creation. After all, why paint it exactly as shown in the photo. There is already a photo.

There is some use in duplicating a reference photo. If a student is just beginning and is shaky about the basics of art (line, form, composition, color) working from a photo is like having training wheels. Having a still life or model or — worst yet — all of nature in front of you can result in overwhelm. Even the old hand may want to continue to practice. I attend a weekly live model drawing group to improve my perception of what is there.Not only does it help me produce better paintings, but it helps me see the world better — a philosophic benefit.

*gamut: an entire range or series (gamut from praise to contempt)
(Editorial Note: in this case, the entire range of perceptible color.)


Anonymous said...

Hi Pam
Enjoyed reading this and totally agree.
Thanks, Chris Appleton

Jonty said...

Greatly written about the subject, hope art can become common man's dish.