Thursday, January 13, 2011

Too Real/Not Real Enough


Rocky Shore, originally uploaded by Mark Nesmith.

One of the key questions that all representational artists have to face is how "realistic" we want our paintings to be. Most people equate realism with a photograph, and the general viewing public often uses the phrase "it looks just like a photograph" as a compliment. Many painters take it as an insult. I think answering the question of realism is one of the defining aspects of an artists' style, and it's a question that all of us must answer on our own. My own work often hovers the fine line of realism, but I am not interested in description alone.

Take this painting for instance, arguably one of my more realistic oil paintings. When you actually take the time to examine the picture you find there's really very little in the way of details. The foliage of the tree is rendered in two or three large masses of color, the ripples of the waves are freely handled brushstrokes. I don't try to indicate a leaf or a blade of grass. There's really very little need to. Our vision is not merely a function of our eyes. When we view something our mind acts as a filter, interpolating and extracting much more (or less depending on the needs of the situation) than our eyes can see. We bring a whole history or prior experiences and knowledge to everything we view.

Rather than getting caught up in the quest for realism, I seek to express my experience of a place. I try to filter through my memories and observations and seize on the features that made the deepest impression on me. I encourage everyone I meet, artists and non-artists alike, to try to view the world around us with more than just our eyes. I think there's much more beauty to be found when we look with our hearts and our minds.

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