Monday, March 3, 2014

Artists and Their Tools

In Sunday's San Antonio Express-News, on the front page, there was a very interesting article about a local "tech inventor" named Tim Jenison. He has NO art training, but has pretty much solved an ages old mystery about how Vermeer was able to obtain the almost photo perfect images in his paintings. Using technology that was known to exist in Vermeer's lifetime, he built a camera obscura and comparitor mirror along with another concave mirror, he was able to virtually duplicate, in oil, Vermeer's work. Astounding. He also learned to mix the oils as they were for Vermeer. It's actually so much more complicated in the article, but in a nutshell, that's it. There is a movie out about his whole process, invention and problem solving of how, he believes, Vermeer was able to paint the way he did. The movie is called, "Tim's Vermeer".
Before reading the article, I had been pondering the requirements for a show I was reading about and noted how paintings that used reproduced images/photoshop/etc. had to be clearly marked and would be allowed into the show, but would be judged separately from painted works that did not employ any of these "tools."
On the other end of the spectrum, I have been in shows before where all work, whether it be photography, sculpture, painting, etc. is judged together regardless of the tools used. So the question that really isn't resolved in my mind is - Where do we draw the line in how much "help" an artist can use in creating their work? When does technology do all the work instead and the artist just become an assembler? How do we evaluate these works?
These are mighty big questions...
I know that one can take a photo in a second, move it into photoshop, manipulate it in infinite ways, send it off to a company that will reproduce it on canvas with archival ink, and then have it delivered to you door in mere days. All of this accomplished without lifting a brush, moving paint around or dirtying your hands. Hmmmmm....
But what about artists that use rulers, or grids, or cameras, or other references? What about images displayed by projectors, light tables, tracings? What about all of these "tools?" The answer for me is clear. I'm old school. If I use a photo, then it's one that I have taken or have gotten permission from the photographer to use. (I've done this once.) I don't use grids, although I know how to, I don't project the work onto the canvas, I don't trace from enlarged images, I don't use photoshop, I don't enlarge images in any fashion other than painting or drawing them myself. I believe that most people WANT to see how the artist sees things. If Picasso wants to show a woman's face from three simultaneous angles at once, then I am amazed to see his view. I would surely be less impressed if he morphed it all on a computer, spliced it together and then copied it onto a canvas.
To those who employ these tools that help them create, great and good for you. I'm not going to do it and I really don't need to. But I do think that you should be honest with your buyers and tell them that this has been photoshopped or altered or printed and is not an original because it can be duplicated again and again.
I prefer to see an artist's hand in his work from the flaws to the brilliant. No computer or tool can ever replace what an artist does alone in a room with paint and a brush.
The painting above is called Riverwalk and was just accepted into the San Antonio Art League's annual juried show. I heard that it received an award, but I don't know what it is and won't until the opening on April 13th from 3-5.

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