This blog describes why art matters. You will develop a set of tools enabling you to see the art in works of art. You will learn to see the way artists’ see. You will transform the very world you thought you were seeing every day into visual adventures. You will be equipped to do this work by learning to see.
In this post, I will add new information and a challenge.
First, some backstory: I spent a week in Crested Butte, Colorado,
and I have been back in steamy Delaware for only a few days.
I miss the cool, clear, mountain air.I miss the colors. I miss the quiet.I miss everything about Crested Butte.
That said, while there I worked on a painting using a
landscape of a field backed by a mountain.
Here is a photograph of the top of the mountain:
When onlookers stopped to see what I was doing, I asked them
to look at the top of the mountain and tell me what they saw.
You try it.Make a
list of what you see in the photograph.
Take your time.
Here is the list of what some of the onlookers said:(1) a tan (or peachy-colored) area with lots
of green below it; (2) a mountain with no trees on top; (3) two mountains with
bare ground on top and trees below.
How did your list compare with their lists?
Then I asked my onlookers to examine the top of my painting.
Here it is:
“What ya smokin?’ one asked.
Make another list of what you see.
I suspect your list includes some of the following: (1)
sliced multi-colorful geometric shapes; (2) rolling color shapes that recede in
space; (3) a series of curvy bands and strips of color that move backward in
I have to admit to feeling surprised by what I used and what
I changed, because I believed I was accurately depicting what was there.
I had no idea I changed anything.As I worked, I felt like I was “copying”
exactly what I saw.But what I saw was
not what other people saw.Not even
A story Ed Loper told me sums this up.
A young Ed Loper, a high school graduate with no art
background, trained by the Works Progress Administration to produce exact
watercolor reproductions of early American antiques, went off one day to watch
Horace Pippin work on a painting in West Chester, PA.He stood behind Pippin and looked at his
picture and at the scene Pippin was using as a subject.
Here is the picture Pippin painted:
West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1942, Oil on fabric, Wichita Art Museum
As Ed Loper watched
Pippin work, he thought these thoughts: “What is he doing?The road isn’t black. It’s light tan in the
sun. The houses are not flat. They are three-dimensional. Doesn’t he know
anything about perspective?Why does he
have all those little flower shapes in the tree? Why did he make some windows
black and some white? I don’t see what he sees.”
working, turned to Ed, and said: “Ed, you know why I’m great?”
Ed said “No,”
because he really wanted to know.
“Because I paint things exactly the way they are….I don’t do what these white
guys do. I don’t go around here making
up a whole lot of stuff.I paint it
exactly the way it is and exactly the way I see it.”
This is as good a
summation of creative seeing I have encountered, and it matches my experience
in Crested Butte.
Here is the picture
Now you may be thinking, “The horses?Were they there or not?”
Yes, they were there, off and on, when they showed up from
the other side of the field.Did they
pose for me?I wish.They chased each other, they rolled on the
ground, and they sometimes curled up and went to sleep.I put them where I needed them, in the shapes
I needed them to be.
Here is a photograph of the horses:
Here is my picture upside down:
Study the painting right side up or upside down.
Make a list of what you see.
(A reminder: if you click once on any image in this post, it
will open in another window and be larger, clearer, and easier to study.)