Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Glass Eye.....Again

A recent post on this entry regarding photography and projectors seemed worth a special mention here, and it gives me a chance to expand a bit in a direction I didn't go in the Robert Genn article.

Posted by Vinayak:

Dear Nick,

Thank you for all these wonderful posts. They are such a treat to go through.

With all due respect, I would like to say something in response to (another poster's) comments about Richard Schmid. I have read his book Alla Prima and also seen the video where he takes pictures of a scene for making a landscape painting. And I dont think he expresses contradictory ideas in the two. He is quite clear about the limitations of painting from photographs and how they can never substitute the real plein air experience. However he also agrees that under certain circumstances photographs can come in very handy for example when there is not enough time to finish a painting en plein air. But it's still a compromise, and that's what he says even in the video. So I dont think the two things really go contrary to each other. I do not think someone as technically sound as Mr. Schmid shall ever have to resort to tracing.
Thank you
Best wishes,

Vinayak - thanks very much for your post, I appreciate it. I don't want to put words in (the original poster's) mouth, or take a chance of misrepresenting her intent, so I'll defer any discussion there...maybe she'll have a chance to post again.

But you raise some things that I can comment on from my own perspective:

I understand the reasoning behind the plein air tradition, painting from life, etc. and have enormous respect for the people who do it as well as Schmid. (much less respect for people confusing method with message) There is no doubt the human eye can discern things that escape the camera lens, to a point, and there isn't any substitute for real life. In my case, however, this apparent advantage is somewhat, if not wholly, irrelevant, for a few reasons:

1. While many artists seem to be driven to paint what they see, I'm driven to paint what I don't see. Most all of what I do is stuff that's flitting around inside my head, not borne from real-time observation. I don't walk through a flowery meadow, for example, and think "I'd like to paint that." Could be a character defect, but it just doesn't happen to me.

2. I don't pretend to possess a technique that would necessarily benefit from observing in real life the nuances of lighting, form, color, shadow, etc. In fact, that could even be a handicap for me, as too much information can be distracting and overwhelming. I know myself well enough to realize that what the camera omits is very possibly something that a) I don't really care about, b) I'm not good enough to reproduce or interpret anyway! So much painting I admire is a result of subtraction and simplification. I can do this on my own -- many of us do, at least to some degree -- but I also like how the camera or even a computer program accomplish this.

3. One of the most unfair indictments of the camera in connection with artists is the unequivocal notion that it can’t see what the eye sees. How wrong this is; often it sees far more! Think of all the blurred-motion photos that give us a fascinating idea about the visual representation of movement, not to mention the myriad bizarre effects the camera produces through “error” that might inspire the artist. One need not look any further than the unparalleled work of Alex Kanevsky to understand how important the camera has become in the hands of contemporary masters.

Getting back to the projector issue…knowing what I do about his work and methods, I don’t believe Schmid would have any use for such a device. Whether or not he would use something to transfer a drawing, large-scale, I have no idea. The main point I was making on Genn’s site is that there are other applications of the projector that are quite useful. But nobody ever talks about them; the moment the issue is raised, there is the typical one-dimensional, knee-jerk purist reaction that ignores the nuances ;-) of the subject. Most frustrating, is that I often agree with many of their points…. but they never seem to notice.


Sandeep Khedkar said...

Thanks Vinayak for raising that aspect, and Nick for sharing your views on it.

Having limited time to go out and paint from real life, many times I have no choice but to paint from the eye of the camera.

Having said that, while painting in the open does help me in getting feel of the atmosphere around into the painting, I also tend to use fotos, take the basic components and then try to see somewhat beyond what is seen in the fotos and paint what what I would like to see...being somewhat of a starter in painting area, don't know what are the merits or demerits of such an approach, but given the time constraints, it definitely helps!

Sandy Maudlin said...

Well stated. There are so many ways to produce great art...not just one valid way. Thank goodness for diversity and for your abilities to share so concisely.

Billie Crain said...

God, I hate purists.

David Burge said...

What do I think of the use of projectors in art?
Not much. I don't like using them at all. I find them dry, boring and tedious. For portraits and figures they have a nasty way of distorting the image. I'd rather a contour drawing with my own mistakes and my own distortion problems than copy a projectors errors without question. Even the technical adjustments one can make to minimise distortion comes down to a perceptual judgement call. This brings a point into focus that may be what I find grating about them more than anything else and that is the bodily act of making the image is not there. The act of deciding imagery becomes one of optical choices rather than reactive and instinctive opportunism. The freedom to make use of the paper as one one reacts to the subject and randomness is killed by projector use. It's like I'd imagine making love to a blow up doll to be.
I have a pragmatic side that conceeds at times an idea calls for technical assistance. I've done it for my windows series but now I can't do them any more because I hate the tediousness and stiffness of the process. The outcomes can be great and the ideas can be satisfying to see realised but the process is hell. I guess it was a learning experience.
Heck I won awards with them but that aint enough!
As I'm on the brow of lifes hill looking down into the valley ahead I don't feel I have time to waste on plastic doll sex.
I don't think it's an argument about photographic referencing in painting because as you say the camera can reveal more about reality than an average painer artist can bare. For me however, the act of making a picture is a hell of a lot more fun without a projector than with.
I think one must be careful to not allow the visual to totally overwhelm in visual art. It's only 50% of the equation. Art is the other 50% and that is not subject to linguistic defintion, it's the total act of making and the whole life of the artist that contributes to the art. So in saying that I'm doubting the voracity of the optical choices stemming from imaginative sources as much as the flower in the meadow.
I'm arguing for the Total Engagement Theory. The Channeling Model. Zen.
Reactive elements coming together to make something new, to bring about unplanned changes that connect personal experiences to universal truths.
If projectors contribute to that, fine, if not then they're no much good to the artist.

David Burge said...

It's 4:30 am here, no sleep please forgive spelling, typos!

David Burge said...

Pat Metheny's Orchestrion project comes to mind, if only there was a projector or tool that could react to the nuances of the act of making a painting as his gizmo/s does with music via his guitar we'd have it made. I guess some of the photoshop tools try.
When thinking of jazz and improvised music it probably best describes what I was trying to say in the above post.

Susan Liles said...

You brought out good points. Whatever works for a person and their method,... great!

frank said...

The first rule in art is: there are no rules! Tradition can be more of a limit than a merit.
Interesting discussion - I tend to agree with Nick, there's art where it
is important to see the real thing, like doing a landscape. There is also
art where it doesn't matter.
Why do people always try to generalize everything???

Nick said...

Sandeep - sounds fine to me, no complaints here!

Sandy - you're an encyclopedia of techniques and approaches..I think we both agree that if it's creative, go for it.

Billie - heheh, I was actually under the impression you were somewhat of the purist ilk, though certainly not to the degree of some who would disparage other artists for their work and methods. A good way to expose a self-righteous "purist" (many are charlatans in addition to being mediocre artists) is to find out what they disapprove of, and then ask them whether or not they would use it with the knowledge it would produce a better work of art. If they say no, then you're dealing with not only a purist, but an idiot. QED.

Dake - just a sec, let me get the air out of this thing...:-) Ok, I can't disagree with any of that, and as usual, you put it in a way that no one else could. I especially like the part re the 50% equation (might have to usurp that), and many musical analogies come to my mind, also. Maybe the example of the jazz player vis a vis a classical music player has a parallel in visual art...or perhaps the use of sequencers, programming,etc is somewhat akin to technology-based visual art devices. Personally, when using the technology to assist in painting, I take pains to humanize it as much as possible, just as when employing sequencers, I was very careful not to over-quantize, I detuned instruments, and varied dynamics as much as possible, etc to produce a natural effect.
A great response, and I appreciate the time you took to make it!

Susan - can't say it any plainer than that!

Frank - nice to meet you...we're on the same wavelength. I've said many times the only crime is making bad art!

David Burge said...

Yeah a suppose there was a lot of hot air in that post of mine. I thought about it later and thought that one 4 letter word would have been sufficient: Jazz.

When all is said and done; a projector is a tool no more or no less than a pencil. Some tools are more enjoyable to use than others.
It's certainly not a qualitative gauge.

Billie Crain said...

Oh, Nick...where did you ever get the idea there was anything even remotely purist about me. I'm for whatever gets the job done and done to my satisfaction. I work from photos, I've traced, I never work plein air...the list goes on. I'm still saving up for my first projector, too! Anyone that doesn't like it can kiss my *ss.

Sandy said...

What an interesting discussion!
When I discovered that making my children's clothes was not what I regarded as the ultimate in creativity, I decided to re kindle my love of the visual arts.
To be outdoors painting is a great experience, but in my opinion, it is impractical and often quite dangerous.Not at all the relaxing and genteel pastime of past centuries.
The digital camera and the computer has opened up so many possibilities for artists of all genres to explore and share.It is such an exciting time...

Nick said...

Billie - duly noted, entered in the ledger. Feel better now? ;-)

Sandy - I guess I haven't thought about the danger aspect so much...sounding more attractive to me now! It's just such a pain-in-the-you-know-what, and there's no way I can do my best work in those conditions. Good practice, I imagine. But I never practice... like Wes Montgomery, who once claimed "I open the guitar case once in a while and toss in a raw steak." By the way, Whistler preferred to paint by gaslight...and hauling one of those around Venice on a hot summer day would be hell, heheh.

William K. Moore said...

I have a projector.. been sitting in the closet for awhile. When I need it I use it. Being able to draw: brain to eye to hand to paper is a glorious event when time and skill are available and the output doesn't end up in the trash.

Nick said...

Bill - you're one of the people who need never justify anything you use or don't use...the only place that kind of Art comes from is a wickedly fertile imagination.

agus said...

Nick Aupa! Paint in my case in the study. attempt to translate an idea that is being created and adapted as I work, not from any point and when I turn to define the topic photos, photo collages or drawings ... other pictures, anything goes ... I started painting the outdoors and all the questions I've answered emerged in estudio.De paint outdoors, what's left? ... enjoy nature ... to seek quickly discover the light colors ...
I have only wanted to add my experience in this post so interesting ... I hope that the translator has helped me expresses Nick ... greetings!

Nick said...

Agus- hola amigo. When I'm in a place like Venice I see artists around town, some of them in impossible positions, furiously working to capture something before the light fades, or they fall into the canal, etc. I can't think of a better way to ruin a summer day in Venice! I want to walk, eat gelato, take photographs, and look at the girls! :) Whatever you are doing, don't stop - you're a fabulous artist, and I'm happy to call you a comrade!

wayne said...

Hi Nick,
It's great you aired this still-controversial topic. Hopefully (see below) i can add some ideas relevant to the topic..

When i taught art/watercolour in the mid-nineties i noticed that some students seemed to possess an unpracticed (?genetic) facility to line-draw a well-proportioned subject. Other students struggled along and became discouraged.
Around that time, I remembered how, as a kid, i loved jig-saw puzzles (which could be viewed as essentially interlocking shapes, with wiggly lines in between the pieces, the latter being like the line- elements of drawing). And i wondered whether i could help students with drawing by concentrating firstly on masses and individual shapes per se, and then, very importantly, upon the surrounding interlocking shapes, masses, parts, pieces .. >> thus, in essence, detaching the focus of the mind from the line elements themselves, and shifting focus to shapes and masses.

Rather wonderfully (and 'obviously', once you think about it for second), is that these two elements (line vis a vis masses/shapes) in a composition are essentially the same (but from different ways of 'seeing' >> each involves the concept of *boundaries* within a composition.

Those who found 'realistic' line drawing difficult or unnatural, beneifited from the above alternate spatial-thinking and seeing, and i'll provide an example (below) i used in my art classes:

.. imagine we are trying to paint a portrait in profile/side-view. And if we want (um) a 'human-ish' 'realistic' result, then the proportions and shapes of hair, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, chin etc, need to be fairly accurate (more so if you want a 'likeness'). OK. So then I would ask the class to study the subject and consider the proportions of shapes they saw, including positive and negative shapes/spaces, lighting (value changes), etc. [On the latter, i'd also mention you can get a good portrait by focussing more on painting the light shade shadows than anything else].

The key point i then demoed and taught was that, without preliminary line-drawing, you can **find** an edge ('line' or boundary) by **working out towards it** from a central watery swatch of colour (say) starting in the middle of the cheek, drawing out the watery colour towards the edges of the masses e.g. nose, lips etc (to which you had previously become aware through close scrutiny and an attempt to memorise same). As in contour line drawing, constant fine adjustments can be made (if desired) by reviewing 'connectedness' between subject and painting.

This alternate method of *drawing by shapes* rather than line, seemed to accelerate the artists' work in another way too: stronger compositions in asymmetric balancing of spatial divisions.

(I'll try to write about the 'glass eye' in art (!) directly..)
cheers and best wishes Nick,

PS apologies for my delays in responding to this stimulating topic!

Nick said...

Wayne - your "working out towards it" idea I think is a very good way of describing this, and thinking in shapes rather than objects is probably not only a good way to draw, but I know for certain it's a good way to paint. I think about that circle of hands drawing of yours which interested me so much, and is an object lesson to the student (it seems to me) of taking this idea to an extreme - so much so that you exited the paper! In the workshops, I often require that people do some drawing, and many just...can't. And have no idea where to begin. This is surprising to me since that's mostly all I did as a child and it seems second nature and an unavoidable prerequisite. Nonetheless, many people come to these workshops unable to draw, and completely unsure of where to start. So I work on the Correction Theory (Val Thelin: "there are no mistakes, only corrections")and convince them that something has to go down first, even if it's just one or two lines. NOW we have something work with! And I really enjoy taking them through the correction process, discussing good design/proportion along the way. They 99.9% of the time agree with my suggestions, which is nice. :) We, in effect, are working out towards it, building each new element on what came before or is adjacent. However, you explain things in a unique way as usual, and I must integrate this in the future. With full credit, as always - you're one of my main recommendations in workshops, and I hope those coattails won't become too frayed from my grubby mitts! Thanks for the wonderful post!

wayne said...

The 'Glass eye'
The subject interests me a lot because it's somewhat in the fuzzy area between art and science. The questions inevitably arise Is the art 'science? And, Is the science 'Art'?

I see the computer as being able to produce its own kind of art, new digital genres, and mixes of genres (such as combined music, image stills, movies, etc)

One thing i can't stand about many image-editing prgs is their pseudo 'watercolour brushes', charcoal, 'confetti' lol etc. Even if you have a graphics tablet, it's impossible to swallow it's lamentable software-coopeartive imitation of interactive aquamedia. Why? Well apart from the lines and impossible blended 'washes' (achievable imo only with real watercolour), there's the fact that artists often stand to paint, and do not hold brushes like a nib over a tablet!! There are shoulder movements, elbow, wrist, all the fine muscles of the hand, all come into play. Furthermore, the pigments themselves have unique properties and not just color. I doubt whether most image-editing software engineers have this programmed into their software.

Back to projection and art.
There's a long history in art concerning the use of viewing or projecting-devices, one being the Camera Obscura. [There has, for example, been debate as to whether Vermeer used this or not. Look it up as there is not space here]. Whether he did or didn't i do not feel detracts one iota from his amazing art, compositions, use of color, portrayal of light, and more. Perhaps i would even hold his work in higher esteem if he did use the 'obscura' , since he could then be seen as a pioneer in experimenting with new ideas in 'Science' that interface with Art.

Art/ Science and the 'glass eye' .
It's interesting to me that in many of these discussions about 'projection' little, if anything, is mentioned about other 'glass eyes' namely the telescopes, microscopes, and spectacles! Again there is too little space here to do justice to this enormous and fascinating history. But it seems too relevant to this discussion to ignore.

So i'll mention one brief snippet of a story surrounding the telescope. The astronomer Tycho Brahe made meticulous records on paper surrounding his observatory walls, and planetary positions were very accurately marked from focused *projections* through the 'glass eye' of his telescope. [ several years... ] One Johannes Kepler (former 'apprentice' of Tycho) came to finally be in possession of all Tycho's meticulous astronomical records. From those, Kepler eventually propounded his famous Three Laws of Planetary motion. Now, That to me is high Art. And it all started out with Tycho's *projected* planetary positions in his observatory (studio). Art and Science, united like that, is elegant and powerful.

Medicine and the microscope. Need i say more?

Optical glasses/spectacles. Need I say more? Well maybe. Many artists would not have been able to paint at all without them.

Regarding drawing, i think a student can *start out* instead and if desired by him/her with color theory, art history, the study of composition in art history, etc before embarking on drawing. Some of the greatest musicians in the world are entirely self-taught, and they can't read a note of music. But they can 'draw music in their own way.' It's like David says, 'jazz' (of the mind). I think David also made a very good point about the single focal axis/point that a camera uses.

cheers Nick, & sorry for a lengthy comment,

Nick said...

Wayne - off to Shanghai, this will give me something good to ponder, will reply soon. shay shay!

Nick said...

Wayne - sorry it took so long to get back to this post.
Computer simulation of watercolor affects pictures too uniformly - I guess you could paint that way in watercolor...but who would want to?
I'm also aware of the camera obscura and who might have used it. Doesn't make any big difference to me either, since great art comes from imagination, not tools. That said, artists who fulfill their vision w/o any kind of aid have my utmost respect, though it's still the final product that I care most about.
Your analogies about the glass eye in other endeavors are something I never even considered, can you believe that. But then, that's why you're Wayne Roberts. By the way, you were part of my lecture presentation in Shanghai, and I always include discussion about you in the workshops, as I did at Kanuga last week. I'm indebted because if not you, whose name could I invoke re leading the charge in Art + Science? DaVinci? :) Thanks as always, Wayne, your posts here are treasured.