Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What do you SEE?

There are things you can look at and then there are things that you need to SEE…really see.

We should have classes in how to see when we are very young – they used to try, we were taken to the natural history museum but few people are qualified to actually train another person how to look at something.

I always thought ‘art appreciation” was a strange name for a class.

How do you teach someone to appreciate something?

I suppose a criminal locked up long enough learns to appreciate their freedom and someone who has never had good cooking and suddenly is exposed to good cooking can appreciate that one dish may be prepared better than another …but art is such a personal experience.

I guess I learned to appreciate the work that goes into various “art” pieces and techniques but it is subjective on my part and as I’ve said previously what I like is not necessarily what the “experts” find wonderful.

Seeing happens…you have to want it to happen and if you do, it will.

It’s a matter of looking at a sunset and not seeing a sunset but rather the delicate assemblage of colours and shapes that make up the scene before you.

You look at a piece of fruit and you start to see apples as not just red, green or yellow but made up of many very delicate values and colours in a wide range.

The closer the play of values you can discern the better you have learned to see.
I was trying to teach my nephew once about composition and tonality in black and white photography, we were out shooting bits of this and that around town.

At one point I saw that the shadow something created was more intriguing than the very complex item that made the shadow.

A reflection can be far more interesting than that which is reflected.

Fragments arranged carefully exceed the value of the whole.

The Hudson River school of art taught people of the time how to appreciate a spectacular view in one glance. There is a “too muchness” to it as beautiful as it all may be.

I prefer a close up to a wide angle in many cases but then I look at what Stanley Kubrick did with BARRY LYNDON…

Barry Lyndon is not a very good movie mostly because Ryan O’Neil is terribly cast in his part.

Marissa Berenson hardly says a word but looks as if she stepped out of a painting from the period, she didn’t need to act. Poor Ryan on the other hand doesn’t act very well and despite being handsome just seems uncomfortable and silly…STILL…

There are long shots in Barry Lyndon that make you catch your breath mixed with close-ups that are equally wonderful and filled with detail and subtlety.

The film has been called “painterly”.

I think there are a number of films that fall into this genre of being glorious eye candy.

Today we are so busy trying to figure out what parts are CGI that we hardly have a chance to enjoy the grandeur of a vista or the delicacy of a detail.

I wonder if THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (film with Daniel Day Lewis) was really appreciated for the complexity of its details.

How many films take time to lovingly wander down a well set table, examine a delicate diamond pin or linger over the art on the walls of a room where the action is taking place?

There’s a famous Bougereau heavily featured in the film as well which immediately gives whoever had the good taste to include high kudos.

ART today has stopped being about grand vistas.

I’m not sure I totally understand the trends but some of it I find fetching indeed, some of the things that are being done grab me and spin me around in a way that is absolutely unique to NOW.

Someone witty once said that a portrait is “a painting of someone with something wrong with the mouth”.


A portrait can tell you a great deal about the subject if it is done well.

Do an image search on U S Presidential portraits…it’s a fascinating commentary on art over a couple hundred years in America.

The portrait of Kennedy stands out…it seems to speak about him as a contemplative man some of the later paintings seem to belong on postcards…perhaps that was the intent.

Salvador Dali was an artist that loved to have his portrait done and loved to do portraits-it makes another interesting search for a lazy afternoon to peruse both…his portrait of Mae West is especially interesting.

So this post was about Seeing, learning to see…in writing it I learned that I have many ideas about many ways of seeing so the best I can do is suggest some things for you to look at as I have done.

An Amsel Adams photograph may never replace the actual viewing of the Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon but it will help you toward a new way of looking at or seeing either just as a Georgia O’Keefe painting is yet another view of the desert distilled through an artist’s eye.

Next time you see a very ornate painting try to look at the details and not the entirety of the composition…there are many fine painting that could be cut into several smaller pieces that would be superior to the whole.

In an earlier piece I wrote about my teacher Rachel Ulrey; I was doing a watercolour of a street scene, tenements in a row, very advanced for me.

She suggested that a study of one window might be a better place to start-the irony of which was lost on me for many years…everything starts with a single step not a tap dance routine.

What I have said to my students is this: look for a single flower in deep shadows, much harder to find than a daisy in a field of daisies…it’s about stopping, carefully looking and finally seeing.

Gallery of presidential portraits:

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