Friday, July 11, 2008

So What Is this 'Art'?

In my last post I mentioned rescuing a drawing/painting that didn't include significant, realistic detail with 'art.' This was said half facetiously and half seriously. It could sound like I was saying that a work without significant detail was somehow lacking and needed 'art' to make it as presentable as a more detailed work. Many people think this, and I wouldn't be surprised if most people who like 'wildlife art' think in this way.

That was the partially facetious part of what I said. I think it's more important to think of realistic detail and 'art' as different, though not mutually exclusive, goals in art. Though there is some satisfaction for me in portraying great detail, as in the Robber Fly drawing in the last post, it is often not as strong as creating something that matches my notion of 'art.'

The three variations on a pastel and charcoal drawing of a wood duck and ducklings in this post are an example of what I'm talkng about. They are based on photos I took at Tinicum(John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia) on Memorial Day weekend, 2008. In most the ducks were a fair distance away. When I began this work it would have been difficult, but not impossible, to show much detail because the photos didn't. If I had a more developed visual memory of wood ducks in particular or just birds in general I might have been able to do so but I don't. So why bother to use them as subjects? Because it was a striking and memorable scene and something that I wanted to express on paper. AND it seemed to present an opportunity to create something 'artful.'

So 'art' is something 'artful'? Perfectly clear. Well I suppose not. Let me just say that I thought that I could do something with this subject that would end up both giving some sense of what the scene was like as I saw it and allowing me to use color, gesture and shape in such a way that I was pleased with the overall visual impression.

It began as a strictly charcoal drawing. It is possible to use tonal variety in black and white drawings to create something just as colorful as a work in color. But I didn't feel that was happening so I decided to add pastel on top of the black charcoal. This was my first use of pastel in a realistic work in many, many years. As the work developed, and reading from top to bottom here, I added some color here, removed some there, erased more here, etc. The intent was both to create something whose colors worked together to create something vibrant and to remain true, at least to a large extent, to what I had originally seen. In particular I wanted to preserve the sense of a Wood Duck and ducklings in water.

As I worked on it, it was the rearrangement of color, more than anything that I kept changing. That was the driving force in continuing to work on it. And in this case I think it was the most important aspect of the 'art.' In other drawings it may be shape, or mark, or design, or numerous other things. All of them make up 'art', and for me they are the most important part of drawing and painting. The difference in my nsturalistic art is that I also want to remain true, to some large degree, to what I originally saw.

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