Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How We See

It seems inevitable that every time I write about avoiding the effects of photography in art I see something, generally using the optical devices of binoculars or scope, that shows something in nature of such beauty that I want to portray it just as it is, without any stylization or any other artistic modifications.

Such was the case when I saw this Field Sparrow yesterday at Andorra Meadows in Philadelphia. More and more I'm struck by the subtle beauty of sparrows. I had such a hard time just seeing this sparrow that I never thought about doing a developed sketch, though I did two quick field sketches from memory a few minutes after seeing him. They and one successful photo from yesterday are the basis of this small 5x7 inch watercolor.

I'm a bit off on the colors The gray in the head is lighter and more subtle. It is a truly beautiful bird. But I wonder how much of my  reaction is due to the fact that my vision of it is based on a magnified view, 8x in my binoculars and 18x in my small Lumix camera. You have to wonder about artists who didn't have such technical help from optical devices. How did they see nature? Audubon of course shot his subjects so that he could examine them closely. But he'd also seen them enough in nature to know that they should be painted in  animated poses, not the stiff ones of dead birds. He wasn't cowed by detail.

I only bring this up because I really  don't understand the mania for photographic realism in wildlife art. My  reaction is: deadly dull! What at insult to the beauty and vitality of wildlife. When I looked at this Field Sparrow yesterday I thought maybe I had a clue as to the motivation. The subtlety of tones, color, pattern in birds seen at high magnification is seductive, like the Sirens. Perhaps it's the beauty revealed through advanced optics that makes some artists helpless in the face of photographic detail. That's all they can see. It has captivated them, like the Sirens.


Jay said...

Great post. I really enjoyed your thoughts on this subject. Most of my art is drawn from photographs, although I use my artist's license a lot. I certainly don't strive for photo realism.
I just recently started my own art blog called "The Naturalist's Art"
Checki it our of you get a chance. Most of my followers are fly fishing blogger friends. I'd love to have the thoughts of another artist on some of the work I've posted.

Ken Januski said...

Thanks Jay,

I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I'm always thinking it seems about the place of photography in art, particualrly wildlife art.

I took a brief look at your blog and immediately noticed your reference to Matisse. He's someone I often try to get into my work.

I think it's a difficult task melding abstract art with naturalisctic/wildlife art but it can be done. I just finished a new book about artist Bob Kuhn and he mentioned how he was influecnced by the colors of Mark Rothko among others. To me his work shows a very strong appreciation for the abstract even though the subject is often 'big game.'

Best wishes for success in your art and your blog.