Marc Chagall once said “Great art picks up where nature ends”. Artists know this instinctively, and many art critiques may find this is their credo. For every artist, there is a line where they allow imagination and invention to take over. This either occurs voluntarily or not; planned or not. Nature, it is said has within it all the lessons an artist needs – but I think that only applies if the definition of nature is expanded to include the artists own imagination.
Many artists use photographs as a reference in their work – a convenient scaffold from which to glean needed information. Yet, most artists also realize the limitations inherent in the information a photograph provides. Is it a good composition? Can you see any detail in the shadows? Are the proportions distorted? Are the colors accurate? These are just a few areas where a photo can differ from reality – and in most cases does. Many experienced artists can instinctively improve on the limitations of photographs – creating a painting that looks better, more aesthetic than the original photo. How can that be done?
Imagination. Copy directly from nature? or directly from a photograph? I know artists today, and have seen other artists’ paintings who use photographs exclusively as reference. The most successful of these understand a photo must be a point of reference and a point of departure. At some point, imagination, edits, invention always gets incorporated. In the same way, I know artists who work exclusively from nature. The best of these also understand imagination is a vital component in their work. A mountain gets moved for the sake of composition. A tree branch is extended to fill in an area and lend a directional line. The color key is changed. A boulder is left out. A figure is added. In this way, a painting (and I would say all real art) is a rich mash of the artists inner most thoughts – an inside out working of the artists attempt to reveal the beauty seen in something that others may have missed.