A Painter's Imagination

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. 


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