Without getting too existential, because painting for me is deeply existential (I’d be dead without it), the answer became clearer in context when YouTube began flooding the world with craft on canvas that purported to be art, and a mass misleading of what oil painting techniques actually are.
There is simply no substitute for knowing the full range of techniques and using them.
Then it became clearer again with the rush to this problematic addiction to so-called AI.
While I enjoyed YouTube establishing worldwide the notion that anyone with an internet connection can be a creator, in the field of video, no less, which until then was the domain of broadcast TV and unimaginable in reach for most people, the misinformation that YouTube engendered and promoted is depressing. Precious clarity, so scarce in the field of oil painting and art let alone in the wider public realm, was suddenly lost. In its place, at best, heavy fog. All those people who could now express themselves began learning to do so from the unlearned. The good work of YouTube undone by its mass success.
Now, AI presents a whole new dimension and severity of fine art fog.
Therefore creative clarity would be one reason for painting as I do. Of course this is just to skim the surface of determinative reasoning, yet it leads to another important reason: the world is made so much richer because of it. Who’s world? Well, mine. Yet caught on canvas one lives in hope this rich life that dives a little deeper into the wonders and magic of our world can continue to be enjoyed by others.
Even just the paint surface, so complex and interesting, provides this richness:
These are close ups of an area created with advanced techniques no large than a few centimetres. A seemingly unimportant area of the painting as it is predominantly green. Yet the painting would not thrill with visual vitality and complexity if every square speck wasn’t a rich experience of itself. Here are some more of these areas that in other paintings are simply a single colour and flat in texture:
I haven’t done this before unless there’s a photo of the finished version to show alongside it — but here it is. A a photo of an unfinished seascape that I’m working on.
Anyone who has enrolled in one of my online courses knows that a painting during its creation is a foundation. That means that what you’re seeing is not going to be the end result, obviously, but more importantly what you’re seeing doesn’t indicate the direction in which the work is going, nor the degree of artistic elements (such as in this case mist, definition, colour and visual emphases).
Colour is one of those to highlight. Being a foundation, the colours you’re seeing below drive the end result. They inform the end result. But they do not reflect the end result not dictate it. Most notably in this photo are the colours of the sea, which won’t be that cacky insipid blue green – though a perfect foundation for what they’ll become – and the mist, which here is mostly pure white. Mist will eventually have depth and artistic meaning and balance. And there may be more or less of it.
So we’ll see what it looks like when finished, and compare the two photos.
I’ve made the photo a little darker on purpose, because, as a foundation, much of it is lighter so as to capture nuances of colour as it develops.
I’d have to give it more thought, but it could well be that “contrast” is the major culprit in spreading poor knowledge about art, other than poor – or no – knowledge of techniques.
That would be contrast in colour. And contrast in tone.
Thwacking a painting with a strikingly contrasting colour dramatically alters the painting and can dramatically alter the drama: the visual impact. Many modern abstracts rely on severe contrast of colour for them to strike the eye and for the un-beknowing viewer to consider it art. Often, strong contrast alone can pull this off. Terrific if there’s more involved, but unfortunately colour contrast alone is driving the painting.
Contrast in tone has a long tradition deep into art history. Differently, here often we find paintings that vary little in colour: very little contrast and certainly colour contrast is absent in mind when viewing them. However, you’ll certainly find these paintings often (most often? always?) have deep darks and areas of bright light.
These historical paintings still carry their effect when reproduced in lithographs or books in black and white. Strip away colour from the modern work relying on colour contrast – turn it into a black and white image – and you may see very little in it at all.
Contrast in tone can sustain an entire artist’s career. When I first started painting I knew an established artist who has spent a lifetime selling works that impact the eye, gain approval, invoke accolade from a local gallery visitor, all because of tonal contrast. Heavy darks against strong lights. Instant impact; instant drama.
But that’s largely what they are: sugar hits. After the impact…nothing.
Here’s a painting I did some while ago; a theme I particularly like:
Somewhat abstract, it’s a painting of raging swells assaulting a beach, strong winds belting the dune foliage (middle left) – an occasion when nature is unleashed wildly and the air itself is indistinguishable from the sea, being shot through with hurtling rain and thrown sea water. At least, that’s the idea. It’s a creative dream subject.
However, there’s not that much contrast in tone for most of the work, nor does it rely on contrast in colour.
Here it is in black and white:
It doesn’t rely on juxtaposing or including extreme darks along with lighter lights than shown here. In other words, the contrast is at the lower end of the “light” scale and doesn’t vary hugely.
Yet the drama remains. So too, the visual impact.
To explore the theme further would involve also lessening the contrast in both colour and tone. However, the drama and visual impact would have to remain. Only knowing techniques can achieve that.
It’s a theme I wish I had another lifetime to explore, entirely on its own.