ESSAY EIGHT A DOG IS A DOG
If you were challenged to make a copy of a Springer Spaniel puppy’s photograph, many of us would throw up our hands in defeat. Even if we tried, we would soon see that it didn’t look enough like a spaniel (or perhaps even a dog) to allow a neutral observer to recognize it. Painful proof of our total lack of talent and ability.
Let’s look a bit closer. Imagine a dog training book with a beautiful, high-resolution photograph of the spaniel, in full color. Wow, it is so realistic, it looks as if it would jump out of the pages of the book and race around your living room. Of course if it did, it would be only three inches high (it’s a book illustration, remember)! It would feel like slick, coated paper, have no doggy smell, makes no sound, and if you turn it over to look at his other side, there is text telling you how to house-break your pet. It is not real; it has virtually no attributes of anything canine - it is an abstraction! Our culture has taught us to buy into a photograph’s reality, but it is no more a dog than a photo of a lavish dinner spread is nourishing.
If, all that you want is a graphic representation of a spaniel, by all means take a high-resolution photo. It will help identify the particular dog, and can also be utilized to distinguish a spaniel from a chow or a terrier, (and certainly from an elephant or a goldfish). It is not art, but it is convenient and helpful. The detail, proportion, and faithful reproduction of texture and color are a function of what cameras do. This is a skill that some artists and illustrators admire, and they are willing to put in the long hours of practice required to learn ‘photo realism.” In its highest form it is called “trompe l’Oeil” Check out: http://www.ericgrohemurals.com/projects.html
We are seduced by the “reality” that cameras portray, into thinking that they are real. They aren’t, and one of the challenges that a photographer (who also want to be an artist) faces, is to get past the seemingly real, to the underlying truth beneath, and to the unique and personal viewpoint and vision of the artist photographer. If you would like to see a wonderful example of a young photographer who has transcended the analytical eye of her camera and produces beautifully evocative, personal images of her landscape and her daughter, visit a Canadian blogger Suzana, http://www.flickr.com/photos/zama-zan/ Yes, they are technically quite good, but more importantly, her humanity, her vision and her soul are also part of each image.
If it is not reality that we are attempting, what is an artist suppose to portray? The answer is in the above paragraph – go past the real, to find the truth. If you want to recapture what a dog is all about, remember the wonderful times you and your dog used to have when you were a child, and give yourself permission to attempt to capture the frenzy, the color, the kinetic energy and love, warmth and excitement that those memories elicit. All art is abstraction, not reality, and you are free to represent your own imagination in any short hand set of shapes, colors and textures that you wish.
I’d like to leave you with some thoughts before the next posting:
SEEKING THE CORRECT ANSWER IS NOT AT ALL LIKE SPECULATING ABOUT THE QUESTIONS UNASKED.
WONDERING PROVIDES INSIGHT UNDREAMED OF BY KNOWING.
TRY LOOKING BEHIND, UNDERNEATH OR NEXT TO WHAT IS TRYING TO ATTRACT YOUR ATTENTION.
THE PERSON WHO IS LOST OFTEN DISCOVERS MORE THAN THE PERSON WHO KNOWS WHERE SHE IS.
A CORRECT ANSWER PROVIDES CLOSURE, BUT FOR THE ARTIST, NOT KNOWING THE ANSWER CAN OPEN NEW VISTAS.
Please leave your comments, criticisms or suggestions. Thanks!