Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 14, 2017

Categorically Speaking

We love categories. As soon as we have a group of things we set about splitting them in to sub categories. Painters and paintings are no exception to this, problems arise however when the categories overlap or combine in varying proportions.

For a painting you might have categories of style, genre, medium or subject. So you can have an Expressionist portrait, a Classical, a Formal, an Impressionist, or even an Abstract portrait. Worse your Impressionist portrait might have Expressionist elements and even “lean” towards abstraction.

Historical categories are pretty straightforward. Time is linear and we can arrange our artists and their works roughly in a row like beads on a string. Difficulties arise however when we try to arrange the other possible properties of paintings upon our temporal necklace. A renaissance painting might have what in a later age we would now call Expressionist virtues. Due to the directional nature of time however we cannot allow that artist to be expressionist as Expressionism didn’t exist in the artists era.

Impressionism is particularly tricky. There are impressionistic passages in most representational paintings as it is nigh on impossible to to convey all the details in a scene so some reliance must be placed upon the viewers eye filling in the details. Artists realised well before the time of Monet that indeterminate areas added to the mystery and mood of a painting.

The difficulties might, I innocently thought,  be best shown best in a diagram.  I’m sure your excitement is unbounded by the thought of pie charts, but I have gone for that old favourite the Venn Diagram.

Diagram

This was just a dry run… so the categories themselves are arguable. It does immediately point out a problem: Are there any pure paintings that fall into the sections where the wording is? The most likely candidate is Abstract I suppose, but you could argue that there is expression in all art. So there are no paintings at all in any of the lettered segments or indeed any of the areas that don’t overlap the Abstract circle. My heart sank when I realised that most segments had no paintings in at all. A little more thought gave me the worrying conclusion that potentially none of the segments at all had any pictures in them…

So my diagram is an abject failure! You don’t seem to be able to have a picture that has only one attribute or indeed a picture that has all or a majority of them. In a way I am delighted as it shows that anyone who bandies about the word “pure” in association with such intangible subjective qualities has like me possibly not thought about the terms or the logical consequences to any degree.

I don’t have any solution to this conundrum, you can chop and change the categories, but always the same problem seems to occur. A work of art cannot contain just one of any set of attributes or indeed all of any set either. I lean towards concluding that trying to label different paintings and sort them into neat piles that have any worthwhile significance by using such terms is a meaningless activity. On the upside it means we may be able to forget about “curation” in those areas as it seems you could as well choose pictures by sticking photos on a wall and throwing darts whilst blindfolded, then make up a story about your choices afterwards. Wait a sec someone is trying to talk to me… “What do you mean, that’s how curators do it already…” “Ah right… I see…just goes to show how innocent I am of the finer points of the uber art of curation.”

It also makes me suspect that when people say painting or its brush marks are so “expressive” are not saying anything of any great consequence. If you said the same thing in slightly different terms the result might be rather insulting, “Oh your painting is so swishy and careless!” doesn’t have the same flatter value as, “Oh your painting is so expressive and free!”.

Oh well, now for some bits of plant fibre that I have carefully dirtied…

Beer, Devon, plein air, oil painting

This is a flying visit to Beer in Devon, I hadn’t really appreciated how near Devon is to me before! Lovely hazy light and lots to paint in the way of fishing boats.  I only did little 8in by 6in as I was very pressed for time. Oils.

Beer, Devon, Plein air, oil painting, fishing boat

I was lucky here, I had just set up and a boat came in. People wonder how you get something down like this when it is only there briefly. The answer is, I cheat! I very rapidly outlined the basic shape and size in a few strokes and then added stick men as they set about hauling it up the beach. I then painted the cliffs, sea and beach. Only with that all done did I decamp up to the top of the beach and do the details of the boat. It isn’t even the boat that came in as that one was between two others so I couldn’t see it from the side! 6in by 8in Oils

Lyme Regis, Dorset, oil painting

After going to Axminster to buy tools I had time to go to Lyme Regis. I rather over optimistically started a 10in by 20in but soon realised time, tide and sunlight were not in my favour. So this is a mostly a studio picture painted over the top of a plein air. Not quite finished yet as I want to glaze the buildings back a bit. Oils

Dorset, Okeford Fitzpaine, plein air, Dorset, oil painting

This is the road fro Okeford Fitzpaine near to where I live. I have frequently thought this little view was paintable and the great oak tree a marvel. The only problem being a fast road and narrow verges… I did this by wedging myself almost in the hedge. Even so the traffic was uncomfortably close especially when it consists of tractors pulling huge spiky, sticky out raking machines. Actually a fairly easy picture to paint as it consists of very few tones. I might do another with a cyclist rather than a car. You have to have something there to explain the hugeness of the tree and provide a focus. 12in by 10in Oils.

Win Green, bowl barrow, Dorset, Cranbourne Chase, plein air, oil painting

Up just after dawn to paint this. I misjudged where the sun would rise so elsewhere would probably been better.. This is Win Green the highest point of the Cranborne Chase. The clump of trees stands on an ancient bronze age bowl barrow. Just had to go for it here as the light was racing. I only was painting for 20 minutes but even in that short time everything was different. I have since softened the light effect to make it less cartoony. 14in by 10in Oils.

Win Green, plein air, dorset, oil painting

An even quicker one from Win Green! The shadows were moving so quickly I had no time at all. 15minutes and that was it. 7in by 5in Oils

Rawlesbury Camp, water colour, painting, Dorset

We have had very wet days so I did a couple of studio watercolours. This is Rawlsbury Camp which always looks lovely in evening light. 16in by 8in Watercolour.

Corfe castle, Dorset, watercolour, painting

One of the “standard” views of Corfe. I think I will go back here in the autumn as it is all bit too picture booky in the summer on a lovely day. 12in by 5in watercolour.

Corfe, Dorset, Castle, pen and ink, drawing

More Corfe, I have walked all sides but the East now. Pen and Ink.

Swanage, pen drawing, Dorset

Swanage on the same day. It was very jolly as they were having a pirate festival. Pirates all wear eyeliner nowadays for which I blame Mr Depp.

Bayeux, Normandy, pen and ink, drawing

Lastly an orphaned pen sketch that has been waiting for its foreground to be completed. This is Bayeux.

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