Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"A beginning artist borrows. A mature artist steals."

I wish I could remember the source of that quotation.

Students of painting, drawing, and sculpture (at least those who are training in the classic tradition) spend a lot of time copying the works of the masters -- or at least the competent.   This practice obviously develops the student's skill with the chosen medium but it also forces the student to spend a lot of time looking at works that are deemed by somebody or other to be worthy of study.  They see, and hope to reproduce, not only how the work was executed but how it was organized and how the content was presented.   They are educating their eye as well as their eye-hand skills.

I wonder if budding abstract expressionist painters copy the works of Phillip Guston, Wilem de Kooning, et al?   If so, what are they looking for?  But I digress.

Here's a speculation.  Why don't students of photography do this?  Photography classes are rich in camera handling, darkroom or computer technique but short on looking at photographs and, especially, trying to understand how masterful (by some standard or other) photographs were made -- or how masterful works in other mediums were made.  Apart from the completely specious "Oh I don't want to be influenced by the work of other photographers." there are certainly some practical matters that legislate against trying to copy a master work -- if your goal is to copy Paul Caponigro's "Megaliths" then a trip to Stonehenge is in order.  However, studying how the light falls on the stones in Caponigro's print might be good start for photographing concrete pillars under a freeway.

This speculation floated to the surface after my second failed attempt to take a portrait posed and lighted in the manner of "The girl with a pearl earring."  I got closer the second time.

It's not easy.  In fact it's harder than I thought it was going to be.  It seems so simple -- place a pretty girl about four feet from a north-lit window or a big soft box with the camera at right angles to the window light, put a reflector behind and above her to bounce some light on her hair, ask her to turn her shoulder slightly beyond the camera's sight-line and turn her head and eyes towards the camera.  Bang!  You're done.  Or not. 

Yes, that makes a pleasant portrait.  No, it is not a convincing replica of Vermeer's studio light and pose.  Better luck next time.

This has been such a challenge and so much fun that I'm going to select several other portraits that I admire and try to reproduce the look-and-feel of them.  The next is Cartier-Bresson's portrait of John Paul Sartre on the Pont Neuf in Paris.  It's getting towards fall and we should have some foggy days shortly.

1 comment:

  1. http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/03/06/artists-steal/