Sunday, August 21, 2011

Art Critics

Everyone’s a critic, including me. As I sat at a client’s home with their tabby cat on my lap, I studied a mural painted on and above the fireplace. The Trompe-l'œil scene depicted a tiled veranda with plants on pedestals, and a view of the hills in the distance. To create the illusion that you are looking out a window, the entire setting is surrounded by painted drapery. My own inner art critic kicked in while Charlie the cat napped on my chest.

As Charlie purred, I marveled at the drapery. It was so real I couldn’t see the edges of the fireplace wall. The clouds and sunlight in the distance were luminous. The entire scene looked soft and ethereal, almost like someone muted the colors with white powder over the whole thing.

But something about this work was really jarring. I finally identified the problem. The perspective was off on one of the pedestals. The porch tiles were accurate, the front pedestal lined up, but the back one was just a bit off, and the handrail that went down the stairs was therefore also off. Right smack in the center of the painting, the illusion was spoiled.

Then I noticed a tree in the distance. It looked like it was growing out of the flowerpot on the porch, which was in the foreground. UGH! It’s a good thing the cat woke up. I wanted to get out my brushes and fix it.

Once Charlie had removed himself to the kitchen and the comfort of a bowl of milk, I walked up to the mural and realized that the carved floral decorations and swirls on the fireplace front were not real, but painted on. I had to touch them to be sure, and I was less than a foot away.

So I have to admire this nameless artist. I’m not sure I could have done as well. But I thought of times I have sat in my show booth with my own art. People talk about your work like you’re not even there. “I could do that,” is by far the most annoying comment!

Dog Portraits
But I’ve heard some doozies. Because I paint dogs, People will critique the dog’s conformation, rather than the artist’s depiction. “Look at that awful lower jaw,” said one. Her friend answered, “I know that dog; it’s what he looks like…” One time a Pug breeder looked at one of my paintings and said, “I wouldn’t have that hanging in my house. Look at those legs, terrible hocks.” Oops. I was humbled by that comment! I wonder if I ruined his legs or his breeder did.

If I am doing a commissioned painting of a pet, I try to make it look like the actual dog while not overemphasizing any physical faults. But if I’m going to exhibit a painting, or make prints for sale, that dog better be a gorgeous show quality specimen of the breed! Then both pet and show people will like it.

Time tells
I need to get away from my art for a day or two after I sketch it, and again about half way through the painting process. When I come back to it I see any glaring flaws that I was previously blind to. A little time away keeps me from painting a tree growing out of someone’s head. Major flaws, like putting eyes too low on the head, are easier to fix before you start painting than when you are half way through.

I have made all these mistakes and more. I am ruthless these days. I can go back in and completely paint out a section and redo it, where I used to be afraid I’d ruin the entire thing. I also am sure that if I don’t get the eyes right, the entire painting doesn’t work.

And the biggest test: I am happy if I can go back to a painting a year later and still be happy with it. 

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© 2011 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.