Manet, Olympia, courtesy artrenewal.org
An example of how a great painter can design a figure painting so it is not some chick with no pants on. The difference between noble beauty, and vulgarity is DESIGN.
A fine painter sent me this question via email yesterday, I will answer it in tonights post.
I agree with some of the things you say but only to a point. Here is my problem, I see too often the description you use to justify a painters lack of sensitivity and ability.
“Why does that tree look like a frog?”
“Oh, I designed it to go with the bushes that look like sheep.”
Why did you paint those mountains pure dioxinine purple?
Oh well I could paint the subtle gray violet they really were so I designed them to be more colorful to express their mood better.
At what point do you just stay inside and make everything up to be exactly what you want it to be like a Wolf Kahn with purple grass and yellow trees?
Any concept in painting can be pushed until it becomes ridiculous. I think the artificiality of some of the depression era painters like Thomas Hart Benton and John Stuart Curry, are examples of design in the landscape pushed until all naturalism is lost. But these were skillful painters who pursued an artistic extreme that became a dead end. There were others who had similar stylization's who I think kept them in check and produced better art. Reginald Marsh, OK I know I am out on a limb here and Paul Manship for example.
This may sound a little like zen, but there is a balance needed with most artistic ideas. In fact a lot about artistic decision making is about balance. For instance observation makes a painting have truth, but a slavish copying of nature is dull and artless. There is a balance that needs to be hit between natures color and the artistic tweaking that a painter might do to make a more evocative image.
However the examples you cite, and anyone who has taught a workshop will remember teahing some of these artists. These students lack the skill to do an adequate painting, the integrity to admit it, and the wisdom to learn from a teacher who offers useful advice. For the most part we as teachers are too polite to call them on their deception, so we smile and shine them on. In a serius atelier they would be confronted by their fellow students and eer ressure would either correct their attitude or drive them out.The massive workloads in an atelier would generally not be accetable to a student like this anyway.
This attitude is a defense against instruction. What are you as a teacher to say to that? It is usually a sort of self satisfied lethargy, if they really believe that. I smile and offer some useful comment for them to ignore and then go on to another student who IS open to instruction.
The majority of amateurlandscape painters work in the studio and not outside. I think that is the most common reason students fail to progress I always tell them
LEARNING TO PAINT LANDSCAPES FROM A PHOTOGRAPH IS LIKE LEARNING TO SWIM AT HOME ON THE SOFA.
Most of those who choose to paint like Wolf Kahn do so because they are terrified at the prospect of having to learn drawing. They see Wolf and think, I can do that, and then I wont have to learn how to draw. The great majority of people are not going to be willing to do what it takes to became a knowledgeable painter. They shear off into a schtick that will allow them to be an artist without having to learn the hard stuff. Dont let this happen to you. Learn the hard stuff and then forget it if you find it useless, which you wont. The great majority of would be artists, get a simple schtick and stay with it, so they can claim to be an artist without doing the really hard stuff.