Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The discourses of Joshua Reynolds 3

Someone in the comments asked where I was today, where's Monday's post? Well... There actually was one, just like every single day for over 600 days (OK, I missed two when I was traveling and couldn't get on the internet) but it was marked as Sunday. I write the blog the night before and then after I publish it, I go back in and set the date for the next day. I forgot to do that for two days running. So it only looked like I missed a day.

I am planning a workshop, in about three weeks in Acadia, that's is on Mt. Desert, (Bar Harbor) in Maine. I have been working out the details with a campground here. I know that's short notice, but I had the opportunity and I liked the idea of doing it at a campground. Lodging will be super cheap. Bring a tent.There is a real motel close by if you don't feel like roughing it. I have spent almost the whole summer painting in Acadia and various places in Maine and I want to do that with a group, I do love the social aspect of leading a workshop. It will be the usual total immersion thing. I will give you more details tomorrow. e-mail me if you are interested, I will post a sign up form over the next few days.

Here again, is a passage from Reynolds, several of you have remarked on the difficulty of his language. Remember this was written in 1769, that's before the American revolution. Napoleon was born that year and Marie Antoinette was 13 years old. The first Spanish missions in California were being founded.

The detail of particulars which does not assist the expression of the main characteristic is worse than useless, it is mischievous, as it dissipates the attention and draws it from the principal point. It may be remarked that the impression which is left on our mind even of things which are familiar to us, is seldom more than their general effect, beyond which we do not look in recognising such objects

Here is my "translation".
Little details and descriptions of specific but minor features of a subject, are more than ineffective, they are detrimental.. They draw attention away from the subject. Even things and places that are very familiar to us and we are unaware of their details, recognizing them because of their"big look".

If we examine with a critical view the manner of those painters whom we consider as patterns, we shall find that their great fame does not from their works being more highly finished than those of other artists, or from a more minute attention to details, but from that enlarged comprehension which sees the whole object at once, and that energy of art which gives its characteristic effect by adequate expression.

If we look at the painters who we take as examples ton ourselves, we find that their fame is not because their work is tighter or more painstakingly rendered than than other painters. Instead their work is broader and the whole subject is seen as a whole and simply, and that "big look" presents the artists subject most effectively.Reynolds is again calling for large simple presentation of the subject , rather than a feverish description of its minute details.

So far is my disquisition from giving countenance to idleness, that is nothing in our art which enforces such continual exertion and circumspection, as an attention to the general effect of the whole. It requires much study and much practice; it requires the painter's entire mind: whereas the parts may be finishing by nice touches while his is engaged on other matters he may even hear a play or a novel without much disturbance.

I have no intention of speaking approvingly of laziness. There is nothing that is as much work as getting the "big look" of nature. That requires the painters entire mind to do. Little details and finishing can be done even while distracted, such as when listening to a play or a novel. In other words Reynolds describes painting details as busywork and not requiring the full abilities and focus of the artist.

All of these passages have in common a call for largeness of vision, for seizing upon the appearance of nature in the broadest possible manner, rather than as an accumulation of carefully rendered yet meaningless detail. While Reynolds text points to examples from the Italians, like Titian, this broad vision is also found in painters who lived long after him, like Monet, Hopper or Homer, whose work is broadly painted rather than bristling with nonessential detail.

Tomorrow I will move on to more Reynolds but I will focus on a different subject, I have devoted several nights now to his call for broad vision.


Jesse Hamm said...

I think readers here will find Reynolds' writing easier to understand if you transcribe it more carefully. I noticed several points in the quotes above where you left out words and punctuation.

Otherwise, good blog. I've been enjoying your posts.

mariandioguardi.com said...

When I have a student, I tell them: anyone can paint an eyelash...but not everyone can paint an eye. It's my way of saying study and get the big forms down. I had a teacher who would call a the little distracting detail "litter".

Bill said...

He seemed like such a stuffed shirt when I read this stuff as an undergraduate, but now he sounds pretty wise. As I recall, there was some stuff about how certain types of painting such as history painting are superior to genres such as still life - is that memory correct? I think I've seen it cited as being somewhat ironic given that Reynolds was primarily a portraitist.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sorry about that, for some reason when I clip from the text online it leaves out words and punctuation. I can't copy from the text, it has a Clip function only, and that is inaccurate.I fixed some last night, and missed some.I think I have got the blog corrected.Sometimes I write the blog tired after a long day and I miss typos.

Bill said...

You could try switching to the "plain text" function, but I think that runs on OCR, so it's now without flaws, either.

Philip Koch said...

Reynolds point about seeing the big picture is huge. Can't tell you how many times I've cringed in front of badly done photo-realist paintings that tell you everything in an equally loud voice.

I have seen photo-sourced paintings done well, sometimes done VERY well, but I often think they've been done by someone who's spent a lot of time examining the work of the old painters from the 19th century and before.

It all comes down to having a hierarchy of importance in your work. Rembrandt, and Georgia O'Keefe have that. And they're great teachers to us living artists.

billspaintingmn said...

Once translated, this Joshua Reynolds has good advice.
Stape, your helpful guidence and blab is truely an inspiration.
(with all due respect, Thanks!)

Todd Bonita said...

I would love to go camping and painting in Bar Harbor with you and a gang of artist, that sounds real fun. I'll be swamped at the end of the month unfortunately but I will be actively wishing I could be there with you. That camp sight is in a great spot too. I'm sure it will be a blast. I hope to join you some day.
All the best,

Scott Boyle said...

I am enjoying your discourses on Reynolds. Sometime it would be great to hear a similar series on John Ruskin's Modern Painters!

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's a good way to put it. I like the eyelash metaphor.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That idea was the norm during that era.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will try that next.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will go with Rembrandt, Georgia O'Keefe never caught my interest.But you know how Presbyterian I can be.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is kind of peculiar translating English into English isn't it?

Stapleton Kearns said...

To bad, I think it will be a lot of fun. I will announce the particulars tomorrow.

Rick Dickinson said...

Thanks for the Reynolds translations and especially thanks for your recommendation of Paul Ingbretson during Lupine World. I'll begin study in his studio in September.