This is a continuation of a theme I began last night.
1) I will stand in front of the painting and look at it as an abstract, as "only an arrangement of lines and colors that set one another off".
2) Then I tend to think about what time in history this thing was painted.
3) I look at how the thing was made. Ives Gammell, my first mentor once told us to "jerk out the drawers and see if it is well made!"
A PAINTING HAS NO REASON TO EXIST OTHER THAN THAT IT BE WELL MADE!
I appraise its worksmanship, this would be all of the decisions that the artist made. I include in this, design, drawing, color, and surface. Pictures must be crafted into existence, just having an idea for a painting won't put it on to the canvas. That crafting is as much or more a part of the art than its subject. So I examine that craftsmanship carefully.
- Is the drawing convincing (that is a different thing than accurate) does the design intrigue me?
- Do the colors relate to one another in an interesting, exciting, moving or unexpected way? Is there light in the painting?
- Does the painting "hang" together or is it several paintings on the same canvas jostling for my attention? Does anything jump out and bother me?
- Is there paint handling, and if so is it interesting?
- Do I see brushwork, is it expressive of the form of the subject. Is that handling fluid, beautiful, assured and eloquent?
- How was the painting built, is it on a brown ground with glazes, or is it straight paint in an impressionist manner?
- Is it ambitious, a tour de force, or is it a little gem? Does it thrill me with its refinement or is it full of meaningless detail that is complicated but not interesting?
- Is the worksmanship overbearing, is there more flash than substance? Every pictures' worksmanship says something, sometimes only "look what a clever guy I am!".
- Is it loose or tight painting? Both are good, this is not a question of valuing one over the other, however, each type has it's successes and failures. A loose painting can be merely sloppy and poorly drawn, or a tight painting can be matter of fact and uninteresting, less than the sum of its parts.
- Are there exciting technical moves in the painting? Was part of it done with a knife, is that dogs' tail really just one broad stroke, is the girls' gown that appears so complex and detailed, merely a magical slashing assemblage of brushstrokes that assemble at viewing distance? In other words, am I intrigued or fascinated by the application of the paint? Rembrandt has lots of this, so does Sargent. When this type of painting is weak it is just flashy, and the brushwork is more overbearing that descriptive.
- Or does the painting have an enameled perfection like a Bouguereau or an Ingres, this kind of painting can be awe inspiring too. When this goes wrong, it is slick looking or too photographic in its appearance.
- If the painting is supposed to have depth or distance, does that work? If it is deliberately flattened like a mural, does it form beautiful decorative patterns?
- Is the painting full of interesting shapes of great variety?
- Does the color look clean, or glowing, is it light and ethereal? Is it luminous or dead? What do I think about the color?
- When I like a painting I always find myself wanting to go home and make one using the same ideas that impressed me when I saw it. If I feel that way. I know it has "touched" me.