Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wellspring of Nature

Wellspring of Nature (thoughts on working from nature, copying famous works, and the pluses and minuses for art students. Created for the UF Art Education program)

Knife Edge Two Piece 1962-65 a colossal bronze work by the great artist Henry Moore, according to the artist was based on a tiny bird bone he discovered. Similarly it is said that he liked to walk along a beach discover fragments of shells and eroded stones, collect them and use them as the basis of his sometimes two story massive works. That nature was an inspiration for Moore’s fantastic works though well documented can sometimes be lost in the final work or at least obscured. The final process of arranging the work for public viewing, which plays upon the negative space created and the thoughtful use of patina, are both part of larger process of or evolution from tiny seashell to monumental work.

Nature as Point of Departure

I present this example as part of a larger discussion on the benefits and pitfalls of working from nature, and copying established works. Clearly nature can be a point of departure a starting point that leads the artist or art student down numerous and various paths, the final result being something radically or unrecognizable different from the original inspiration. That wandering through a natural environment can inspire or change the state of an artist aside, the forms of nature offer endless amounts of inspiration.

Forms Exist in Reality
Light and shadow, atmospheric perspective, volume, density and texture are how we perceive our world visually. The tactile clues that textures give us, used in art add a dimension that invite and fire the imagination and senses. Depth through hot and cold colors, clear and sharp forms allows for us to read 2-d space as 3-d. Shadows and shading give weight to objects dramatic lighting. Working from reality introduces the student to the visual rules of light, color, and form and lends the ability to use these rules to visually communicate.

Established Works
The benefits of copying and working from established works are two fold, allowing students to learn technique through discovery versus pedantic lessons, and introducing a part of art history through a work. Allowing students to research and seek out an artist they connect to on some level insures their personal investment and interest. As a student learns more of a particular artist and then tries to copy their work a new respect for the life story and techniques of an artist can be found.
A pitfall to this approach can be that it might be difficult for someone too accustomed to copying works to find their own voice or style. Working from famous or established works even the obscure works of other artist should therefore be limited and a personal touch should be suggested or encouraged. How can a student for example work in the style of Dubuffet but add their personal time period, experiences or contemporary voice to the work? Using the experimental textual techniques of Max Ernst for example are a nod to the artist without direct copying students can both learn of the artist and use the techniques on their own.

The Danger of Appropriation
As an exhibiting artist I have been at too many group shows with artist that, “paint just like so and so,” and still call the work their own.  Prolonged copying can produce plagurist artists that never find their own style or voice.

Changing Gears
An argument against working from nature would be that someone might have the potential to thrive in abstraction but through the confines of still life, landscape, or other forms of representation, never find themselves able to break out or change gears. Abstraction is a creative leap that many artist will never make, is this a result of too strictly working from reality? Exercises that focus on texture, color, and composition void of representation do not put subject in the way of visual communication or expression or hinder the exploration of abstraction.
I had a very traditional training working from still life, landscape and the nude, and through that process learned the rules of light and form, warm colors and cold and hopefully though an abstract artist still produce work that rings true because of it.

In closing
There are many benefits from working from reality and some from copying established, classic, or famous works. Nature in general as a source of inspiration is limitless, subject to interpretation, and can still result in works of complex imagination and vision. Focusing on the abstract elements of texture composition, pure form, and line without a subject emphasis can still lead to an understanding of the rules of light and shadow, form and volume, depth and perspective, without the baggage of representation. In the end perhaps the best approach is a balance that does not emphasize any one approach but stresses that all can used for self expression.


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