Learning to See – how to look at a painting

Learning to See

“Mary Cassatt at the Louvre” 1880 pastel by Edgar Degas

“Mary Cassatt at the Louvre” 1880
pastel by Edgar Degas

Sara Genn writes a blog that was started by her deceased father, Robert Genn.  I thought our customers might find it interesting to learn about how an artist creates a realistic versus an impressionistic painting.  Sara writes:
I recently returned from traveling to find a pile of mail gems, many from readers of these letters. One was a gift of a small paperback postmarked Crescent Pond, New Hampshire. I crawled into bed and into a list of timeless painting tips ordered by importance, the essentials highlighted and supported with first-hand insights from old and modern masters.Sara Genns writes a blog that was started by her father.  I thought this article might interest our customers with regard to looking and seeing a painting.  She writes:
Painters of classical realism employ this list as the backbone of good painting. However, what could be mistaken for the techniques of a niche are in fact the foundation of all visual art, and while these basics have been almost completely edged out of the art school circuit, an aspiring painter can still independently mine golden nuggets from classical painting to produce work of deeper knowledge and skill, regardless of style or stripes.
When I sat down at my first potter’s wheel at age twelve, my teacher said, “You are putting on your first pair of skis, and you do not yet know how to ski.” And so tonight I started again at the beginning. There are two fundamental approaches to realistic painting, the book began: An academic renders each item in detail, inserting her knowledge of anatomy, colour, religion, myth, and history as an enhancement to what she sees with her own eyes. While this idealism delivers the details of nature with accuracy, it isn’t necessarily the truth. An impressionist, by comparison, grabs the whole subject at once and paints a broad, visual experience of it. She honours the poetry of the human eye and its cherry-picking of colour, nuance and focus. The impressionist forgets what she knows in order to paint what she sees.
The notebook then broke into sections to clarify the academic principles of drawing and composition. Design, proportion, visual unity, spotting, simplification, rhythm, eye control, edgemanship and carrying power, plus light and reflected light, shadows, highlights and accuracy of values and shapes were laid out like a set of life-saving lug nuts. Then began an item-by-item exploration of what makes a painting a visual “impression,” and why. “The artist sees objects as smudges of warm and cool colours of different shapes and values and having only a suggestion of detail. He sees the edges of objects fuse in places to form broader and simpler masses of light and shadow.” (Richard WhitneyPainting the Visual Impression)
“The secret is to follow the advice the masters give you in their works while doing something different from them.” (Edgar Degas)
Sincerely, Sara