Saturday, August 08, 2009

Unlinear, unpainterly

Being artistically-challenged, I have never been good at sketching or drawing. But, to my considerable surprise, I once re-produced a Picasso classic, with fair degree of accuracy. This was made possible by a technique explained in the book, “Drawing on the right side of the brain”. A logical brain that saw a picture as an aggregate of sharp edges and clear patterns was actually inimical to the process of painting or drawing, the author pointed out. If you are drawing a face, don’t focus on the eyes and the nose, etc but on the space in between. To prove the theory, the book provided an exercise in which the learner was encouraged to keep the Picasso picture upside down and draw it. And, that’s how I re-produced the masterpiece.

Later, I signed up for a short course and the instructor ( a kid of twenty) taught me to look at objects not as objects with clear distinguishing features, but as different tones of light and shade. I managed to get a few sketches done as taught, but realized that I simply did not have whatever it takes to be able to draw on my own. Either you have it in you or you don’t. It is not something that can be learnt, I concluded.

These thoughts crossed my mind when I read about the distinction between ‘linear’ and ‘painterly’ art in this review of Georges Seurat's “Embroidery: The Artist's Mother”

The Swiss art historian Heinrich W├Âlfflin coined the distinction between what he called linear and painterly art, in order to characterise – as he saw it – one of the big differences between the art of the Renaissance and the Baroque. It's a question of perception.

The linear is "the perception of the object by its tangible character, its outlines and surfaces". The artist dwells on the shapes and boundaries of things. The painterly, on the other hand, is "a perception by way of surrendering to mere visual appearance... The artist overlooks individual things, and observes the play of light and shade."

"In the former case, stress is laid on the edges of things; in the latter, the work tends to look without edges. Seeing according to volumes and outlines isolates objects, while for the painterly eye, they merge."

Linear against painterly, touching against seeing, outline against tone, objects against blur: such a distinction applies beyond the periods of the Renaissance and the Baroque, and they are more than perceptual terms too. They are psychological or conceptual categories. They are attitudes to the world. The linear is about control, clarity, grasping, defining. The painterly is about letting go, losing your focus and grip. There are linear paintings. There are painterly drawings
What are the options open for those aspiring artists who are linearly as well as painterly challenged?

1 comment:

ramesh said...

draw ugly pictures and get your loved ones to praise them .. and thus you will be your own private picasso