The ongoing concern about painting photographs.

Posted by Michael Best on November 27, 2014 0 Comments

The concern about botanical art being produced exclusively from a photograph instead of a natural specimen, is not going away. The traditional two-part process of intense observational drawing followed by the painting of colour is being undermined. Yet another renowned artist recently expressed concern that some students of botanical art are being taught to by-pass observational drawing by copying photographs. She noted that it is resulting in artworks that are actually paintings of photographs which all appear to have been painted by the same person.

The appear-to-have-been-painted-by-the-same-person concern has been unintentionally demonstrated by one teacher who handed prints of a photograph of a strawberry to every participant in the class and had them paint it. The result which was proudly displayed on a web site was exactly as one would expect- every strawberry appeared to have been painted by the same person. How could one expect anything different from an exercise in photo reproduction with no room for interpretation or personal style? 

An art newsletter recently reminded its readers of something that has been known for many years. For the past 82 years the Walt Disney studio has offered its artist employees free life drawing classes. The reasoning is that capturing the anatomy and sense of movement from a live model improves all the other artistic skills. In life drawing, as in botanical art, accomplished artists know there is a connection between the artist and the three-dimensional model or specimen that isn't there in a flat photograph. How can an artist realize the sense of structure and perspective and how to render it in his or her own distinctive style if painting a photograph?

This gallery site will continue to champion the cause of observational painting in the long-held tradition of botanical art. The achievement of a level of skill that enables a botanical artist to accurately render a two-dimensional interpretation of a three-dimensional specimen, is something to be revered. I agree with those who argue that avoiding the level of skill required for observational painting should be noted by classifying the work as 'photographic botanical art'- a lesser artistic achievement.     

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