Someone recently asked me about making a custom painting from a favorite photograph. It was a great photograph; that is, it was so great, that I worried a painting of it wouldn’t make it a better picture. Thinking long and deep about how to respond to the person, I had about three different trains of thought and decided it would be a good idea to write them down, as well as my response, to use as a guideline when talking to other potential clients about commissioned paintings.
At the advent of photography (stay with me), painters were afraid photography would be the end of the painting business. A couple decades later, the very modern Henri Matisse (work pictured above) replied to a subject who didn’t like his painting, “You want it to look like you? Take a photograph!” Now, no one would ever categorize Mr. Matisse a realist, but his point is important for all types of painters. A painting inherently transmutes a subject. That’s a great word that means to change its nature to something better, to elevate the subject on some level. Frankly, I think that’s why all painters paint. We zero in on an element or a feeling and see if we can show why we think it is worth painting.
So then, what makes a painting a good choice instead of a photograph? I summed it up like this: A photograph is right for capturing a moment. A painting is right for enhancing a moment. Is there overlap? Certainly. And there are different styles of photography just as there are painting. And don’t forget mixed media! There are no rules with art and--more important--with what appeals to an individual.
But when it comes to a commission, both the client and the artist have to be happy. Know that when you approach an artist with your request, she may respond to your chosen subject like Edward Hopper did to the entire American southwest, who said it was too beautiful and therefore “unpaintable.”
Later is what?
After settling into various desk jobs, I always said I'd get back to painting later in life, and later is now. Again means that I tried once before. I decided to write about my painting endeavor, too, as a learning tool, an accountability tool, and to stay sharp in case I have to go back to a desk job. Again.
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