Today, on my last day in the Catskills, I’m painting an ordinary view of a typical Catskill stream. This will be reference material for a future Dinotopia painting. I’m trying to paint exactly what I see without relying conventional landscape formulas. The T-shirt I’m wearing is from a very small, semi-secret organization of plein air aficionados. We call ourselves the “Slaves to Nature.” The group arose in response to the notion that painting in this way is somehow slavish copying. (It also arose from the desire to have cool t-shirts.)
Of course Nature makes a slave of nobody who loves her. But she does punish us in other ways. Take the sunlight-diffusing umbrella, for instance. Over the years, sudden gusts of wind have blown it over and buckled the delicate wires. This was the last time I used it before it died.
The final painting is in oil, 8x16 inches. In the photo you can see the real scene directly behind it for comparison. The weakest part of the painting is the area on the lower right where I tried to improve on what I saw by compressing the forms. Whistler once said “Nature is nearly always wrong.” The Slaves to Nature disagree. We hold with the Russian philosopher Chernyshevsky, who said, “Art is fine, but Nature is always better.”