Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Photograph and the Drawing


Why does a drawing appeal so differently to our minds than a photograph? Do we feel a kinship because we know that reality has been filtered through the human eye and the human hand?

From Freehand Perspective and Sketching, by Dora Norton, 1914.

15 comments:

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

I really, really dislike when someone tells me a piece "looks just like a photograph." That feels like a failure to me. I try to push right up towards the point where you can't tell the difference, but then I step back a little, so that you can see a person made the work. Otherwise, what's the point?

A drawing or painting has that element of mystery. You know (or think) that everything in a photo is "real", but you don't know that about the artwork. Did the artist invent that person, or do they really exist? If I look all around the painting, will I find a fantastical element that could never be? Artwork engages the imagination in ways that snapshots can't.

Greg Newbold said...

I agree with Ernest. The intriguing thing about a drawing or painting is knowing that someone made it, seeing the hand of the individual. Also, the camera is not selective. I will capture everything that reflects any amount of light back to it. The eye on the other hand chooses what is important and interesting and that is what makes it onto the paper.
I too have had many people tell me my work is so great and that "it looks like a photo". I have to just take it as a compliment since a comparison to photography is probably their only frame of reference. It is likely that they may not be well versed enough in art to make any legitimate comparisons to artists, therefore they fall back to what everyone is familiar with- the photograph.

MrCachet said...

I get that reaction all the time, which is the very reason I isolate mg subject from the platform - it forces people to ask, "How did you do that"? I think that's what sets off an artist from a Word Painter (or musician), although I do admire those who can bring a story to life right there in my brain. I think of myself as a story teller, plain and simple.

My Pen Name said...

Ernest, I understand how you feel, but i have found that its usually a way of expressing admiration of skill because many people - even some artists! are unaware people are capable of drawing realistically...

I think a good drawing or painting - incorporates the entire experience of being there, something I don't think a photo can do, or painting from a photo- (unless you bring something into it)

lubovart said...

Painting plein air become passion of mine after realization that it is not just the process of depiction but the conservation of the moment in life. When I take a photo I have no recollection of the present moment, when I paint I preserve the smell, the temperature and the mood I was in at that moment. Thank you for reminding that the artist always bring his or her personality into yhe scene depicted.

Cindy Skillman said...

A drawing looks more like something in a story. It invites me in (or repels me). Sure, I may look at a beautiful photograph of a landscape and have a desire to go to that place, but with a drawing, "that place" always seems somehow a thing of magic and unobtainable desire.

Norman Boyd said...

I was looking at some work by Ravilious and Bawden yesterday and thinking why do I prefer their interpretations to the comparable photos, and it was exactly that. It's their interpretations - their feelings towards a scene, their memories - not just a B&W or colour 'still life'. I love photos, but do feel that drawings, paintings, prints based on a scene give me more - I need to find what they saw in their view. When I crack that code (or mystery - as the above says) I join them in their enjoyment and of course I create my own interpretation then - even if only in my mind's eye!

Nick said...

What I find interesting with that photo is that it's abstracted a lot of detail that has been put back in to the picture via the drawing.

I usually see examples of the opposite, where the artist has the abstract the overwhelming visual information from the photo/life.

Keith Russell said...

I have a great admiration for photographers, and there is definitely room for photography in the world. (Photojournalism, for example, can do things no drawing or painting possibly can...)

For me, no photograph is "really" real. I know what Stalin did to photographs with an airbrush, and I have worked as a photoretoucher, using airbrushes to do the same things.

What intrigues me about painters like Gerhard Richter or Richard Estes, is how much their work is (often) based on photography, and yet how different from photographs their paintings actually are.

I am really resistant to the notion that one particular FORM of art is "better" than another, any more than a "style" or "movement" of art is somehow superiour.

william said...

I think there is also a textual element that most art has, a tactile quality that appeals to us humans. Remember we learn not just by viewing but also by listening and touching. Even though (I hope) you don't go around a gallery feeling up artwork, just seeing the lines in the painting from the brush, the dimples on the art paper, the strokes of the pencil. It adds that additional sensory element....or I could just be babeling, it is almost 12:00 :)

Red.Badger said...

'... reality has been filtered through the human eye and the human hand... ' and it hasn't when photography is used as a medium?

Photography is an art medium like any other; used badly or well; for a purpose, allowing practitioners to create images different to that of other mediums.

As for a photograph depicting reality; what is seen here: http://www.pjm-artandphotography.co.uk/portfolio/atmosscape/ATMOS_1280_small.jpg ?
Rhetorical question:)

James Gurney said...

Red.Badger, of course I'm not suggesting that photography is not an art form--I was just looking through the photographs of Robert Frank, which certainly give a sense of the unique viewpoint of the artistic vision behind the lens.

But traditional drawings are different because they have to be created through the channel between the eye, the mind, and the hand making marks. Now, with all the hybrid photo-editing and digital media, perhaps the line between the two art forms has become more of a gradation than a gulf.

David Teter said...

To the original question 'Why does a drawing appeal so differently to our minds than a photograph?'

We could just as easily reverse the two in the question and we may have to rethink it... but I do remember learning that a photo does not in fact record everything indiscriminately, (just look at the nostrils of the nose, very often they are black in photos). This is part of why it is another art form really.

We, or at least the average person, implicitly trust a photo as being 'the real thing' so it may appeal differently to our minds on that basis.

Drawing we immediately accept as being created so we examine it differently.

Nowadays of course with digital photography blurring the line further, as James says, and an ever increasing savvy public (magazine retouching scandals) that perception may be is changing.

It could also be that the average person can far easier snap their own photo of a person for example but not make their own drawing of the same. So there is a certain wonder and amazement that goes with it.

How many times have you heard someone say... 'I can't even draw a stick figure'.

Khaiya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Khaiya said...

An artist can make the image an idealized reality. They can emphasize the focal point, and leave out things that don't contribute to the thought or idea behind the image!