Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Slow Art

Yesterday's post included this line by Augustus Saint-Gaudens: "A good thing is no better for being done quickly."

This prompted a very interesting rhetorical question by portrait painter Ilaria Roselli del Turco:  "But is a good thing any better for being done slowly?"

Have a look at this video "A Slow Art" by art critic Robert Hughes and let me know what you think.


Sean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

At the far end of the spectrum, we have Billy Pappas spending eight and a half years -- full time -- creating a graphite portrait of Marilyn Monroe. There's a short video about it half way down this link. The lens he wears for magnifying his view of the workspace is an OptiVisor, standard equipment for wood engravers:


Eileen said...

Thank God someone has put words to what I've been thinking and feeling for such a very long time. And thank you, Jim, for posting it. Different truths, that nails it.

Stu Pond said...

This gives me a chance to have a good whinge . . .

As a graphic designer, whose year at our art school was the the last to be taught without a computer for design/artwork (we did use BBC micros and Apple II's a couple of times) I have a real bee in bonnet about this. Younger commercial designers often cannot draw at all, citing the fact they can realise their ideas faster on a computer and they don't need to draw, but this is delusion, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what drawing is.

As Hughes says in that excellent clip, drawing is about so much more than getting an image down on paper. It is an end itself rather than a means to an end and I believe it is essential that any artist, commercial or otherwise keeps a sketchbook and draws (I wrote a post about this on my blog at Paleo Illustrata: http://paleoillustrata.blogspot.com/2011/06/why-sketchbooks-are-essential.html). Sketchbooks are treasure houses of ideas and thoughts; a visual record of our daily lives, both corporeal and creative, a chance to check, for a brief moment, the evanescence of thought and feeling, of the very moment itself.

Heck, I don't think you even need to be able to draw well (although you will get better of course, if you practice) as long as you make it the foundation of the creative process, whatever you're creating.

Catherine said...

It is nice have such well-articulated arguments in favor of slow art. Faster art does seem to be the current prevailing emphasis.

But as in most things, I do not think it is either-or. It depends on the person. It seem that some can pull off good art better if they do it quickly, rather than laboring over it slowly/for a long time.

There is a balance each artist must find between too fast and too slow. A piece shouldn't be rushed but neither should it be overworked.

Mihai Radu said...

Our graphic design college teacher actually told us that photography is rendering realistic painting obsolete. And basically we were supposed to embrace that thought, focus on abstract shapes, deform or interpret stuff, and not worry about 'correct' drawing.

Many people did embrace this ideea, probably feeling relieved that they don't have to go through years of training, and just do WHATEVER in the name of art.

I felt really dissapointed that such a distinction was made in the first place between photography and painting, and all the more so because it felt that we were taking the wrong side...

Erik Bongers said...

In an interview, Belgian comic book artist Francois Schuiten, who often works 4 or 5 days on a single page, says that the longer he works on it, the better it gets "it is as if the work seems to capture the time you spend on it."
Watch the interview in French, with the quote at 5:40.

kat said...

Most beautiful art takes time to create -- nature on Earth took billions of years and no human art can compare with it -- but there are very rare cases of extremely skilled artists who can work fast, and an example is our own James.

As Ruskin said, "What is usually so much sought after under the term "freedom" is the character of the drawing of a great master in a hurry, whose hand is so thoroughly disciplined, that when pressed for time he can let it fly as it will, and it will not go far wrong. But the hand of a great master at real work is never free: its swiftest dash is under perfect government."

Native talent. Training. Aesthetic choices. Powers of observation. Fidelity. Technical perfection. Communication. These are what I think we are really talking about.

The rest is dross, in my opinion.

Julia Lundman said...

I wonder what he meant by "falsely iconic"?

Otherwise I agree. It's an interesting point of view in context of our culture having gone through a phase of making us all more productive, more efficient, etc. Seems it was mainly for industry purposes rather than anything else. Even our food is fast, as Hughes says.

I love taking the time and care to make anything with care. At the same time, I would not put a blanket statement on it. I would simply *include* the idea.

kat said...

With respect to computer graphics: I've had to do a bit of it and I run screaming back to pencil and paper, brush and pigment. If I had known as a child that one would have to use a stylus on a sheet of plastic to do commercial art, I would have abandoned ship early on. It is not the exquisitely delicious sensual experience we fell in love with in graphite and pigment.

It also lacks the most fundamental joy of art for me -- the meditation of observation. That is the most ecstatic part, the seeing. How can manipulating a photograph or constructing something in a 3D program -- click, click, click -- even remotely compare to the experience of drawing and painting?

The most interesting thing about CG is the possibility of creating convincing illusions of things that can never exist, but the process is not aesthetic in an of itself.

Elena Jardiniz said...

The technical skill of drawing what one sees before one is vital to drawing what one sees in one's mind. It isn't art, it's skill and it's as important as any other profession's skill set.

ART is what happens when the artist takes those skills and does something with them. When a random stranger looks at the results and is blown away by what they saw... THAT is art.

Life drawing is not art. It IS a fundamentally important technical skill for any artist who wishes to truly understand how not just humans but any other animal functions. And like any other technical skill it can and should be taught well.

A really good life drawing class will cause the artist to lose their preconceptions and actually see and be able to translate into drawing, painting, sculpting, animating, whatever what a human and by extension other animals really does look like.

It takes time. It is not a question of taking a long time to accurately draw, paint or model a person or any other subject in front of the artist, but to learn the eye-hand coordination to do it - and end up with a result that actually does look like the subject.

Ilaria said...

Hi James and all, sorry for chiming in so late in the discussion.
My comment to the previous post came about because of things happening in my own work, findings that surprised me and surely happened to many others.
Something I have worked on for a couple of days might turn out a better work than a labour intensive small canvas that took four times the effort, it's happening to me more and more often.
I understood that the words fast and slow in the excerpt were referring to the pace of one's work, if I'm right then I think they are totally irrelevant. Who says that accurate rendering should be more desirable than feverish brush strokes? Details might kill the emotional content, as much as it can be let down by a sloppy execution.
Fast and slow cannot mean skilled or unskilled, in fact probably speed of execution will increase with skill, speed might come out of years of observation, or being able to recognise immediately what is redundant.
Rodin's line figure drawings come to mind, they are fast and exquisite, done in a few seconds because of a life of work.

My Pen Name said...

drawing we all know, is a manifestation of learning or training our eyes to see.

There is a neurological evidence for a relationship between learning and the hand (see the book "The Brain That Changes Itself) - many writers feel they need to at least write a first draft in long hand( I am that way)

software/computers digital media breaks this learning relationship and as we depend on it, we get weaker and 'fatter' just like depending on google and spell check weakens our memory, and cars and transportation make us fat and lazy - all of these things have their use but solely relying on them is not good for all the things, mind and body, that make us human.

but as realist we are up against fast and quick and an increasingly numb public and not to mention readily and easily accessible past master images. Google art project is pretty hard to compete with if we post our stuff online...

Which reminds me, one day i would love to see a discussion of a photograph of a painting vs a painting.
I was just copying a painting and realized that in a reproduction both the impastos and the tranlucent glazes were lost. I only came to appreciate this via long hours staring at it and trying to copy it..

Aaron said...

I wish unknown, would have put a name up, I would have thanked them personally. In June I just finished my masters program in illustration and design, and I was, sadly, shocked at how many students at a major college...in a masters program...for art, had virtually no drafting skills. I heard them make the same argument that Stu made, though less eloquently, that they didn't need to be able to draw well. I'll quickly get to my point. Trying to start out as an illustrator (full-time now) I have found that speed can be fundamental. The faster you work can often mean more jobs and more income, but quality is equally important. I'll stop there less I lay down a rant that would make Andy Rooney proud :)

kat said...

William: I for one would love to hear your rant!

Indeed, so much has gone to digital that learning to draw is now perceived by some as onerous (!) and unnecessary (!!). They feel they can go directly from imagination to image via digital tools. They are entirely dependent upon electrons flowing.

An interesting decades-long study demonstrated that art school students had lost something like 75% (or was it 90%? I can't recall -- I have the link on another 'puter) of the visual memory that students had in the early 20th Century. The most precipitous decline has apparently occurred concurrently with the development of digital art tools.

I can't imagine life without drawing. It is integral to thinking itself for me. Drawing is key to invention in my experience.

Oh well. Just an old timer, I guess. But what a grievous loss to humankind it would be if these precious skills going back to before Lascaux were culturally forgotten.

phiq said...

The camera operates like an eye, but without the mind. A painting carried out by a skillful artist exhibits the subject as seen by the mind. There is only one plane/area of focus to a camera lens, but multiple for the mind.

Lucien Freud is one artist who painted extremely slowly, taking the time to see. I wouldn’t believe anyone who said a photograph could have captured vulnerability, ingloriousness and reality in the same way Freud did with his subjects. A camera does not process the world.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everybody. You've all made very interesting points. This is a rich topic, because it connects to so many other issues, especially photographic and digital techniques.

As far as the video goes, Hughes makes a point, but I think he’s barking up the wrong tree. He seems to be mistaking slowness for close observation. Speed should not be made an issue with art, unless the art is presented as a live performance.

Who cares if a picture is done fast or slow? It only matters if it’s done well. There are great artists who capture essential truths of life in rapid, fleeting gestures, such as Rembrandt’s drawings or Sargent’s watercolors.

And there are great works, such as Millais' Ophelia that require months or years of long, patient labor. Some artists, such as Andrew Wyeth, seem to revel in alternating between fast and slow modes of picturemaking. And some artists put a lot of time into the planning stages, and then whip off the finish in a short time, making it look easy. The results are what matter.

In general, I believe students should aim for accuracy and completeness before they worry too much about speed.

But real life and light don't hold still, so one has to develop speed skills to capture it.

Cindy Skillman said...

I don't think the video is about how quickly you create your hand-made art, but rather about the intimate involvement of the artist with his art. You can draw and paint and sculpt very quickly indeed and yet still create "slow art."

Likewise, it seems to me that many people do create "slow art" using their computers. I love to take photographs. Some I just plunk down on the computer and enjoy them if they come up on the screen saver occasionally. Others I may carefully combine, uncombine, and recombine with other photos, brushes, textures, color casts and special effects. I'm not primarily a digital artist, but I can say with conviction that it is also possible to create slow art on the computer.

I think the author is talking about our intimate involvement with our medium and the pains taken to express the beauty in a new way, rather than what that medium is or how fast, time-wise, the art is created.

My Pen Name said...

even the fastest sketch is slower than a 1/32 second shutter :)

Linda Crank said...

My opinion is that it depends on what you are doing while being slow. If you are headed in a definite and correct direction, then it will pay off. If you are slogging circuitously in the Mire of Mistakes, then its quite another issue.

Elena Jardiniz said...

Digital painting or drawing is a medium, same as pencil, oil, watercolor or any other. I've seen gorgeous work done with it, and with a pencil drawing finished digitally and a digital painting used as a basis for a finished mixed media. Sadly, not my own. Yet.

I used to draw and paint constantly as a kid but went on to be a mechanical drafter. I still love and respect hand drawing and painting and think about it a lot. Trying to explain what I'm doing when I was drawing, and later when modeling parts while at work caused me to keep the ability to articulate the process. And I'm a geek, which helps

Actually drawing what you see IS a learnable skill, you can learn composition and lighting, which are technical skills. ART is what you do with those technical skills you ought to learn in school.

My own peeve is the crap called "art" that is some form of ugly, offensive and alien covered by a cleverly written manifesto and marketed as "fine art".And that's all it is - clever marketing. I loved the story of The Emperor's New Clothes as a child and every time I see the "fine art" sales pitch I think of it.

Unknown... aka Elena Sorry, I haven't figured out how to actually have an identity on this forum yet.

Brad Teare said...

The thing I love about painting is how it turns off the part of my brain that keeps track of time. It is like I have entered a different world, a world with no clocks or deadlines. Whenever I need to stop time I paint.

catecho said...

I think it was best said.. and perhaps even by Robert Hughes himself, that you shouldn't mistake effort for art.