Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Imitation vs. Representation


"Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy." —Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A plant like this forsythia is more than the sum of its flowers and branches. I have to invent a toolset of brush techniques for describing characteristics of the flowers, both in terms of the overall mass and the granular detail.

Complete imitation of every flower on a forsythia plant is probably not possible or even desirable. We have to recreate or represent the characteristic detail rather than imitate it.

Asher B. Durand, in his influential 1855 essays "Letters on Landscape Painting" draws this very distinction between imitation and representation. When painting something as complex as a tree, he says, “direct imitation is impossible." Instead the artist should strive to “represent this foliage in every essential characteristic, without defining the forms of individual leaves. To do this, some analysis of its structure is necessary.”

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