Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Two Russian Realists and Their Choices

If you compare the handling of a similar subject by two different realist painters, it becomes clear how each makes consistent choices, lending a recognizable style to each.

Ivan Shishkin

Backlighting adds contrast, and there are strong value shifts throughout. For Shishkin, emphasizing the local contrasts reduces the effect of large color fields.

Isaac Levitan

Indirect light allows Levitan to focus on three large value groups: the fern tops, the ground moss and the far forest. I would guess he consciously grouped those values to simplify what could otherwise be a very complex scene.

Ivan Shishkin

Here again, Shishkin uses relatively neutral colors and pursues local contrasts rather than large color fields.

Isaac Levitan

Levitan uses the backlighting to set up the strong colors of birch leaves. He handles the far leaves as an almost flat region of color.

If there's a lesson here, it's that the reality that we see and capture in paint is a direct consequence of the quality of attention we give it. There's no objective reality out there. It only comes into being in terms of the encounter with our unique brains based on what we're looking for. 


A.B. said...

Super interesting comparison, helps me a lot to focus my thoughts in the beginning of a piece! Thank you!

kev ferrara said...

What we attend to shapes our subjective perception and conception, and our art (which is not the same thing), but it doesn't actually change objective reality. We each, I believe, can look at all these paintings respectively, and if given the opportunity to compare them to the real thing, putting us in a different contemplative space than normal life, would find we share a sense of how they differ from the way the landscapes actually look. This, I believe, would show that there is at least a chance that we all share an objective reality.