We all love looking at Art, don’t we? As artists, it’s natural for us to look at all kinds of visual art for inspiration. And there’s nothing like seeing art in the real!
Many of us look at a lot of art online whether it’s scrolling through Instagram, checking out a virtual exhibition on an artist’s website, or cruising through a gallery’s online collection. The world has changed and we have instant access to so much art virtually.
But seeing art virtually gives us only a part of the experience of looking at that art.
We see colour arrangements, note composition, explore value decisions, and discover use of edge. Whether viewing on our phones, laptop screen, or tablet, what we also see is each image pretty much the same size as the next. So we have no real idea of the scale of a painting (soooooo important!). Neither can we experience the texture of marks in a visceral way.
For me, there truly is nothing like seeing art in the real and in the flesh!
To stand before a painting, say one that’s 400 years old, and imagine the sweep of the artist’s hand, or see the brushstrokes and be surprised by their boldness, or discover the faint hints of the initial drawing, now that’s a magical experience! You can begin to feel the concentrated effort the artist applies as they pull the pieces together. You can feel the presence of the artist who may have been standing in similar relation to the painting while working on it. This is something you won’t feel when you look at the same piece online.
Let me share an example to give you a small sense of what I mean.
Recently I was teaching in the UK (Yorkshire and Cornwall) and naturally, gallery visits were on the agenda while in London.
At Tate Britain, I went looking for this pastel painting by Edgar Degas – Woman at Her Toilet. I rounded the corner and there she was. I was bowled over by the size of the painting – waaaaay larger than I imagined even though I theoretically knew the size (95.6 x 109.9 cm). I tell ya, size matters!!
The next thing was seeing, up close, the marks made by this master. Wowsa!!!
Okay, that’s nice. We see the woman brushing her hair, her maid to the side offering a cup of tea. We see the main parts of the painting.
Now here’s the painting as I snapped it. Yes, it’s looking through glass and has some reflection but even so, I think you can feel the painting’s boldness and vibrancy. Completely different!
Now let’s have a look at some cropped comparisons. First, a close-up of the woman’s hair. Yes, you can see the underpainting colour and also the marks on top in the website version but oh my, look at the photo I took! You can just about see Degas’s hand applying that olive green colour. And check out those highlights on the woman’s fingers that aren’t so evident in the website example. Also, there’s the barest hints left on the paper of the drawing of the woman’s face which then almost looks erased.
Next, let’s have a look this cropping with the teacup. Look at the scribbled lines applied over the maid’s darker sleeve. They are so visible in my photo (on the right) and almost non-existent in the close-up from the website. Look at the difference in value contrast in the light marks highlighting the arm and hands. And all those really dark marks that delineate the figure!
Next we have a section showing part of the vase and table. I love those strong, straight lines defining the edge of the table. In my photo, you can feel the energy in those marks! They’re there in the website version but aren’t nearly as obvious. The same is true of those wonderful light blue squiggles on the vase itself that say “highlight.” Again, they’re barely visible in the left image.
I loved seeing how Degas portrays the vigorous movement as the woman pulls the brush through her hair. Her fingers are barely indicated which suggests movement. If you take a careful look, you’ll see what may have been the original position of the hand, or perhaps what we see is the intentional redraw of the hand in pastel to show the movement of the brush. Also, look carefully at the photo I took and you’ll see a number of lines following the line of the arm, over and over, almost scratched in. All of this is pretty much unseen in the website image.
And finally, I had to include this image that shows a luscious and energetic application of yellow-green on the woman’s arm to the right. Visible in both images but more apparent in my photo, is the way Degas pulled some of the background green onto the woman’s upper arm. And, I love seeing the dark lines of the initial drawing.
One last photo that will really show the size of this Edgar Degas pastel painting!
Perhaps you can now see why I hammer on about seeing a painting in the flesh, up close and personal!!
I should point out that even my photos can’t compare to standing in front of that painting, to seeing the art in the real!
I’m also going to say that many online collections offer incredible opportunities to see a painting up close and with much clearer images than the one on the Tate’s website. Having said that, always always see original artwork whenever possible. It could change your life!!
Have you ever had an extraordinary experience when seeing a certain painting for the first time in the real? If so, then be sure to share that with us in the comments! (Some of mine are: seeing Monet’s “The Magpie,” Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Wedding,” and Miro’s Three Blues Paintings. I cried when I saw the last ones!)
And, have I convinced you to go see art in the real?
Until next time,