How Things Actually Appear

Prado

The stately neoclassical building that houses the Prado will be unwrapped later this year. Credit Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times.

Artists of the Spanish “golden age” in the 17th century seemed to delight in manipulating paint on the canvas to create dazzlingly realistic effects, such as the light shimmering on silk gowns in Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” or the churning clouds in the apricot-and-lavender skies of El Greco. Spanish ‘naturalism’ — painting objects and people as they actually appear [my emphasis] — can have a deeper emotional impact, as seen in the candor and humanity of Velázquez’s portraits of buffoons….

(Andrew Ferren, “A 7-Hour, 6-Mile, Round-the-Museum Tour of the Prado,” NYTimes, 3-18-19)

How things “actually appear” is elusive. I don’t see correctly. My sketches for painting are labored, with much overriding of mistaken perception. The painting phase involves much mixing and discarding of pigment that looked right until it touched the canvas. I don’t want to paint this way, but I have to.

It’s not just me. Our brains foist perceptual baggage onto us. Some people overcome the handicap. Most art I admire goes beyond naturalism. It lights me up with a devil-may-care attitude. I like to imagine that even a so-called realistic painting is really an infinitude of tiny abstractions rendered and assembled just so.

(c) 2019 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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1 Response to How Things Actually Appear

  1. Your last sentence reminds me of those pictures that close up are smudged daubs of paint, not necessarily unattractive. Move to the other side of the gallery and you are arrested by this stunning, sharp, light flooded work. You can’t quite believe it’s the same picture and traipse back and forth trying to see where the different images start and end in space. There was a Sisley that I saw recently that was one such piece. I know I should, but seldom look at my in progress work from a distance.

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