Many artists try to freeze a moment of life into a photograph, presuming to make it the model for a leisurely recollection, in paint, later. What too often happens is that the photo becomes a slave driver instead of a muse, and the subsequent painting is a flat, lifeless copy of an inferior derivative to the lost moment. These artists have forgotten to include feeling, memory, dream, and mystery in the standard elements of composition because interpretation — not documentation — is the essence of the artistic vision.
Art is a record of how the artist feels about what she’s seeing, and the reality of that is a complicated mix of sensation and expressive media. “What is reality?” makes an intriguing metaphysical dilemma which we all have to figure out for ourselves One way to confront the enigma is for the artist to go back to the subject again and again, examining it in every variation of shape, color, and value. Maybe the physical world isn’t real after all, but it’s invariably the beginning of the investigation, and art means taking risks with perception at all levels as it presents itself at the moment of its experience.
If the need to use a photograph is because the subject is unobtainable, the artist may be overlooking all that which makes up her real life and so, of course, her true art. A photo is an extraordinarily fallible document which can be only one of the starting points of a compositional strategy. The practices of drawing and painting must be taken back from a mechanistic dependence on photography in order for them to come alive again and become proper artistic statements about real life.
originally posted 08/01/1