24 January 2014


by Andy Weddington
Friday, 24 January 2014

"There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


What to paint?

How to paint it?

Those are the two questions that ever haunt painters - beginners and accomplished alike.

But painting is not about things.

And painting is not about the brush.

Answers to the questions are - nowhere, somewhere, everywhere.

Yet struggle there is.

Preaching to students over and over,

"Forget the obvious. Do not marginalize the majestic obvious, the magnificent. Everyone sees it. And it's been painted over and over, and over again. Tiresome. Boring. So go the picture-makers. Rather, look for that most everyone ignores so deemed the insignificant; find the big abstract shapes; design the space of canvas or paper interestingly - like it has not been done before; exaggerate; and paint it fantastic. Make a statement. Sensationalize it! And people will be stopped in their tracks and stand in awe. Show them truth, as you see it. It's not an easy lesson to absorb. It's more difficult still to practice. But do it you must."

What is insignificant, exactly?

It depends.

That which most everyone walks by and pays no heed - until pointed out to them?

Is anything insignificant?

A brief example...

In front of a tiny firehouse I know, that houses a micro fire engine and some gear but no room for quartering the fighters thus no pole, stands a thing called a donation box with another thing called a fire helmet fixed atop.

Photograph of the firehouse donation box

Pedestrian traffic passes it by. So do bicyclists and folks in golf carts and sundry small vehicles. Most oblivious. A rare few take notice.

For several years now I've circled that barely noticeable, that 'insignificant,' box and hat, that thing, thinking of a way to paint it. To paint it simply. To paint it interestingly. To sensationalize it. To paint it so people will take note, stop in their tracks with eyes agog and mouth agape. Ideas have eluded me. 

A few days ago a student (of mine), new to painting, figured it out - at least one angle. She simplified; a partial abstract.

Fantastic design. Beautiful!

But struggled with color she did. So by invitation, an instructing hand I did lend; to teach (not with brush but finger).  

Painting of the firehouse donation box
16 x 20 acrylic on canvas board

Her painting, from life, far more interesting than the photograph. She omitted. She changed shape relationships. She made the space abstract and appealing. She simplified.

The photograph of the box and hat does the thing justice. Though it looks insignificant. Maybe. Any photograph, a literal record, would. Ho-hum.

The photograph (of her painting) does not do her painting justice. The painting, cleverly built around freedom of design and complements and split complements, sings. 

Her painting is significant. Thus the thing painted is significant.

Who cares whether it's a literal representation? It's the painting that matters - the transformation of something seemingly insignificant into something magnificent, something significant. People take notice.

Subject matter is not important. It is the abstract design of space - the breaking up of space. It is the arrangement of a few abstract shapes, and their harmonious color, that makes for beauty. Intrigue, too.

So note the horizontal and vertical and angled lines - balanced with a subtle curve or two. It is that difference - between things - that matters.

So much more to sensationalize the seemingly insignificant - than to make trite the magnificent.

Applaud the artist, the painter.

Sound the alarm!

Hang the photograph of the firehouse donation box on any wall? Not hardly.

But hang the painting of the firehouse donation box? Of course, center stage and with spotlight, too.

And there's a lesson for us all - beauty is about us.

Nothing is insignificant. Nothing.

So look! And look, again.

To discover what you've been missing.

Post Script

Another student turned an outboard motor into a few big abstract shapes and colors - brilliant! Through her point of view, she made that most see as insignificant magnificent. As did others see beauty, not things but things as mere shape and color, where most do not. Humbling. Rewarding. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe got it right.

1 comment:

Dottie Jean said...

I enjoyed this. Interesting. I'm thinking of how the lessons might apply to writing stories.

You say, 'subject matter is not important.' I've got to think about this. I understand what you mean but the subject matter is still there but it's no longer the 'subject.' ???? Is there a subject? Or am I going to far. The subject in not important in terms of verisimilitude.

Perhaps too early for this thinking. Let me finish my coffee.