Painting: Canvas as a Window

A few years ago there was a large Max Ernst retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As part of the exhibit, the curators had created a large empty "window" in one of the walls separating the gallery from the hallway. When viewers walked through the rooms of the exhibit they were, of course, presented with many of Ernst's works. Then, as they entered this one particular room, in the place where another painting was expected, there was a framed view of the real world through this window. I found it revealing and brilliant.

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Recently we discussed the differences between realism and realistic. Today I'd like to build on that by talking about using the canvas (or whatever painting surface you prefer) as a window into another reality.

We all come to our paintings from different places. I, for example, have an urge to depict the world as it exists. This is something I try to fight because I have a camera and, thus, little need to spend hours with a brush creating a scene that I could photograph in 1/500th of a second.

Instead I try to think of my canvas as a world unto itself. This world is not bound by the same rules as ours, but only by those of my imagination and my painting ability. By thinking like this, I am able to move from copying reality to creating reality.

Though they are vastly different, both movies create their own reality.By creating your own reality, you are inviting the viewer into another world. This has been done frequently in art over the past 100 years. The surrealists, for example, used the canvas to bring the viewer into the realm of dreams. Edward Hopper was less metaphoric. The realities he created weren't very different from our own. And it goes beyond art. Every movie that isn't "based on a true story" is an invention of a new reality.

As you create your own reality there are a few things to keep in mind. Just because you are stepping away from rendering the real doesn't mean you need to alter your style. If you enjoy painting realistically, there is no reason that your new reality can't be realistic. For example, think of novels. Some authors create wild and imaginative worlds very different from our own. Others, though, write realistic fiction which still creates a world all their own, yet one that could exist within ours.

The important thing to understand when thinking of your own reality on canvas is that, though it doesn't have to be beholden to our own reality, it should be beholden to it's own. By that I mean everything within your reality should make sense; nothing should seem as though it doesn't belong. This is very important if you with to have viewers accept that you are creating a reality on canvas.

By consciously thinking of your canvas as a window into another world, you can both enhance your creativity and narrow your focus. But what that reality is, well, there are no limitations.

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Posted in Other Home Post Date 09/17/2018


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