Creative Fine Art

Is it or isn't it?

Commentary given by

Ray Harm

Bobcat Kittens

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    As a field naturalist and Wildlife Artist, what I hope distinguishes my work from so many other wildlife artists these days is that my art is in no way dependent on photographs (mine or anyone else's) or the opaque projector. The actual tracing or copying of photographs is now a method so commonly used, as to be epidemic. This is not only true in the field of wildlife art, but also in many others kinds of realistic art including, western art, landscapes, portraits, and even the art of still life.

    I believe by the tracing or copying of photos, the artist misrepresents his or her finished work to the public since the camera provides the primary image automatically. I see it as an increasing problem for the world of creative, representational fine art. This is especially true nowadays with modern technology providing more and more sophisticated cameras and projectors for the transfer of photos to the painting surface. Artists are doing this not only because it is much faster, but it very handily omits the requirements of knowing how to conceive, originate and draw. In conceptual free-hand art one should have a knowledge of light and how it creates form, perspective, anatomy, proportion and an immense amount of practice which, more often than not, takes years to accomplish.

    I am concerned about this because few artists reveal their methods to the public that purchases their work - that their paintings are produced by mechanical methods such as using these projectors for tracing (from books and magazines and their own cameras). This is not creative fine art, as we traditionally know it. My fear is that those art patrons seeking fully creative fine art cannot discern one method from the other in the finished work. If it matters not to the buyer, fair enough, but the buyer seeking more fully creative art should be entitled to know fully what he or she is purchasing.

    Perhaps I am purist in this but I think that representational fine art should be a totally creative process. If an artist draws a horse the artist ought to know how to draw one - either directly from the horse or from the knowledge of how one is put together. The copying or tracing of a photo is easy; the camera freezes the action, the anatomy, the proportion, the light and shadows and the perspective. The artist simply duplicates it all by measurement or projector. The thinking and talent requirements to originate and draw are skipped over - the very essence of fine art is eliminated. Any art school will, with great emphasis, declare that 90% of a good realistic painting is in the drawing. As was often heard in art school "the best painting technique in the world cannot pull together a bad drawing".

    Using mechanical methods are acceptable in advertising illustration practices, which is where they belong, but to see an artist sign his or her name to a painting that was produced in such a manner is, in my opinion, duping the public. The vast majority of the public believes artists paintings are done in the traditional manner - knowing how to draw and be original.

    At my lectures audiences respond in numbers with great surprise when this subject is covered and inevitable ask how can one know? Each print of my wildlife painting is accompanied with a declaration stating that I am proud to never have used mechanical means to create my work. It's a good feeling to know the finished work is all mine! I feel no artist or artist representative should object to making the same declaration if the buyer has reservations about the use of such methods.

    When I was a kid I thought that artists doing realistic work during the renaissance and impressionist periods looked at a model or subject and then with skill and a good eye analyzed the light, proportion and form and tried to recreate the model on a two dimensional surface with brush and paint. The impressionists brought art to a dimension of even greater expression than renaissance painters by playing with light and form to even create a mood or a time of day in their painting. The ability to draw and think, however, was usually the precursor. When I saw these pictures I was amazed and I thought some day I would learn to do it.

    Fortunately (under the GI Bill after WWII) I went to art school and I did learn how and have been successful. But to accomplish it I had to practice incessantly, continuing to draw and draw (and draw). And more than that, I drew in the field, from life, sketching mammals and birds from observation blinds at active dens and nests. As a field naturalist I have been fortunate to be able to study my wildlife subjects in nature all my life and the ecological diversity of it has made my life studies extremely interesting, ergo the reason I paint wildlife. I've made thousands of field sketches and color notes from which to paint pictures and my scientific friends have made available to me study skins for taxonomic details, details not always accessible in the field.

    In wildlife art it is important that things in nature fit properly, and frankly I paint first for the critical eyes of the scientist and naturalist. But the great bonus in my work is that my paintings, for many years, have also attained the "critical eye" of the public and have been accepted as aesthetic works of art to live with in their homes. This has allowed me to do what I like best for a living, and for that I am sincerely grateful.