PRIORITIES



It is difficult to paint realistic, detailed pictures. However, artists don't really begin to earn their money until they start deciding which details to leave out.

This brilliant portrait by Chris Payne is a good case in point. The face and hands are tightly rendered, even down to individual hairs.



Yet, other parts of the picture are highly simplified and flat.



Payne recognized that it would be distracting to paint the man's coat with the same intensity as the face. Adding buttons and threads would subtract from the picture.
Contrast Payne's portrait with this different approach by the illustrator James Bama:



Bama is so intoxicated by his ability to paint realistically that he doesn't know when to quit. Here, the shirt receives as much attention and intensity as the face. Everything in the picture is equally important, so nothing is important. This is one of the weaknesses that prevent Bama from being a good artist, despite his obvious technical skill.



I'm not saying that a face is more important than a shirt. All I am saying is that good artists set priorities. Payne is able to achieve that intense, piercing look in the eyes partially because the eyes are not competing with a thousand itty bitty little circles. Bama has not yet set priorities because he is too busy saying to himself, "damn, look how good I am at painting itty bitty circles on the folds in this shirt!"

In my last posting on pin ups, we had a fun exchange on whether it is enough for an artist to paint realistically. While I certainly respect the discipline, my point was that the tougher part of art is the judgment to make choices about what is artistically important and what is not. As Leon Blum wrote,
Life doesn't give itself to to one who tries to keep all its advantages at once.... Morality may consist solely in the courage of making a choice. One must pay for an idea as for anything else.
For me, the best pictures evaluate (that is, make a commitment by displaying the artist's judgment about the relative value or importance of forms and colors.)
Besides, to tell the truth I wanted to circle back around to this topic as an excuse for sharing this nifty painting by Payne.

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