Sunday, October 21, 2012

Walking All the Way Around

Blue Guitars, Madame Moitessier, and Maple Trees

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."
The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."
----- from Wallace Stevens, The Man with the Blue Guitar  (1937)

I'm often struck by how hastily we make decisions about the apparent truth of what we (think we) see. I think it's usually a good idea, when practical, to take a 360-degree ramble around what you intend to paint. Although you will be ostensibly painting only one side of the object(s), what you know about the other sides may well make for a better version of the side in view.

I'm reminded of Mme. Moitessier's arm, in the portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. I often think of her arm when I seek to make a well-graded transition. Notice how Ingres defines the curve around her wrist. It's a pretty tight turn. But notice how gentle and voluptuous is the second curve.

Ingres tells us exactly what takes place on those portions of the arm we can't see by the way in which he treats the edges of those parts we can. At her wrist the curve away from us is rapid, defined by the form of the underlying bones. But, on her upper arm, the transition is as slow and languorous as one could possibly imagine. The fleshiness of Madame's arm is entirely described by the two different rates with which Ingres describes how the two parts turn away from the viewer. 

Still on the subject of seeing, and on the suggestion of walking around your motif, I present a tree in the local cemetery, ablaze with its autumn color. It's a curious tree. If it were in a pasture, you might correctly guess that its lowest leaves had been browsed by cattle, creating that rather clipped bottom edge typical of pasture trees.

Cows notwithstanding, it's a very interesting tree. But I think you might miss an important fact if you failed to take two minutes to walk 'round it. There's some information to be found there which I think you ought to know.

This photo is taken from what would be the extreme right edge of the previous shot, 90 degrees removed from the original.
As you can see, this view shows that in fact it's really two trees. 

I can't promise you'll paint the painting better by knowing this. But I think the fact of the two trees would make me paint the transitions and edges with more care.

As Stevens said,

"Things as they are 
are changed upon the blue guitar."

1 comment:

  1. An interesting history of the painting can be found here: