Drawing from Memory
My iFriend Alan Jacobs writes:
[O]ur belief that photography straightforwardly captures the–thing–in–itself is a sadly naïve one. (Beginning birdwatchers always want photographic guides because they think photography captures birds “as they really are,” but skillful paintings, like those of Roger Tory Peterson, are often more useful: they portray birds as the human eye sees them, or is likely to see them in the field, which is not invariably as the camera’s lens captures them. The common belief that photographs record simply and objectively both diminishes the documentary power of illustration and underrates the artfulness of photography.)
This is something I’ve talked about at length with my friend Bob Wise. Both of us are photographers, and perhaps that’s why we both so easily recognize that photography isn’t always the best way to convey visual information. Communication is both editing and emphasis, and it’s often easier in a drawing than it is in photography to omit distracting details and make important details prominent.
There’s a lot I might say about the economics of drawing and painting and photography, and how this all plays into the process of editing and emphasis, but for now I’ll leave it at this: the invention/discovery of linear perspective is an important milestone in the visual arts, and cameras do excel at rendering the world in this fashion.
But instead of elaborating on my humbuggy and elitist theories about photography’s obliterating effect on the very concept of “Art” (which have a unexpected and strange concordance with James Poulos’ Pink Police State observations), I’d simply like to call out some Post-Audubon books that have been important to me, in no small part due to having employed illustrations to good effect. In the order I encountered them:
I have mentioned previously that the (sardonic?) Help Wanted post I made here netted a hire, an artist and craftsman who had been working in an art museum in Washington DC.
Joe and I have now been working together for the better part of a week and it looks like things are going to work out just fine. Joe is punctual, detail-oriented, adaptable, skilled with tools, and pleasant company. He’s also interested in learning to surf. The might be the best Winter ever!
Joe’s medium of choice is pen and ink, often on fairly large sheets (a yard square or better). It’s inexpensive, portable, and well-suited to showcasing the quiet intensity of Joe’s artistic vision.
But in a world intermediated by computer screens it has some draw-backs. Small details and subtle tones that work well in pen and ink don’t always survive the translation to on-screen display.
And of course to be properly prepared for in-person display, the work must be framed, which in large scale is quite costly.