I like my camera very much. It is a nifty gadget capable of video and images. It is very competent too. All that clever processing in milliseconds. It has made my painting lessons more dynamic with video. I also get to show you my paintings with photographs. Sweet.
But my camera is, in the end, a tool. It is also a bit of a fibber. This makes paintings more important. Here is why.
Bucks Fizz Were Wrong
Whenever the subject of cameras comes up the lyrics from that song pops into my head. Blame the 80's. My Camera Never Lies sang Bucks Fizz back in 1982. I have linked to the video if you have no idea what I am talking about. It is a saucy song and still makes me smile. But I digress ...
Taken literally the claim that cameras do not lie is untrue. Now with digital manipulation built into every device it is a doddle to fib. Want to make a scene warm and sparkly? Tap the filter. Sky looks boring? Finger tap and clouds appear. Grass not green enough. Swipe and it looks like Ireland. And this is restrained.
Let a professional near a photo and digital hell breaks loose. Good grief they can make a plaza filled with tourists empty with a click of a mouse. Rays of sunlight appear like magic. Colors boosted, highlights locked and loaded. This is everywhere nowadays. Magazines, online and on the big screen.
Paintings Struggle with Cameras
Back in the late 1800's cameras made their appearance. Wow! The invention shook up our understanding of the world. For the first time we could see that a horse had all its hooves off the ground during a gallop. For a moment of course.
There was an impact on artists too. They questioned their trade. Want a portrait? Take a photo. What about landscapes? Take a photo. The impressionists understood. They had to paint something the camera could not show. Atmosphere. Emotions. Vibrations of colors next to each other. The truth of the whole. The essence.
We Are All Photographers
Digital changed everything. Which brings me back to my first point. Cameras lie. Now everyone is a photographer with powerful software working tirelessly in the background. Does a photograph matter? Or has it become a digital note in image form?
With photographs everywhere it is all a tad banal these days. I don't say we should throw our cameras away. I like them for what they are. But now that we know them to be fallible and common as clicks and tweets? Well they are not that magical anymore.
Painting is Important
There is something special about landscape paintings. Yes portraits too. They both still carry a lot of weight when done well. There is a reason they still carry a certain cache. Sitting for a portrait has gravitas. Recording a landscape in paint conveys more than physical landmarks. Although these too are important.
The painting conveys an essence through interpretation by the artist. What is important in mood, scale, color and character is painted. Instead a photo records everything yet compensates for light and dark areas. You get an average and lose details. Also you lose the scale and feeling of the space. Squashed and mediocre in most cases.
This painting by Claude Monet of the atmosphere at the St Lazare train station illustrates the idea of essence very well. Do you agree?
Plein Air Proves the Point
When you learn to see like an artist through practice the truth appears. The darks and shadows show many colors, textures and shapes. The bright sky is vibrating with light blue, green and violet. The grass is three dimensional and filled with variety.
Outdoor painting reveals these facts. Together with sound, smell and temperature. The camera does not. It takes time for the artist to grow into painting these natural elements. But passion and persistence reward both artist and viewer. It results in a painting attracting attention and holding the viewer's interest. The painting stirs something elemental.
Trust is Important
Do we trust photos? How often do you hear someone saying: "Oh that is just photo-shopped!" Or do you feel that you could also take that nice photo with the iPhone in your pocket? But a painting is different. It is different in appearance yet we often say: "I recognise that place." You mean more than the physical place too. You recall the feeling conveyed in the painting. To me that is art.
The camera is here to stay and will evolve into more fantastic technology. That is why painting is so important. Not only for the extra dimension described above. But also for its old-school physical nature. A connection with early humans in the earth pigments we still use. But mostly because painting is a means of communicating unique to human nature.
Do you agree?
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Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa