Sunday, March 25, 2007

Selectivity in Art

An upcoming walking tour has diverted my attention from collecting bibliographical material for Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. So instead of writing something new, I present you with an excerpt on the importance of selectivity in art, taken from the draft of a forthcoming article for The Objective Standard). --- You - yes, you - are finishing a portrait of me. Another artist has executed most of it. The one and only detail you have to decide is the color of my complexion. It can be any color you choose, but you have to decide on some color. That paintbrush in your hand won't do it for you. In fact, my skin is pale with a few freckles. If you show the freckles I'll look like an outdoorsy type, perhaps a bit naive, since freckles are often associated with youth, innocence, and sun exposure. You might decide instead to show me by candlelight, in which case the light will add color to my skin and I'll look healthier. You might show me under florescent lights, and then I'll look so pale and ragged that any viewer of my portrait will think demons have been pursuing me for ten sleepless nights. How, then, will you decide on a color for my face? By figuring out which color best indicates the characteristics you consider typical of me. The same sort of decisions have to be made for every single detail of the portrait, from the style of my hair (a chignon? a Mohawk?) to the way I tilt my head or hold my jaw. An artist makes choices regarding what's important every moment that he's painting or sculpting, even if he doesn't take the time to explain his choices verbally. That's why a photograph of a person differs fundamentally from a painted or sculpted portrait. The two might appear almost identical, but the artist has to include each detail by choice, because he thinks it conveys something significant about the sitter. The camera, on the other hand, records every detail no matter how incidental or irrelevant it might be. --- The article in The Objective Standard will be a companion piece (on painting) to "Getting More Enjoyment from Art You Love," which discussed how to understand sculpture better and enjoy it more. For more on selectivity, see Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan Essay 37 (Shakespeare).

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