Painting: Copying vs. Creating

Christopher Best

While out painting on location, I often have people approach me.  Fifty percent of the time they make a joke about me painting them into the picture. The rest of the time they often ask me the question, “what are you painting”? To which I often reply “a picture.”  It seems like a “duh” response. I understand that what they usually mean is, “ point me to the scene you are looking at so I can be amazed at how much it looks like what you are painting.” My reply “ a picture” instead implies that there is more to the process than meets the eye. Literally. I have realized that most people think that a painter is trying his best to copy nature and get as “literal” a copy as possible. But the reality is, no one is going to know what the actual scene looked like after the fact. They are only going to see the finished painting. Many of the great master painters of the past have had different ways of saying that trying to copy nature is not only impossible, it misses the point of art entirely. Nature is to be respected, and she offers endless material for the artist to compose with. But it is the job of the artist to make a personal arrangement of the information nature offers. I say personal because it is the taste of the artist and what they chose to do with the visual information that makes their painting unique. The process of painting is the process of arranging. Taking some things from a scene, using them for your idea and rejecting many things that may be there in order to make the idea come across. Include the things that support the idea or focus, reject the others. Downplay things that distract so that they support the main idea rather than compete. That is really what I am doing when I’m painting, I’m engaging in creative decision making. My job is not to copy, but to read, organize and create something new.


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