Thursday, September 18, 2008

Illustrative v. Representational

Representational paintings don't necessarily tell a story. More often than not, especially in the case of the pure, abstracted landscape without architecture or figures, they are meant to communicate a feeling or mood. Most of my work is of this nature, as in this example:

"Shallow Channel" 8x10, oil, en plein air

Illustrative paintings don't necessarily tell a story, either -- even though we often think of illustrations as an accompaniment to texts such as a novel. Sometimes, they are meant to depict a subject accurately, such as a person's face in a portrait. Either way, whether they tell a story or show a portrait, they incorporate detail evenly throughout the painting. The abstracted landscape, on the other hand, will sacrifice detail at the expense of design. Detail is not important to an abstract piece.

Some illustrative paintings are obviously meant to illustrate stories, such as the work of N.C. Wyeth. (See examples at ).

Others, such as the egg tempera work of his son, Andrew Wyeth, are illustrative first in that every detail is rendered exquisitely. Stories also are often implied or even explicitly stated. I have in mind something like "Christina's World," in which we see a figure in the landscape looking across a vast field to a house. Even if you don't know the story behind the crippled Christina, the painting will conjure up some sort of tale in the imagination. (Here's this painting: )

On the other hand, Andrew also does very abstract watercolors, many of which imply no story or intent to depict the landscape nature accurately but simply suggest a mood. (See These are some of my very favorite pieces by him. Most are are wild and unlabored. Detail has been ignored, but design and color remain the foundation of these paintings.

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