Saturday, June 1, 2019

Plein Air Police



Recently, there was a heated and lengthy discussion on a friend's Facebook page about artists cheating at plein air painting competitions.  It was fascinating to watch the discussion shift and morph.  But the uptake of it was, yes, there have been artists cheating, and the honest painters aren't happy with them.

Cheating? you ask.  What does that mean?

Most plein air painting events have a competition aspect.  That is, artists are not just there to paint beautiful scenery but also to vie for cash prizes and awards.  Usually, the sponsoring organization sets ground rules, such as all paintings submitted for awards must be painted 100% en plein air, outdoors and on-the-spot.  This is to level the playing field so everyone has an even shot at the awards.  It's only fair.  Cheating in a plein air competition is just as bad as doping in althetic competitions.

Cheating, which should yield a better painting, also should yield better sales for that artist.  (Of course, all this depends on the skill level of the artist.)  Other than the prizes and awards, selling is the primary goal for the artists.  It's also the primary goal for the organizers, who usually want to raise money.   One wonders if the organizers shouldn't just look the other way when it comes to cheating.

Let me play devil's advocate for a moment.  To keep the playing field level, perhaps all the painters should be allowed to cheat.  Why not, for an athletic event, let all the athletes inject their steroid of choice?  Maybe it would raise expectations and even sell more tickets.  The result would certainly be a different type of event.

For painters, the result would be a traditional painting competition, in which it doesn't matter if the painting was done outdoors, in the studio, or with one hand tied behind the back  But it wouldn't be a "plein air painting" event and would require a new name.

So, yes, painters participating should abide by whatever rules are set by the sponsor.  Painters who do their best work in the studio should reconsider whether to participate.

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