Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Best Practice

Distortion--extreme foreshortening, squashed perspectives--is
common in illustration art.  But does it have a place in "fine art"?

"Best practice" isn't something you hear much about in the art world.  "Best practice" is defined as "Commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective."  The example the dictionary gives on how the phrase might be used:
The proprietors are keen to ensure best practice in food preparation, storage and serving. 
As someone who worked in the food service industry for more years than he'd like to admit, I've seen both "best practice" and what one might call "worst practice."  "Worst practice" would be leaving that big bucket of potato salad out overnight.  "Best practice" would be putting it away in the walk-in refrigerator and double-checking to make sure the temperature is holding at a cool 35-38°F.

So what about best practice for art?  Use of archival materials and procedures comes to mind.  If you want your work to last, you must follow best practice.  You hear about working "fat over lean," making sure you use only acid-free paper, and so on.  Who doesn't want to take all this very good advice?

There are two kinds of artists who don't follow best practice:  those who were never taught it, and those who consciously ignore it.  There's not much we can say about those who were never taught it, other than there's no excuse but laziness for not seeking out such knowledge.  (Especially now that we have the Internet.)  And as for those who consciously ignore it, they should understand the perils—and have a good reason for doing what they do.

But best practice doesn't have to do with just materials.  It also concerns such things as design elements and principles, color harmony and unity—and drawing.  From the definition above:  "Procedures that are...most effective."

One reader shared with me an image of painting she came across that peeved her.  It was a cityscape in which the high-rises were wildly distorted by a cartoon-world perspective.  She felt the drawing was off—and it was—and wondered how I felt about it.  She offered it as an example in which she thought best practice had not been followed.  She wrote:
When our generation went out to learn, we expected to be taught by someone competent and to learn 'best practice.'  I do believe there is a best practice, otherwise artists such as yourself would not be teaching.
In my view, yes, the buildings teetered precipitously from the vertical—an earthquake would have brought them down easily—but I had no clue as to artist's intent.  Did we have an artist who had never been taught best practice with regards to perspective; or did we have an artist who knew the rules but chose to not apply them?  Was the drawing merely incompetent, or was the distortion intentional?

You see this kind of intentional distortion in graphic novels, comic books and on book covers, but not so much in fine art.  This particular painting, however, did seem to be yearning to become "fine art."  It had all the right signs.  Unfortunately, the cartoonish perspective was not effective in adding a dynamic quality to an otherwise static design; instead, it actually distracted from reaching the apparent goal of being fine art.  There are other, more effective and appropriate ways—"best practices"—to achieve energy in that kind of painting.  What the artist used would have been, however, very effective in a comic book.

Just as there are different kinds of art, there are different sets of rules that apply to them.  The mastery of your particular art lies in knowing which set of rules applies—and then either employing them or not, but all with the final effect in mind.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Michael for your insights! Very valuable.