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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Looking at the Big Picture

How can you evoke the feeling of what it's like to perch on the edge of a canyon?
(By the way, this is not a painting.  This is a photo I took and played with.)

Even before the pandemic, many art museums were busily scanning their collections, creating high-resolution images and making them freely available online.  These images have become a great resource for the painting student who wants to learn more about a painter's process.  For example, if you're interested in how Van Gogh piled on the paint, you can visit the web site of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.  Here's a screenshot from one of his self-portraits.  I've zoomed in on that famous ear, the one he later sliced:

Seated at my desk and looking at the image on my computer, I can get closer to the painting than any museum guard would allow.  Look how the paint stroke broke as he applied color over color!

But now let's zoom out to the full painting:

On my laptop screen, this image occupies a mere 7x9 cm of real estate.  In a screen full of similar images, I'd most likely pass right over it to something more exciting.  But the painting is actually 65x50cm—a good deal larger.  In person, the painting would have a powerful effect.

There's nothing like an original.  This thought came to me in a very visceral way while visiting Santa Fe recently.  At the Gerald Peters Gallery, I stood mesmerized by a very large painting of Grand Canyon by Arturo Chavez.  The painting, four feet tall by eight feet wide, spanned my entire visual scope.  I had to swing my head to take it all in.  So intense was the feeling of teetering on the edge of the Grand Canyon that I felt a familiar, warning tingle in my hamstrings—a sensation I've often felt while stepping too close to the edge.  Looking at that same image now on my laptop, I can appreciate the painting's design and color, but it lacks the thrill.

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