A couple of decades ago, I spent quite a bit of my spare time painting in watercolor. I never became particularly good, but I have kept a few paintings that I did. I also learned a bit about composition. And one of the best things that I did was learn to love two colors that I had previously disliked: yellow and orange.
Every time I think about the painting that I did, I recall one of my favorite books: Hawthorne on Painting, by Charles W. Hawthorne (available, of course, from Amazon). The book is lovely: all text, but very wise. I gave my copy to my older daughter several years ago, but it keeps coming back to mind. I’m going to pick up another copy–and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to think about art. I feel that Hawthorne’s comments can be of value to photographers as well as painters.
This blog, though rather dismissive in some ways, sets out some of Hawthorne’s teachings, including the following:
“The painter must show people more–more than they already see, and he must show them with so much human sympathy and understanding that they will recognize it as if they themselves had seen the beauty and the glory. Here is where the artist comes in. We go to art school and classes to learn to paint pictures, to learn our job. Our job is to be an artist, which is to be a poet, a preacher if you will, to be of some use in the world by adding to the sum total of beauty in it.”
“A great composer could find inspiration for a symphony in a subject as simple as the tinkle of water in a dish pan. So can we find beauty in ordinary places and subjects. The untrained eye does not see beauty in all things-it’s our profession to train ourselves to see it and transmit it to the less fortunate.”
“Select the thing that is obvious in its paintership-look around and select a subject that you can see painted, that will paint itself. Do the obvious before you do the superhuman thing.”
“Be always looking for the unexpected in nature, do not settle to a formula. Get into the habit of doing what you see, not what you know. Human reason cannot foresee the accidents of out of doors. Humble yourself before nature, it is too majestic for you to do it justice.”
“The weight and value of a work of art depends wholly on its big simplicity–we begin and end with the careful study of the great [color] spots in relation one to another. Do the simple thing and do it well. Try to see large simple spots-do the obvious first.”
These teachings all seem to apply fully to photography.