Artist’s Notebook – Information vs Experience

Information vs Experience

As an artist, I returned to painting because people were increasingly unwilling to spend money on artwork that they could easily reproduce on their home printers for free.

Bold Street Painting Project. Photo by @erskinec
Bold Street Painting Project. Photo by @erskinec

Woodblock and linocut are printed on paper. The size of the work is usually, small when compared to a painting. Once the print is framed and placed behind glass, it can be difficult to tell difference, particularly when viewed from a distance.

When the gap between real and fake art is small, it hard for people to justify buying something when they can get it for free. This is the same sort of situation that faces the movie and music industry.

As a result, I returned to painting. While you can copy the image of a painting and make a poster, the experience of standing before a large painting is very different. Even the most flat painting is still a three dimensional object. Paint always leaves a texture to the surface. This texture surface will change with different lighting conditions and viewing angles.

You also feel the size and weight of a painting as you stand before it. While a painting is not a living creature, so it is not like standing before another human being, there is still presence to it; a digital image cannot give you.

Digital images is information, not experience.

When I went to Rome a few years back, I had the great fortune of seeing three of Caravaggio’s great paintings that were created in 1599-1600 for church of San Luigi dei Francesi:

The Calling of St. Matthews

The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew

The Inspiration of Saint Matthew

These canvas painting were created in 1599-1600 for the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. These amazing works are designed for this very location. He took into account both the lighting conditions of the chapel and the fact that the viewer would be looking up at the paintings.

the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. Photo by @erskinec
the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. Photo by @erskinec

While I can show you what the paintings look like, with digital technology, I cannot provide you with the experience of walking into the church on a hot and dusty day. Walking towards the alter and then turning left and in the dim light seeing the glowing figures of Caravaggio’s creations.

Calling of Saint Matthew and Inspiration of St. Matthew. Photo by @erskinec
Calling of Saint Matthew. Photo by @erskinec

The small chapel is dominated by these large paintings, but it is hard to view them together. You have to stand and face each one separately to appreciate the works. The dark backgrounds of each canvas allows the figures to separate from the canvas a float above you with a sense of meaty heaviness.

Inspiration of St. Matthew. Photo by @erskinec
Inspiration of St. Matthew. Photo by @erskinec

Despite all our modern technology, paintings still defeat the powers of digital reproduction. A poster cannot never challenge the power of a physical painting.

The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. Photo by @erskinec
The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. Photo by @erskinec

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