Wednesday 26 December 2018

The art isn't the subject matter

One of my periodic philosophical musings. The following question was posted on Quora:

If you could be transported into any painting or drawing and got to interact with the world of the painting for one hour, which painting would you choose to visit?

My answer, which I reproduce below:

This is a very good question, because it neatly illustrates something that lots of people do not give much thought: there is a difference between a painting and the world that painting portrays. A work of art can be beautiful despite portraying something that isn’t; conversely, a bad piece of art can portray a beautiful world.

Consider, for example, this painting:

Francisco de Goya - The 3rd of May

It is pretty much universally considered a masterpiece. But who in his right mind would want to spend any time in the world it portrays?

This paradox is well known and accepted by those who spend a lot of time studying art. Not so much by the general public: for most people, if they don’t like the subject matter in a painting, they don’t like the painting either.

Now at the risk of exposing myself to ridicule: when I read the question, the first thing that popped into my mind was “almost any of the the paintings of Thomas Kinkade.” Here’s an example:

Thomas Kinkade - Clocktower Cottage

Most art critics consider his work utter kitsch. That may be so, but of course, the question wasn’t about which art was good. It asked about the world portrayed in the art. And whatever we may think of Kinkade’s art, how many of us, if given a choice between living in the world he painted and the one Goya painted, would choose the Goya?

The above was the answer I wrote on Quora, but I'll add a few thoughts below.

I stated above that many, perhaps most, people will not like a painting if they don't also like the subject matter. It occurs to me now that fine art painting is perhaps something of an unusual case when it comes to this. If you are one of those people who dislike the Goya painting because of its gruesome subject matter, ask yourself this: have you ever watched and enjoyed a horror movie, or a war movie, or a tearjerker? Have you ever listened to and enjoyed "sad" music? How about reading a sad story?

I have run into people who prefer their art to be every bit as anodyne as they would like their world to be: they watch nothing but light comedies, and will quickly change the station if they hear "sad" music on the radio. But they are few and far between - it seems most people actually understand that there is a difference between a work of art and what it portrays, and most of us seem to have a strange attraction to darkness, as long as it is in art rather than life. (Consider, for example, how gruesome and/or tragic many traditional fairy tales are, and how almost universally beloved they are.)

Now why would painting be an exception? I think it is perhaps simply because people conceive of a painting as something you hang on your sitting room wall. Not all that many people would put scenes from horror movies in their living space (though there are of course exceptions, particularly among male teenagers!)

Art is not life. It doesn't necessarily even tell us anything about life either. One might ask what the heck the point of it is then, but there seems to be very few people indeed whose lives would not be greatly impoverished if they were cut off from all forms of artistic expression, whether it be pictures, music, stories, movies or whatever else.

The Christmas edition

Various pictures I painted as Christmas gifts during December. A laughing dove for a gentleman who likes doves and have been known to rescue and hand-raise them:

A somewhat psychedelic piglet for a young lady who likes pigs:

And a scene for a young man who is very much into World War II stuff:

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Sunday 16 December 2018

Elephant testing the air

Acrylics on Masonite, 15 x 10 cm:


Somewhat to my own surprise, I have indulged in my love of very small paintings again. I find it particularly amusing to paint an animal this huge on so small a scale.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Monochrome elephant

Acrylics on Masonite, 25 x 20 cm:


I have been playing around a bit with working in stark black and white. For some subjects it makes for an interesting effect. Perhaps I'll do some more.

Wednesday 5 December 2018


Subtropical bush near Punda Maria, Kruger National Park. Acrylics on Masonite, 10 x 15 cm:


Monday 3 December 2018

Friday 30 November 2018

Blue cranes

Acrylic on Masonite, 15 x 20 cm:

South Africa's national bird, nowadays unfortunately threatened by habitat destruction.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Small antelopes

Both in acrylics on Masonite.

Klipspringer on a rocky hill, 25 x 20 cm:

Steenbok, 15 x 20 cm:

Thursday 22 November 2018

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Landscape with cabbage tree

Acrylics on Masonite, 15 x 20 cm:

A rather characteristic kind of landscape in some areas of South Africa: flat, grassy plains dotted with hills and cabbage trees. These trees are named after their cabbage-like leaves, and are also known as kiepersol trees.

This work is for sale on my Daily Paintworks Gallery.

Saturday 17 November 2018

Limpopo landscape

Acrylics on Masonite, 64 x 89 mm (= ACEO size, 2.5 x 3.5 inches):


I nowadays seldom do very small pictures, but I wanted test a new varnish and didn't want to do it on a larger and more valuable picture in case the varnish ruins it!

This work may be for sale on my Bid-or-Buy store.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Landscape with cosmos flowers

Free State Province: flat landscapes dotted with flat-topped hills. Particularly along road sides, stands of white and pink cosmos flowers are also common in late summer. It's the kind of thing that begs to be painted.

Acrylics on Masonite, 36 x 46 cm (= about 14 x 18 inches):

Monday 29 October 2018

Meerkat sentries

Acrylics on Masonite, 20 x 15 cm:


Whenever the meerkats forage there will always be one or two keeping a lookout for predators.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Masked weaver

Acrylics on Masonite, 20 x 15 cm:

In winter, the males and females look pretty much the same: drab light brown. But during the breeding season the males turn bright yellow, with black mask and reddish eyes. They then construct their intricately woven nests, trying to attract a mate.

Friday 21 September 2018

Cape white-eyes

Cape white-eyes (Zosterops virens). Acrylics on Masonite, 15 x 20 cm.

These are the archetypal tweety birds: round and fluffy and cute looking. They're quite common around here, where they move in small groups through dense foliage, looking for insects and chattering to one another.

Saturday 25 August 2018

Tuscan window

Oil on board, 20 x 25 cm:

When it comes to painting outdoors subjects, I seem to prefer this sort of intimate scene rather than grand vistas. Not even sure what one should call this: landscape or still life? No idea, but it is what it is.

Sunday 12 August 2018

Ceramic and egg

Oil on board, 20 x 15 cm (= about 8 x 6 in).
Painted with a limited palette of ocher yellow, ocher red, black and white. Using such a limited range of colors makes for an interesting challenge, particularly if you try to paint green or blue things; I cheated a bit here by picking subjects with colors that could be fairly easily approximated with what I had available.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Some random sketches

I have been taking a break from painting in order to study up on some aspects of art that have always eluded me. How long I'll be busy with that, I don't know, but I'll post the occasional sketch here just to keep the blog alive.

Two still life sketches done from life:

And two in ballpoint pen plus colored pencil, cobbled together from various reference photos:

I have actually been itching to take up the brushes again, so perhaps I'll soon succumb to temptation and paint something...