Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From Life or From Photos: Rockwell and Degas

After Degas' In the Orchestra Pit
done on the Nintendo DS

Yesterday I brought up the debate over drawing from photographs or from life. Today I thought I'd look at the practices of two famous artists, Norman Rockwell and Edgar Degas.

Norman Rockwell began his career drawing from life only, but as models grew more expensive and photos less so, he started using multiple photographs to work from. (To be clear, he hired a photographer and directed all the shots.) He defended his practice by saying that he had drawn from life for decades in his professional life, so he knew what he was doing. I agree, he knew what he was doing. And of course, he drew from black and white photographs and painted in color.

Edgar Degas was fascinated by the cropping and distortion that photographs brought to a scene - in some ways the same attraction for him as with Japanese prints. Many of Degas' paintings have a "snapshot" quality to them - of course, that was revolutionary at the time.

I would venture that in both of these cases, these artists used photographs to enhance their work. They were not slavishly addicted them, were able to extrapolate from them, and understand the differences that the photographing process brought.

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