This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Suppose a crime happened in your city or town. Three people write about it.
First is a police officer who responded to the incident. The officer writes in exacting detail everything that happened. Nothing is left out. It is a completely thorough and meticulous report. But reading it is very cumbersome and tedious. It puts you to sleep on about page one.
The second writer is a novelist who is able to explain the same event in an exciting way. The novelist's version is enthralling and captivating. The details are controlled so that you read them only when necessary. They are carefully composed to lead you over and under, in and around the events. The author creates a narrative to tell the story. You find the read thoroughly enjoyable and suspenseful. It is a page-turner. You cannot put the book down, because you need to know what happens next. Hours go by and you find that you read all night to finish the book. The twists and turns kept you guessing, but in the end you really weren't prepared for what really happened. It caught you by surprise. You wonder why you didn't see it before ? the butler really did do it!
Yes, the novel would be much more exciting to read than a police report. But once you have read it, what then? Would you read it again? Perhaps in a few years.
The third writer is a poet. What would his/her version read like? Likely, it would give you only the most essential details. But the poet would also leave much to the imagination. The poet captures the feeling or mood of the events. Rather than telling you what everything means, the poet would subtly point you in the general direction, but you would be faced with the task of coming to your own conclusions. Each time you read it, you find new things hidden in the words. You think the poem means one thing one time you read it and something entirely different the next time. Thus, you never tire of reading it.
It is the same with art. Three people paint the same subject, but in very different ways (actually, the possibilities are far more than three, but for the analogy's sake, we'll keep it simple). What kind of artist are you? Do you tell your viewers everything in such exacting detail that they are bored out of their mind? Are you a story teller? Do you create wonderful narratives in your art? Is it exciting to view the first time, but there is little to bring the viewers back time and again? Or are you the poetic artist who merely implies themes and allows the viewers to interpret the art in his or her own way? Do they come back time and again to view the painting because it keeps drawing them in, revealing more to them each time?
Before I go further, I must clarify what I mean by these different classifications.
The Police Report
I am not picking on the highly detailed artists here. I have seen highly detailed works that are very poetic. Though the analogy is built around recording every last detail, it is really about not knowing how to edit and compose. This is the artist who cannot decide which details are important and which are not. This is also the artist who can't arrange the details in a compelling way. This artist simply records things just as they are. A police report has no emotion. It is simply an outline of facts and events, regardless of whether the work is done in photorealism or impressionism or abstraction.
I don't use the term narrative in the typical sense. We all have seen those works of art which depict a story ? a narrative. But even these can be done poetically. I am talking about the method of painting, not the subject (I hope it's not too confusing). Do you lead your viewers through your painting in a controlled way? Do you keep the painting exciting and enthralling at every turn, but in the end, the viewer comes to the point that you wish them to get to? This is a novel in this analogy.
Or do you simply create a painting in which the viewer gets a gist of what your intent is, but it is left open to them to interpret? Do you put in only the most important details and leave the rest out? Do you imply rather than explain? Do you search for new ways of expressing the old ideas? Do you say so much with each passage, that more is revealed each time your work is viewed? Are the works felt?
What kind of art do you create? What kind of art do you want to create?
PS This analogy was derived from a vague recollection of one I heard years ago, so I can't take total credit. The artist who told it to me claimed that it was John Singer Sargent who came up with it. I have never confirmed that. If you happen to know, share it with us.