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.
Many of you are plein air artists. Many of you participate in plein air events. At these events, there are two types of artists. Those who:
- Complete all paintings entirely en plein air.
- Finish the paintings in the motel room.
Does it matter? Should it matter?
I raise the question after a recent, lengthy discussion with a friend of mine on this very topic.
When participating in organized plein air events, some artists complete every painting entirely on location. With all the challenges of painting on location, some paintings work out and some don’t. But each is an authentic expression of the moment and place. Each has magic and spontaneity. The ones that work, really work. There is a freshness that could never be captured in the studio. They are truly plein air paintings. But by some standards, they are not completed works. They are studies.
Other artists take the plein air pieces back to the motel room and continue to work on the paintings until happy with the results. These artists are using their artistic freedom to rework the paintings without the distractions of the outdoors. They can come to the painting with a fresh eye and see what needs work. Within the motel room light is more constant, weather isn’t a nuisance, and time constraints are removed. Motel painters take an average plein air piece and create a finished painting that they are much happier with.
Side by side at the plein air exhibit these two plein air artists’ work is on display.
The first artist thinks that the second artist cheated or is at least not playing fair. Tweaking the painting in the motel room, according to the first artist, goes against the very definition of a plein air event.
The second artist considers the first artist’s work unfinished and unrefined. Or at least, considers his own plein air work unfinished and unrefined. The end result is more important than where the work was completed. According to this artist, the event is about selling works that are a direct response to nature. The ideal or definition of what “plein air” means is less important.
Then there are some who just don’t care. “I’ll paint my way, you paint yours,” they say.
But this scenario raises several questions.
Should there be a standard set in place for organized plein air events? Should participants agree to complete each painting entirely on location? Or should a percentage be established (80% plein air, 20% finished in motel or studio)?
Or is reworking an average painting to make it more saleable a higher priority? Does the clientele recognize the difference between a piece that is finished on location and one that has been retouched? Does “finishing” the painting really make it better?
Does finishing work in the motel take the painting from a plein air piece to a studio piece, by definition (even if 90% was finished en plein air)? Or is it still defined as a plein air work? Can an event be billed as “plein air” if the paintings are finished in the motel?
If participants were required to complete the work entirely on location, would the quality of the show go up or down? Would it weed out some artists? Would it attract other artists? Or does it really matter? In the end is it just about the finished results?
There are many more questions, but you get the point. Again, I am only referring to organized plein air events. When painting on your own, the only rule is to do what works best for you to achieve your vision. Be it completing the work on location; finishing it in the studio; or using the study to inspire a new, larger studio work.
But again, the questions. Should there be a standard at an organized event? What should that standard be? Where do you stand on the issue? Or does it not even matter?
I know artists on both sides. I understand the argument on both sides. I won’t say which side I am on, but you are free to guess…