What Makes A Painting Work Art Blog
by art_composition , February 2, 2010—12:00 AM
There are no self taught artists, but there are many lessons beyond the formal walls of the classroom. Museums have long been places where artists can sharpen their skills, and many welcome students with sketchbook in hand. Some paintings within the museums you frequently visit may become old friends that you must spend time with even when you are there to view a special show.
At Stockton's Haggin Museum "Sophistication", a 1908 work by Harry Wilson Watrous, is such a work for me. So are the Albert Bierstadt works in the museum's permanent collection. My fascination with "Sophistication" led a young friend to give me the box pictured here from the Haggin's gift shop. Scattered about the world there are several related painting by Watrous depicting a young woman, or women, dressed in black and white, and gazing into their own world rather than out at the viewer.
Characteristic of this painting and others such as "The Passing of Summer" and "Confidences" are an interesting lively use of negative and positive space, lights and darks, sending the eyes dancing around to bits of interesting detail and always back to the faces. Delicate shadows and shadings shape the forms, and despite his love of blacks and white his color choices are excellent.
"Sophistication" represents a young woman who is rather daring for her time and place. In 1908 there is a cigarette in her hand, and she is having tea in a public place unaccompanied, a sophisticated modern woman indeed-- probably wants the vote enough to risk getting arrested in a demonstration. And that averted gaze, off in her own thoughts, also implies story, life in motion both before and after this vignette.
So what do I take away from this painting as an artist? It reminds me to keep honing my drawing skills. It points up the power of strong value contrast and the rhythms of negative and positive spaces. It reminds me that one may not need a large palette, but if little color is used it must be used wisely.
On another level it causes me to think about the importance of observation, not just observation of form and color but also of the body language of people which is so unique and so telling.
Think about some of your favorite paintings. Why do you love them? What can you learn from them?
If I've piqued your curiosity about Harry Wilson Watrous you may want to take a look at the American Gallery website http://americangallery.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/harry-wilson-watrous-1857-1940/