The Older I get, the less I want to Draw
Let’s not draw any harsh conclusions; I still love art in its entirety and wish to do it for the rest of my life. However, as I get older, it seems like I’ve stopped wanting to draw so much.
What I mean is as I learn, understand theory and get more experience, the thought of putting every single detail into every aspect of a piece becomes less appealing.
I am a late bloomer when it comes to art. While I doodled throughout high school, it wasn’t until I was 18 when I started to take art seriously. I remember vividly how much I wanted to apply all of what I learned into the most detailed worlds possible. Thus, as I created my work, I wanted to put in as much as I can possibly think of into one image since, as we all know, worlds are very complex, right?
The more I did this, however, the more I realized something felt… wrong. The artwork were clearly not up to par. The realism and believability are just not there even though reality is supposed to be complex. A messy room has a lot of stuff, right? Why didn’t my artwork, with the same amount of stuff, look realistic? Why did some "cartoons" from professionals look more real than my rendered work?
I want to get into a very (and I mean very) common problem that almost all artists starting out face, including myself. It’s the misconception that professional artists are simply very good with details. It sounds very logical; perhaps an amateur doodler draws stick figures, so it must mean the professionals are professional because they are capable of doing the exact opposite.
As with most things in life, the answer is much more complex. The pros, indeed, are capable of painting however detailed they wish to choose. However, the most important factor is they are trained to know how much is required to say what they need to say.
We are often mesmerized by the flash but not the substance. It’s easy to be impressed by the details without looking at the context of the bigger picture. The real question you always need to ask is “Why is an area detailed relative to the rest of the painting?”
Many paintings from the master fine artists are deceptive. On first glance, they look “realistic” which, as we’ve established, is also associated with “complex”. Photographs are also “realistic”. However, the more you look at a great Rembrandt or a great Bouguereau, the more you feel it’s better than a photograph. There’s something alluring and magical about the best paintings in history.
Human vision is limited. Even if your eyes are 20/20 or better, you are incapable of seeing all the details in your vision at any given time. This is “focus”. Amateur photography captures all the details in a piece but, as we’ve established, that’s physically impossible for us to see with our own eyes. This is why a super detailed photograph isn’t necessarily realistic, even if the photographer took the shot on the spot.
This is exactly the same with art. The reason why paintings feel “realistic” is not because they are more complex, but because they replicate exactly how human vision works in a particular situation. This means the artist had masterfully chose WHICH details must be applied or omitted in order for it to be physically possible for a human to experience. This is true realism; the ability for a viewer to feel as if they are not just looking at a scene, but immersed in it.
I want you to look up William Bouguereau, one of history’s greatest realist painters. Instead of studying how to replicate his realistic techniques, I want you to note all the SIMPLIFICATIONS in the piece. Note areas where the brushstrokes are broad. Those areas are just as important as his masterfully painted anatomy in order to complete a composition.
A little cheat I like to do is to take off my glasses and look at a piece of artwork (including mine). When everything is blurry, it allows me to look at a piece without any of the details. After putting them back on, I can systematically note which areas appear to have details or, if judging my own artwork, I can see where I need to place details or omit them.
Remember: Details are a tool just like every other aspect of art. When judging artwork, don’t see it are what’s in the artwork. Ask yourself what isn’t.