watercolor on paper
26" x 20"
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
Unless the painter is deliberately trying replicate what is seen either in person or in a photograph, she is employing artistic license. I looked up the term in Wikipedia to learn more about it and found that, when it comes to the visual arts, “artistic license is the way in which stylized images of an object are different from their real life counterparts, but are still intended to be interpreted by the viewer as representing the same thing.” This source also defines four criteria. Artistic license is:
- Entirely at the artist’s discretion.
- Intended to be tolerated by the viewer.
- Useful for filling in gaps, whether they be factual, compositional, historical, or other gaps.
- Used consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally or in tandem.
So, this makes me ponder what it is that viewers accept and, conversely, what they don’t accept. Denis Dutton, in his book The Art Instinct (reviewed here on this blog in January 2010) makes a strong case for the characteristics that define the “most wanted and least wanted paintings.” His theory links the evolution of humans and the human psyche to our aesthetic preferences. Without rehashing that book, I’d like to expand his theory to include artistic license.
I agree with Dutton that we are instantly drawn to form like faces, water, landscapes, flowers and certain colors that relate to our survival and habitat. But, I think that we’re also drawn to acts of artistic license. We love looking at distortions, stylizations, surrealism, and altered hues because I think it satisfies our imagination. Without the insertion of the artist’s imagination into the painting process there wouldn’t be innovation and the artist’s ideas would become worthless.Even works of realism, which throughout time attract the most viewers, contain distortions imposed by the painter who strives to make the best possible composition with form, line, color, and value. The painter enhances the viewing experience by employing artistic license in a way that reaches our emotions.
I’d like to think that artistic license is more like artistic necessity. Without it, our work would be dull and lifeless.
What’s your opinion?