The Laws of Nature

Monday, March 4, 2013

Artistic License

Charles Law
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?


Dan Kent said...

For me artistic license is necessity. How dull it would be if all painters painted exactly the same. Luckily our individual sensibilities make most paintings as individual as fingerprints even before we attempt to stylize or distort.

And the viewer had better tolerate what I do!! So there.

Without first looking at the law you reference, this one is festive, and has a carnival feel to it, like a magical machine that a magician would display as proof of his ability to do alchemy! I really like this one!

And after looking at the meaning of Charles Law, I still like it.

OK, I've been wanting to share this with you - don't know if you limit your laws to physics, but this is a fascinating short podcast anyway and the pianist in you will like it I am sure. In the middle is a reference to a law you may not know.. I loved this. Go here and click on "Listen":

Katharine A. Cartwright said...

Hi Dan - thanks so much for the radio feed. It was fascinating!! Having once been "the student of the student of the student of the student of Beethoven" I have a strong background in his work. This broadcast was a wonderful analysis of tempo, AND a new law for me!