One of the fundamental differences when we move away from representational painting towards creative composition is the handling of light, namely the disregard of natural light. Did you ever see a painting where shadows made little sense? A painting with arbitrary areas of shade and light? Yes, those works, often semi-abstract, may clearly suggest some light effects, such as shadow and shade, yet the light source seems fairly inconsistent. Why is that? It is because we employ so-called “inner” light, or light from within. Light from within, as opposed to light from without, is not governed by the natural laws. Nature no longer dictates where we put our value shapes. Light from within allows us the creative freedom to do with our shapes, values and colors as we please, or more accurately, according to our overall pattern.
To an uneducated eye, it may seem that we do this out of ignorance. We refuse to be bothered by careful observation and reproduction of facts. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, the other way around. It is not about ignorance, it is not about power or false sense of control. We are removing ourselves from the world of literal facts in order to create a new, personal reality that reflects our passions, feelings and interests. Many people watching my videos, for example, propose that their child could do it. They say this because the painting doesn’t make sense to them. They know nothing besides how nature works and so they assume the work is faulty. The arbitrary handling of light may certainly be one of the things that confuses them. Copying is mostly a matter of technique and mechanical skill, whereas creative composition requires a great deal of understanding, not only of the natural world, but art, and most importantly one’s self. There’s a really good line in a song “Trouble with the Classicists” from one of my favorite albums of all time, “Songs for Drella” by Lou Reed and John Cale. It goes like this: “The trouble with an impressionist, he looks at a log, and he doesn’t know who he is, standing, staring, at this log.”
While painting light is a valid way to paint a picture, I consider it to be simply the first step, the easier of the two – the stepping stone to bigger things. It is not a creative and personal approach, it is a process of mimicking nature – documenting what is rather than creating what could be. To paint a personal picture, a world that “ought to be”, as Frank Webb says, is the innermost personal statement anyone can make. To do so is to disregard natural laws to a degree that allows us freedom of expression uninhibited by external factors. As Max Beckmann says, “Art is creative for the sake of realization, not for amusement: for transfiguration, not for the sake of play. It is the quest of our self that drives us along the eternal and never-ending journey we must all make.”
And so, contrary to popular belief, there is a set of rules, guidelines and approaches that govern this creative space. It is not just some ecstatic process of slapping paint around for the fun of it without adhering to any sort of principle or structure. In that case our work would be immature, less than primitive, it would be childish and devoid of value. It would be no different from children’s drawings, which, admittedly, can be very creative, but they lack the intellectual maturity and understanding of the bigger picture.
I will be further addressing the problem of painting internal vs. external light from a practical standpoint in a series of articles as part of my Design series. Until then I hope this articles gave you something to think about. Let me know in the comments down below.