Is painting simply an imitative art?


Recently, I discovered a Harper’s Weekly article on the teaching of Carolus Duran written in the 1880’s. A student was enrolled in Duran’s classes in Paris and carefully recorded the critique sessions held in the studio each week. As I read the article, I was reading the words of Duran as he spoke to his students. But as I read, I could hear the same words coming from my own teacher, Everett Raymond Kinstler. I was amazed at how many of these same ideas and principles had survived intact for over 100 years. I would not hesitate to suggest that these recede in time beyond Duran to the days of Diego Velazquez.

Duran states:

“Is painting simply an imitative art? No; it is, above all, an art of expression. There is not one of the great masters of whom this is not true. Even the masters who were most absorbed by outward beauty, being influenced by it according to the sensitiveness of their natures, understood that they neither could nor ought to reproduce anything but the spirit of nature either in form or color. Thus it happens that these masters have interpreted nature, and not given a literal translation. This interpretation is precisely what makes the personality of each of them. Without this individual point of view there can be no really original work.”

In today’s world with the advancements of technology and their seductive qualities, we must all beware of a tendency to rely too much on a reaction to photographs— rather than a reaction to our reality. Technology has the powerful force of eliminating the discovery process that should occur in painting. We should continue to interact with and react to our subjects as much as possible, always interpreting what we see from our own unique perspectives.