plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos


I always enjoy painting skies. Part of the reason, I think, is that I never know the result ahead of time. The process of painting the skies is not entirely random, of course, but within the system of constraints I use, there is a large element of chance as to how they will develop. A slight unevenness in the over-painting blue becomes the seed of a cloud. The negative space of one cloud becomes the seed of another cloud. And so forth . . .

There is a big difference from photography here in the unfolding interaction with chance. A lucky photograph is made in milliseconds. Perhaps the result will inspire more photographs to capture the moment; but each photograph achieves its essential identity with the press of a button. Painting the skies is something more like an ongoing improvisation, technical context providing a stable base rhythm. The effects of chance are something I can explore over hours and days in the context of a single image.

Sunil’s post about luck in photography got me thinking about the role of chance in art. I wonder, is there an element of art that does not develop from some chance event? I’m on the verge of saying, art is about the harnessing of chance — except that is an oversimplification, and also I remember hearing it somewhere else before.

And yet, what is the alternative to the random? Religion informs us of the notion of Free Will. Science reminds us that there is only the random and the deterministic. Which makes better art?